ATTITUDE OF GRATITUDE
The drama begins. Pharaoh and the Egyptians are smitten by the plagues. Blood, Frogs, Lice, Pestilence, Boils and the rest. But Pharaoh’s heart is hard and he doesn’t let the Israelites go.
What is significant about the first three plagues – the water of the River Nile turning to blood, the frogs jumping out of the river and invading the country and the eruption of lice from the ground – is that it is Aaron, rather than Moses, who holds out his staff over the river and later smites the ground that brings the plagues. The explanation given by Rashi is striking. The river had protected Moses when he had been placed in the bulrushes, and the sand had protected him when he killed and buried the Egyptian who had been attacking the Hebrew. It would have been ungrateful of Moses to bring about plagues using water and sand.
This seems far-fetched. Water and sand are inanimate objects. Why should there be a need to show gratitude to unsentient components of the natural world?
Moses had a level of sensitivity to creation that we, in our generation, are only beginning to appreciate. It took a David Attenborough in his Blue Planet II films to wake up millions of people to the problem of plastic pollution. We may not be being placed in basinets in the Nile but we are part of an interconnected eco-system that we damage to our peril. Our Sages taught: “Do not throw dirt into the well from which you have drunk.” (Bava Kama 92b.) That is, you have derived benefit. Don’t spoil that resource for others.
These lessons are easy to learn when the connection is visible and immediate. What is more difficult to grasp is why my plastic bottle tossed into the sea should make such a difference. What we learn from Moses is that it wasn’t just that small section of river or that bit of sand that he was sensitive to. He realized that these components of G-d’s creation collectively contributed to saving his life. He recognized that it would not be right for him to use any part of the river or the ground to smite the Egyptians.
We need to be grateful to the environment that sustains us and that ungratefully damaging it is disastrous for our survival. If we want to avert the modern plagues of climate change we must sensitise ourselves to the changes we must all make in our lives to ensure that we and our children have a livable climate on Earth.