Parshas Bo 1996 -- The Exodus from Egypt
Last week, we discussed how one should be respectful even to one's
adversaries, instead of treacherously attempting to topple them.
Of the ten plagues, the Medrashim relate that three of them could
not be initiated by Moshe but by his brother Aharon: Blood, Frogs and Lice.
Moshe had been saved in the water as an infant. Therefore, it would not be
fitting for Moshe to strike the water with his staff. Moshe had buried the
Egyptian in the sand, preventing him temporarily from being caught.
Therefore, it would be improper for him to hit the ground. As Rava would
say: "Don't throw a stone into the well from which you drank..." (Rashi,
from Medrash Rabba and Talmud, Baba Kama 92b).
One should forever be grateful for kindness received. Even simple
pleasures sustained from inanimate objects should cause us to reflect upon
the kindness of the Creator, Who produced such an overwhelming abundance of
materials to fulfill our needs. This is the idea behind the blessings:
"Anyone who enjoys this world without saying the proper blessing is
considered a thief." (Talmud, Brochos; see the preface to V'sein Brocha (The
Halachos of Brochos).
In the Talmudic quote cited above, "Don't throw a stone into the
well from which you drank," the master Rabba provided the source:
Don't mistreat an Egyptian,
because you were a stranger in his land.
In the Introduction to the Ikar Tosfos Yom Tov, it is stated: "If we
are commanded to treat respectfully the Egyptian -- who enslaved and abused
us -- how much more so any human being."
It seems to us, though, that the above comment (from Ikar Tosfos Yom
Tov) is a different point. Rabba was only saying that one should remain
grateful for a benefit received, even if hardships endured might seem to
outweigh the benefit. Thus, the fact remains that the Egyptians afforded
the Israelites opportunity to dwell among them; this is untainted by the
awareness that eventually Egypt took advantage of Israel.
Rabba's point reminds us of the Mishnah in Ethics of the Fathers
(6:3), that Dovid Hamelech called Achitofol his Teacher and Master, although
he had only learned two things from him. Achitofol was a wicked man, who
prompted Avshalom to rebel against his father, Dovid! Even so, the Mishnah
records for all posterity that Dovid called Achitofol his teacher. A small
benefit may produce untold effects, and remains unaffected by treacerous
acts committed by the donor.
Indeed, the ethical-philosophical work, Tomar Devorah, maintains
that the promised reward for good deeds remains unaffected by any crimes one
may have performed. Good deeds and crimes are two separate accounts; in His
patience, the account for crimes will not interfere with accrued profit for
Rav Menachem Kasher, the editor of Torah Shleima, quoted the
Medrash. At the plague of Darkness, the Israelites could easily have taken
advantage of their Egyptian oppressors. Many valuables were found lying
about, but nothing was expropriated. The Egyptians became their friends
when they realized that the Israelites had been treated unjustly and
oppressed for no reason. They said, "There is no nation in the world as
honest as Israel. Had they so desired, they could have taken everything
from our homes."
Hashem gave the people favor
in the eyes of the Egyptians;
the man Moshe was also very great
in the land of Egypt in the eyes of
Pharoah's servants and in the eyes of the people.
When they saw the great mercy of Moshe -- he always endeavored to
spare them pain -- the Egyptians recognized his greatness.
This is the most important thing of all: the sanctification of G-d's
name in the eyes of the nations of the world.