Lessons from the word "Jew"
Jews take gratitude very seriously. The word for Jew, "Yehudi," has its roots in the word: "l'hodot," to thank. We are meant to begin every day with the words "Modeh Ani," " Thankful am I..." In this week's parsha, we see an interesting example of this.
Moses is commanded to hit the water to bring about the plagues of blood and frogs and to strike the dirt to bring about the plague of lice as a punishment for Pharaoh's ensavement of the Jewish people. And yet, the Torah tells us that Aaron actally hit the water and the dirt to bring about the first three plagues.
Why the switch?
The sages tell us that Moses felt a deep sense of gratitude to the water and the dirt for having played a role in saving his life. When Moses was born, his mother placed him in an earthen basket on the Nile River to evade the Egyptian decree of annihilation of all Jewish baby boys, thus saving his life. The daughter of Pharaoh saw him floating on the river and adopted him as a son. Because of Moses' feeling of gratitude, he felt it would be inappropriate to hit the "elements" that had saved his life.
If this is the model of gratitude for dirt and water, then it is all the more critical to thank people.
The Cohen family living in the greater New York area lost their home to a fire. Friends of friends stepped in to help them in crucial ways. Every Friday following that incident, Mrs. Cohen called her benefactor to wish her a "good shabbos" and thank her for all that she had done. More than a decade later Mrs. Cohen is still calling weekly to say "thank you."
Sometimes, as time goes on, we get used to gifts and we neglect to thank. The challenge is to remind ourselves that we are still indebted and obligated to show our gratitude always. As is befitting a "Yehudi," a Jew.