Feeling Human Beings

HASHEM said to Moshe, “Say to Aaron, ‘Stretch out your staff and strike the dust of the land; it shall become lice throughout the land of Egypt.’” (Shemos 8:12)

Say to Aaron: This plague was not initiated by Moshe for the soil did not deserve to be stricken by Moshe because it protected him when he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. Therefore it was stricken by Aaron. (Rashi)

What great deference is shown to the soil of Egypt!? Even while Egypt is being disassembled plague after plague Moshe is disqualified from striking the dust because it had saved him. What’s going on here? Does the dust of Egypt really care whether Moshe or Aaron hits it? What would be so terrible if Moshe would be the one?

I recently heard the following remarkable story: Rabbi Yisaschar Frand was approached after a lecture he gave somewhere in Connecticut, by a somewhat elderly gentleman with a slight European accent wishing to register a serious complaint. Politely but firmly the man insisted that he had a problem with something that Rabbi Frand had written in one of his books on Parshas “Lech Lecha” on the verse where Avraham is promised by HASHEM that He will bless those who bless Avraham. Rabbi Frand asked to be reminded what he had written. With almost perfect recall the man reminded the Rabbi.

There was a story told there with great attention to historical detail, about a Jewish family during the 2nd World War that in desperation, anticipating the brutal invasion of the Nazis, had to give up their precious son to a gentile family. They understood there was a good chance they may never return, and therefore they made an appeal to the host family that if by any chance they did not come back they should contact family in Silver Spring, Maryland. They were provided with all the necessary information before the parents disappeared.

After the dust of war had begun to settle it became clear that the parents were not coming back to pick up their child and it was a safe assumption that they had perished. The host family then took the child to the local priest and requested that he baptize the boy. The priest asked them why they were baptizing a now older child. It is usually done earlier. The parents gleefully related that it was a Jewish child that they were left to care for and how the parents had intrusted them to send him to relatives America if they failed to return. The priest listened to all they had to say and he then refused to baptize the Jewish child. He insisted that if the parents wanted him to be sent to his relatives that is what they are morally obligated to do, and that is what they did. As it turns out that Polish priest was later appointed to become Pope and so he stood on the world stage for many decades, Pope John Paul. Rabbi Frand was highlighting that perhaps the enormous honor that redounded to that priest was for doing the right thing and refusing to baptize a Jewish child and insisting he be reunited with his family’s family.

Rabbi Frand asked the man what was wrong with the story or the message of the story. At this the man became very emotional and he told Rabbi Frand, “I am that boy! How could you cast my adopted parents in such a negative light.?! They saved my life! They are like my real family! I send them money! I visit them every year! How could you write about them that way?!”

Rabbi E.E. Dessler ztl.. explains that of course the dust of Egypt is inanimate and void of feelings. Striking it would only have had a negative effect on the character of Moshe. For him to do so would diminish his sensitivity in the realm of gratitude. Now we can estimate “how much more so” with feeling human beings”.

6 comments on “Feeling Human Beings

  1. It became very important for survivors to give proper recognition to those who helped Jews during the Shoah. Oskar Schindler, Chiune Sugihara, Irena Sendler….no matter what their motives were, they put themselves at risk by saving Jewish lives, and those whom they saved insisted that they be recognized as Righteous Among the Nations.

    Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis says that when her family came to the U.S.A. after the war, she was just a little girl. Shortly after coming here, she contracted chicken pox. A neighbor had pity on the family and helped them find a doctor and obtain medicine for little Esther. For many years after, her mother insisted that the family should continue to show proper gratitude for this neighbor who helped them out in a difficult matzav.

    Regrettably, the nations of the world have little gratitude when we help them. The help Israel contributed to Thailand after the Tsunami of six years ago has never been reflected in Thailand’s votes at the United Nations against Israel. Nor does Turkey seem to remember Israel’s aid after a devastating earthquake struck Turkey years ago, they willingly sent an “aid flotilla” filled with murderous thugs.

  2. The adoptive parents that I referred to in comment # 2 did a great deal for the young boy, since they protected him at the risk of their own lives. The ideas that they had after the war were not in the best interest of his Jewish soul. The then-adolescent was fortunate that he was taken to a perceptive, honest and honorable priest.

  3. He insisted that if the parents wanted him to be sent to his relatives that is what they are morally obligated to do, and THAT IS WHAT THEY DID.

    That is what they did. So what’s so negative? I didn’t see his parents in bad way after I see they agreed. Their initial reaction is probably what everyone had done.

  4. This is why the American Orthodox communities should be grateful to the USA, and show that gratitude by working to improve its society, despite this country’s various faults.

  5. The Nile was also to be the place where Jewish babies were to be drowned (Q — were the Jewish people completely successful in circumventing this decree?); despite that Hashem had Moshe show Hakarat HaTov/recognition of the good that the river did for him.

    The adoptive parents of the gentleman who confronted Rabbi Frand can be compared to the Nile; they posed a threat of spiritual death to him, but they did save him from physical destruction. Accordingly, he has shown gratitude to them for many years.

    I noted another example in this week’s Parashah of a Torah basis for Jews to act as feeling human beings. The Egyptians were given the opportunity to protect themselves indoors from the plague of hail. The actions of the Israel Defence Force, who for years have given warnings to innocent civilians to remove themselves from harm’s way are an example of man acting b’tzelem Elokim/in G-d’s image.

  6. It is told that Rav Yisrael Zev Gustman z”l, rosh yeshivat Netzah Yisrael, watered the plants in front of the yeshivah out of gratitude for the bushes that hid him the day he initially escaped from the Nazis.

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