Rabbi Zvi Sobolofsky
Rabbi Zvi Sobolofsky

Gratitude - The Legacy of Moshe

Both Moshe and Pharoh are introduced to us in parshas Shemos. By looking at these two individuals, we can get a better understanding of yetsias Mitzrayim, the pivotal event in both of their lives. We are told very little about the personal life of Moshe. From the few episodes that the Torah shares with us we can get a glimpse of Moshe as a person.

His name "Moshe" tells us a lot about his personality. One would have expected Moshe not to use his Egyptian name given to him by the daughter of Pharoh. Yet Moshe insisted on keeping this name as an expression of gratitude to the woman who saved his life as an infant and raised him. Moshe's commitment to showing gratitude to those who assisted him in times of need is evident from his approaching Yisro before returning to Mitzrayim. Hashem had commanded him to return immediately to begin the process that would free entire Jewish people from slavery. Yet before going, Moshe approaches Yisro and tells him of his plans to leave. Chazal comment that Moshe was not only informing him that he was going, but he was also asking him permission to leave. As critical as his mission was, it was inconceivable to depart from Yisro without his permission. Yisro took him in when he was in need and provided for him for many years. As important as saving the Jewish people was, Moshe would not act in an ungrateful manner to one who had helped him. It is this commitment to hakoras hatov - expressing appreciation to others - that Moshe personified.

The behavior of Pharoh stands on stark contrast to Moshe's display of hakoras hatov. Pharoh is introduced to us as "vayakam melech chadash al Mitzrayim asher lo yaddaes Yosef - a new king arose over Egypt who did not know Yosef". Chazal offer two understandings of the phrase "who did not know Yosef". According to the first understanding, this was in fact a new Pharoh who had never met Yosef. The second, however, understands "new" to mean that the same Pharoh who had in fact known Yosef was acting in a new way. This "new" king knew Yosef very well, yet acted as if he didn't. even according to the first understanding, that this Pharoh had never met Yosef, it is inconceivable that he did not know about Yosef. Not only had Yosef saved the entire country, but he had single-handedly transformed Mitzrayim into the wealthy kingdom that this new Pharoh had inherited. Furthermore, barely a generation had passed since the death of Yosef. According to both understandings, Pharoh acted in a most ungrateful manner by persecuting the descendants of the man who had saved Mitzrayim in its time of need.

In the first confrontation between Moshe and Pharoh, Pharoh responds o Moshe's request in the name of Hashem to free the Jewish people in a way that was consistent with his approach to Yosef. Although there are two opinions in Chazal as to whether the Pharoh confronted by Moshe was the same as the one "who did not know Yosef" or his successor, the response to Moshe was rooted in the same lack of gratitude Pharoh had shown Yosef. Pharoh says "lo yodati es Hashem - I do not know Hashem". How could Pharoh make such and absurd claim? Yosef who had rescued Mitzraym through his knowledge of dreams had clearly stated to Pharoh years earlier that his understanding came only from Hashem. Yosef had served Pharoh from the age of thirty nine when he ascended to power until his death at the age of one hundred and ten. Throughout his career Yosef had proudly attributed his success to Hashem. Even in the home of Potiphar and in prison he was known as a man who was accompanied by Hashem and who received Hashem's blessings. Clearly this influential figure and the Hashem Who he served had not been completely forgotten by Pharoh. The response of Pharoh - "I don't know Hashem" - really meant I do not want to know Hashem and thereby be indebted to Him who had sent Yosef to save my nation. Rather than show gratitude to Yosef and Hashem, Pharoh denied the existence of both.

The confrontation between Moshe and Pharoh was a confrontation between an individual who never forgot a kindness performed to him and one who intentionally "forgot" those who had helped him and his nation. This confrontation serves as an introduction to Yetzias Mitzrayim story and its commemoration for al time. We are commanded to remember Yetzias Mitzrayim in many different ways - twice daily during Shema, in the kiddush of every Shabbos and yom tov, and by dedicating all of Pesach to keeping this memory alive. Our entire commitment to Torah and mitzvos hinges upon our hakoras hatov to Hashem for taking us out of Mitzrayim. A person who chooses to be ungrateful and "forget" the kindness of Hashem will follow in the footsteps of Pharoh and declare, "lo yodati es Hashem". Our role model is who taught us never to forget a kindness. Only Moshe who remained eternally grateful and indebted to a daughter of Pharoh who raised him and to a priest of Midyan who opened his home to him can teach us how to remain grateful to Hashem Who saved us thousands of years ago.

The confrontation between Moshe and Pharoh was not merely a showdown between two men, but rather was a clash of two diametrically opposed approaches to benefactors. Some follow Pharoh and choose to forget the kindness of others. We are required to emulate Moshe and express our gratitude to our fellow man and ultimately to Hashem, the One who performs the greatest kindness for us all.

Copyright © 2007 by The TorahWeb Foundation. All rights reserved.