Small enough to know you. Large enough to serve you.

Gratitude (Va’era – 01/16/21)

Rabbi Neil Schuman

Tensions have been running high lately between the factions in our synagogue. Respect and consideration sometimes get lost in the heat of the debates. I think there’s a timely lesson for us in our parsha (Va-ayra).
Pharaoh refuses to let the Israelites go free; Moses warns of repercussions that will strike Egypt to its core.
Since Moses is the redeemer of Israel, one would think that he would initiate all of the plagues, but such is not the case:
And the LORD said to Moses, “Say to Aaron: Take your rod and hold out your arm over the waters of Egypt—its rivers, its canals, its ponds, all its bodies of water—that they may turn to blood; there shall be blood throughout the land of Egypt, even in vessels of wood and stone.”
Similarly, for the plague of Frogs, Aaron takes the lead:
And the LORD said to Moses, “Say to Aaron: Hold out your arm with the rod over the rivers, the canals, and the ponds, and bring up the frogs on the land of Egypt.”
Our great medieval teacher, Rashi, sees an invaluable insight here:
אמר אל אהרן SAY UNTO AARON — Because the river had protected Moses when he was cast into it, therefore it was not smitten by him either at the plague of blood or at that of frogs, but it was smitten by Aaron (Exodus Rabbah 9:10).
Moses was a baby when the waters of the Nile cradled him gently, whisking his basket to a compassionate princess bathing in the river. Was the river aware of what it was doing? Would it feel insulted and unappreciated if Moses turned it to blood?
We could entertain theoretical debates about these questions, but the lesson for us now is one of gratitude. Something that one has benefitted from, one should not degrade. The rabbis state it openly, “The well that you drank from, do not throw a stone into it.”
In our congregation, there are numerous members we have metaphorically “drunk from”. Many have donated hundreds of hours volunteering; others have given generously so that the doors remain open. Almost every long-time member falls into these categories, as do all of the people on the executive board and the reimagine and merger steering committees. We truly have many people to whom we need to be thankful.
We are not debating the results of fair elections; we’re speculating as to what’s the best path for our congregation’s future. There are pros and cons for each side, and we each feel emotional about our position. Ultimately, the decision, much like our country’s, will be determined by a vote.
Before we question an opposing view, though, let’s consider our rabbis’ teaching: Have these people been a well? Has that person been loyal to the synagogue for decades? Have they attended an uncountable number of board meetings? Have they sacrificed financially for the synagogue? Are they going to be a future well? Are they saying they’re committed to our future? If so, we need to make sure we speak to them with gratitude and respect in a like manner.
Lincoln wisely said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” In our zeal to create a better future for ourselves, let’s be wary about creating more division.
There are many wells in our synagogue, new and old; let us treat them with gratitude and respect.

Manetto Hill Jewish Center
244 Manetto Hill Road, Plainview, NY 11803
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