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    In Parashat Matot,
    G-d commands
    Moshe to lead a war
    against Midyan, who
    initiated a scheme to
    lead Beneh Yisrael to sin which resulted
    in the deaths of thousands of people
    among the nation. The Midrash notes
    that whereas G-d instructed Moshe
    to wage this war, he did not go out to
    battle. Instead, he sent 12,000 men led
    by Pinhas to fight Midyan, while he
    remained behind. How, the Midrash
    asks, could Moshe Rabbenu shirk his
    responsibility? If G-d commanded
    him to go and wage war, how could he
    delegate this difficult task to others?
    The Midrash offers a remarkable
    answer. Moshe owed a debt of gratitude
    to Midyan, where he found refuge when
    he was forced to flee from Egypt many
    years earlier. As we read in Parashat
    Shemot, Moshe killed an Egyptian
    taskmaster who was beating an Israelite
    slave, and Pharaoh heard about the
    incident and sought to kill Moshe.
    Moshe immediately fled and found
    safety in Midyan, where he married the

    daughter of Yitro and worked for him
    as a shepherd. Moshe owed his life to
    Midyan, and it would thus have been
    inappropriate for him to lead a war
    against it.
    Moshe did not arrive at this logic on his
    own. He reached this conclusion on the
    basis of G-d’s commands many years
    earlier during the ten plagues. G-d
    commanded that specifically Aharon –
    as opposed to Moshe – should turn the
    water of Egypt into blood, and produce
    vermin from its dust. It would have been
    improper for Moshe to strike the water,
    which protected him when he was an
    infant and his mother placed him in a
    basket in the river to save him from
    the Egyptians, and to strike the earth,
    which he used to cover the remains of
    the taskmaster whom he killed. The
    fundamental value of gratitude dictates
    that one does not “throw a rock into
    the well from which he drank,” that we
    must not cause harm to those who have
    been good to us. And thus even though
    G-d wished to strike the water and
    earth of Egypt, He did not want Moshe
    to carry out this task, given the debt of

    gratitude he owed.
    Recalling this precedent, Moshe
    understood that he was not the one
    to wage battle against Midyan. He
    realized that when G-d instructed him
    to go out to war, He meant that Moshe
    should mobilize and send an army,
    rather than go fight himself.
    The Torah value of gratitude extends
    even to sworn enemies of our nation
    – like Midyan – and even to inanimate
    objects – such as water and earth.
    It is told that Rav Yisrael Gustman, who
    served as a Rosh Yeshiva in Jerusalem,
    would water the plants and bushes
    outside his yeshiva each day. When
    asked about this practice, he explained
    that he survived the Holocaust, spending
    a considerable amount of time hiding in
    fields. He felt a deep sense of gratitude
    to bushes and plants for helping him
    escape from the Nazis, and he thus felt
    it was appropriate to personally care for
    the yeshiva’s garden.
    If this is the Torah’s attitude when
    it comes to plants, then it certainly

    applies to family members and friends.
    If Moshe owed a debt of gratitude to
    the waters of Egypt, shouldn’t we
    show appreciation to our spouses? If
    Moshe was to show respect to dirt for
    the service it provided him, shouldn’t
    we respect the people who work for
    us? If Moshe felt grateful to a wicked
    nation like Midyan, shouldn’t we be
    profoundly grateful to our parents, our
    siblings, our friends and our neighbors?
    The story of this war should thus serve
    as an important reminder to all of us to
    always take note of the favors done for
    us, of all the benefit we receive from
    other people, and to feel a sincere sense
    of gratitude which ought to be regularly
    expressed in both words and actions.