Do Rivers Have Feelings

January 20, 2012 by Rabbi Michoel Gourarie
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In this week’s Torah portion we read about the ten plagues. G-d punishes the Egyptians with a series of ten devastating blows that destroy the infrastructure of this powerful country, paving the way for the much-awaited Jewish exodus. Moses, the Jewish leader, is G-d’s messenger to issue warnings to Pharaoh and to perform certain tasks that would bring about these plagues…writes Rabbi Michoel Gourarie.

Rabbi Michol Gourarie photo: Henry Benjamin

However, with the very first plague it was not Moses himself but rather Aaron, Moses’ brother, who was instructed to smite the Nile River, causing the water to turn to blood.

Our sages explain that as an infant Moses was protected and saved from death when he was placed in the water of the river. Because of this, it was inappropriate that he should smite that same river that saved him, and his brother did it instead.

This seems a little strange. Does the river have feelings? Was G-d worried that the river would be seriously offended?

But of course it wasn’t the Nile that G-d was worried about. It was Moses himself that was the focus of His concern. When G-d instructed Aaron to do it instead He was teaching us a critical lesson.   For someone to smite the very water that saved him would be a display of insensitivity and impact negatively on the development of a refined and compassionate personality.

There is an erroneous notion that something is only negative or immoral if it damages someone else. “As long as I didn’t hurt anyone, I am free to do as I please.” Jewish thought rejects this idea. We do have a responsibility to others, but that is not where morality and goodness ends. We have an obligation to do what is right, to become a better person and to develop a healthy, spiritual and meaningful existence. The question is not only if I am hurting someone else; I must also consider if I am damaging my soul and myself.

So rivers might not have feelings. But you do. Nurture and develop them.

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