In this week’s Torah Portion, Parshas Va’Ayrah, the beginning of the plagues is recounted. Usually, by most of the Makkos [plagues], Moshe is the one to initiate it by word of G-d, using his sapphire Matteh [staff]. However, for the first three plagues Aron, and not Moshe, “inflicted” the plague for Moshe owed a debt of gratitude to something.
The first plague is that of the Nile being turned into blood. Aron does it and not Moshe because Moshe owed gratitude to the water for hiding him when he was a baby. The second plague also involved the Nile, and, once again, Moshe could not harm the Nile that had served as a safe haven for him. The third plague, that of lice, involved the sand and sand had hidden the cruel man Moshe had killed. Once again, Moshe could not inflict harm upon the object that had served him well.
The question though that begs to be asked is does water and sand have feelings? No. So why bother with this whole charade? Because gratitude is not for the recipient, it is to make the giver a better person. If Moshe did not show gratitude to objects he used, he would be an ingrate.
When we talk about Middos development, about working on our character traits, we are talking about working out who we are by doing the right things. Our sages say “a well that you drank from, don’t throw in it rocks.” So when you say thank you, don’t think you are “thanking” the other person – you are, more importantly, making yourself into an appreciative person. A person becomes what he acts like. If you act with loving deeds, you are a loving person. If you act with generosity, you are a generous person. So Middos, while it is good for folks around us, the #1 person who is affected is ourselves, our inner being and who we are. That is why the argument of “I’m not being nice to so&so because he/she doesn’t deserve it” is a silly statement. We act nice because we want to be nice people. We thank things because we want to be thankful people. We don’t yell in anger, because we want to be peaceful people. It is about refining ourselves.