What Happened to My Big Fat "Thank You"?
Both personally and professionally, I’ve known too many people who have a “use them and abuse them” mentality. These egocentrics regard other people as cogs in a system whose sole raison d’etre is to revolve around their needs and ambitions. You are here to serve them and once you’ve done all you can, your usefulness has expired. They will find others to use and abuse. These thankless people may regard themselves as geniuses in their game of life, but the Torah regards them as Pharaohs, as arrogant enemies of Hashem.
We read in this week’s Torah portion, Shemot, about Joseph’s death and how “a new king arose over Egypt who knew not Joseph”-- the very Joseph who was the only man who could interpret Pharaoh’s dreams and who was appointed viceroy, standing only second to Pharaoh. The Joseph who made the country rich and saved it from ruin; The Joseph about whom all of Egypt heard when his brothers had arrived. Yes, that famous Joseph, with a coat of many colors, who we all still know about thousands of years later, yet, somehow, Pharaoh just couldn’t seem to remember him.
After all, remembering comes with a heavy price - we might have to say “Thank you.” And so, the new Pharaoh showed his gratitude by enslaving Israel and murdering their firstborn. Talk about appreciation! Some of our sages explain that the “new Pharaoh” was not a different person at all, but rather the very same Pharaoh who arose with a NEW attitude. Once the bad times were over, he figured the Jews were expendable. He thought himself a G-d and didn’t want to be outdone or overpowered by the people who made him successful.
The Torah teaches us a very different lesson about gratitude. After all the Egyptians did to the Israelites over their long years of slavery, the Torah commands us, “You shall not hate an Egyptian, for you were a sojourner in his land” (Deuteronomy 23:8). The Biblical commentator Rashi explains that we are not permitted to despise them because they hosted us in a time of need. If we can’t hate those who tormented us because they were once good to us, imagine how much more we owe those who were good to us. We must appreciate and consider the efforts on their part which made our lives better and easier even if only for a moment. Sometimes it is just a merciful moment that can save us from despair.