We believe that God orchestrates everything in this world. Everything is part of the Divine plan, even when things happen that seem unimportant or even terrible at the time.

This week’s Torah portion is Shemot (Exodus 1:1–6:1), and with it we begin the Book of Exodus.

After almost being executed by Pharaoh for having killed an abusive Egyptian taskmaster, Moses manages to escape the sword and flees to Midian. He immediately heads “downtown” and sits himself down at the well, just as Jethro’s daughters are coming to water their flock. At the same time, some cruel shepherds try to chase away the girls in order to have the well for themselves. Moses promptly stands up in defense of the girls and sends the thuggish shepherds packing. Moses then helps the girls to water their flock. The girls thank Moses and head home. (You saw the movie, now read the Book!)

With Moses helping them, the girls finish their job more quickly than usual and arrived home rather early. As the Torah says, “And they came to Reuel [another name for Jethro] their father and he said, ‘Why have you come home early today? ‘And they said, ‘An Egyptian saved us from the hands of the shepherds and he also drew the water for us and watered the sheep.'”

The Midrash (rabbinic literature) offers a parable regarding the episode of Moses and Jethro’s daughters. There was once a man who was bitten by a snake, and he went down to the river to wash his wound. When he arrived at the river, he found a child drowning and rescued him. The child later told him, “If not for you, I would be dead.” To which the rescuer responded, “It was not I who saved you, but the snake that bit me. If not for the snake I would not have gone down to the river and would not have saved you.”

The Midrash says that this was essentially the gist of the dialogue between Moses and Jethro’s daughters. When the girls thanked Moses for saving them from the shepherd thugs, Moses said, “It was not I who saved you. It was the Egyptian man I killed, which ultimately caused me to flee Egypt. Had it not been for him, I would not have been able to help you today.” That is why the girls told their father, “An Egyptian man saved us from the hands of the shepherds.”

This teaching offers us a major lesson in appreciation.

We are obligated to show appreciation when appropriate. This is similar to the saying, “Give credit where credit is due”. But here might be a lesson on just how far back we must show appreciation…right back to the evil Egyptian man who was the indirect cause of Moses having to flee Egypt.

Most people might suggest that giving credit that far back, and to such an unsavory individual, is ridiculous, and they are probably right, but it is intended to remind us of the extent of Divine Providence.

We believe that God orchestrates everything in this world. Everything is part of the Divine plan, even when things happen that seem unimportant or even terrible at the time.

Certainly, the average person would never think of thanking the evil shepherds who harassed Jethro’s daughters, or the snake who bit the rescuer, but as God-fearing people, we do think of it! Our goal in life is to try and make sense of the Divine plan and to look for ways to thank God for all the good that the He bestows upon us.

By: Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel

For more of Rabbi Enkin’s insights into this week’s Torah portion, click the links below: