How could Moshe be the right man for the job?!

We are so used to the idea of Moshe leading the Exodus, that we might not realize that he was, ostensibly, an inappropriate choice for the position. Considering that Moshe was rescued by Pharaoh’s daughter and brought up in his palace, doesn’t it seem just a little ungracious for Moshe to march into his childhood home and threaten the one who had raised him? 

Chazal say that Moshe could not have been the one to summon the first three plagues by striking the Nile or ground of Egypt because he owed hakaras hatov to these elements that had protected him in his youth (Rashi, Sh’mos 7:19, 8:12). If Moshe’s sense of gratitude prevented him from hitting even inanimate objects, then these feelings certainly should have precluded him from striking his adoptive father, Pharaoh! Why didn’t Hashem just pick someone else for the job?

Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv zt”l answered that Moshe was chosen for this mission specifically because it would demonstrate blatant ingratitude toward Pharaoh. The root of all of Pharaoh’s evil ways was his lack of hakaras hatov. It started with his decision to forget all of the good that Yosef had done for his country, as if he had never known Yosef at all (Rashi, Sh’mos 1:8). Eventually, his “attitude of ingratitude” led him to deny the existence of G-d Himself (Sh’mos 5:2; Rabbeinu Bachya to 1:8), as he brazenly refused to acknowledge all of the wealth and power that Hashem had given him (Chullin 89a). Everything Pharaoh did - from his enslavement of the Jewish people to his denial of their religious freedom - was rooted in this terrible trait of ingratitude.

Rav Elyashiv explained that Hashem was trying to send Pharaoh an urgent message to stop being ungrateful, to release Yosef’s descendants from slavery - and Hashem did so by showing Pharaoh just how much it hurt to be unappreciated. When Moshe came barging through the doors of his childhood home and threatened his former caretaker that he would overturn Egypt with plagues, it should have shocked and devastated Pharaoh that someone could be so ungrateful! Pharaoh was supposed to internalize this feeling, and recognize that he, too, had demonstrated such a lack of hakaras hatov by imprisoning Yosef’s descendents, Hashem’s special nation. 

It was Moshe who had the greatest chance of conveying to Pharaoh the critical importance of gratitude and convincing him to free the nation; this is why Hashem chose him to lead the charge. When even that proved unsuccessful, Hashem had no choice but to personally intervene and redeem us from Egypt with signs and wonders.

We all have moments when we feel underappreciated and taken for granted. While such experiences can be frustrating and invalidating, they also present an opportunity for introspection and growth. A proverbial “slap in the face” may be Hashem’s way of reminding us that there are family members, friends, or work associates that feel slighted by our own lack of gratitude. With the right attitude, we can gain a proper appreciation for the midah of hakaras hatov!

Rabbi Yaakov Abramovitz is Assistant to the Rabbi at the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills and presides over its Young Marrieds Minyan, while also pursuing a PsyD in School and Clinical Child Psychology at the Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


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