Parsha_Push for Vaera
Rabbanit Dr. Adina Sternberg
We all know that in different situations, people act differently. Whether it’s an accent that is suddenly accentuated when speaking to someone from your homeland, or the types of jokes one makes and shares in specific settings.
The signs performed with Moshe and Aharon’s staff focus on change. In the sign performed for Pharoh’s sake, the staff turns into a serpent or crocodile and eats the staffs of the sorcerers. Before the eyes of the people the staff changes into a snake, and then back to a staff.
Each one of these signs carries a different message. When Aharon’s staff turns into a serpent, he is teaching Pharoh that the staff – be it a shepherd’s staff or an innocent walking staff – can become a threatening serpent. The serpent or crocodile reminds us of one of the Egyptian gods, also mentioned in Yechezkel as part of Pharoh’s self-definition. When the staff turns into this symbol, the message is that Moshe and Aharon’s God is mightier than the Egyptians’. Our God will devour and defeat their gods. This reflects the understanding that, contrary to the present situation, the nation of slaves and shepherds will be able to stand up to their mighty oppressors.
However, when Moshe’s staff turns into a snake, a focal point of the sign is not the staff’s transfiguration, but rather the fact that it turned back into a staff. When we encounter change, it can be very scary. Whether the people fear that Moshe changed into an Egyptian when growing up in Pharoh’s home, or that he might become a cruel executioner, holding on to the identity of a venomous snake throughout his mission to punish Pharoh, this fear can be very potent. Just as Moshe needs to convince Pharoh he comes with great power, he needs to convince his people of his ability to remain a gentle and caring leader.
Times of war can change people. They might become harsh and cruel. They may lose compassion. The dual function of the staff, as both a punishing rod and the staff of a shepherd and a leader, reminds us of the expectations of our leaders at times of war, together with our expectations of them when the war is over. As we see with Moshe and Aharon, with great leaders the same staff that turns water into blood, will become the staff that derives water from a rock to nourish the people.
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