Saturday, January 20, 2007

Vaera by Reb Jay


In this week’s parsha, Moshe and Aron come to Pharoh to plead the case of the Jewish people. Hashem instructs them to show Pharoh a sign by turning their staff to snakes. Pharoh scoffs at what he views as “unimpressive magic”. He even brings in schoolchildren to prove the Egyptian people’s proficiency in magic. Aron then turns the snake back into a staff, and his staff eats all the other staffs in the room. Pharoh was also unmoved by this sign.

What is the meaning of this story? What is the significance of the staff?

The staff possessed by Moshe and Aron had been handed down since the time of Adam the first man.Within the staff there was a duality. On the one hand the staff had the four letter name of Hashem on it attesting to the mercy of Hashem. Also inscribed on the staff, however, was the acronym of the ten plagues, attesting to the aspect of Hashem’s judgement. ( Although the ten plagues had yet to take place, the acronym was the concept expressing Hashem’s dominion over the entire creation which wass the purpose of the ten plagues. The first three expressing Hashem’s dominion on things below the ground, the middle three expressing His dominion on the ground, and the last four expressing His dominion above ground. Thus the acronym was a prediction of the expression of Hashem’s power.)

This duality also spoke to a much deeper concept. We know that free will is perhaps the most fundamental aspect of creation. Without it, there would be no possibility of true good, because there would be no choice. Thus, evils role in the world is as a necessary option so that one may exercize one’s free will to be good. However, the question still remains: if Hashem is pure good, how can evil come from a source which is pure good?

The answer is that evil was not created, rather it was made possible. If we do what is right the world remains in its good state. If we pervert the world though, we turn that evil possibility into reality.

Rav Moshe Shapiro explains that this idea is signified through the staff. The word for staff in Hebrew is mateh. The word mateh can be used in a couple of different ways. It can mean to bend, and it can mean to extend or stretch out from the source, i.e., like a branch from a tree (which is what a staff is). The word mateh can also mean a tribe, which is what the twelve tribes were:extensions of Yaakov. This staff had originally been given to Adom—the first man. It was meant to stand as a junction between heaven and earth. Hashem told Moshe and Aron to turn the staff into a snake to signify that Pharoh was bending the world, much as a snake moves in a bent form, and the snake is a metaphor for the evil inclination, which causes man to desire to bend the world.

Pharoh laughs at this message. Moshe and Aron counter his laughter by having the staff eat the other staffs. This is display demonstrates that the straightness of the staff, when it is used as an extension between the heaven and earth, will always be able to overcome its use for evil. Thus the staff ideally symbolizes Hashem’s attribute of mercy, but when need be, symbolizes His attribute of judgement.

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