In this week's portion, once again, Hashem sent Moshe and Ahron to Pharaoh in
a second effort to sway his heart and have him change his mind to let the
Hebrews leave Egypt. Unlike the unembellished appeal in last week's portion,
this time they were equipped with more than pleas - this time they came with
miracles. Standing in front of the ruler, Ahron threw his stick down and it
turned into a snake. Pharaoh was not impressed. He countered with a little
magic of his own. His sorcerers matched the miraculous stick-to-snake act by
having his spooks throw down their sticks and by transforming them into
Ahron one-upped the Egyptian magicians as his stick swallowed all of their
sticks. But that obviously was not enough. Pharaoh's heart was once again
hardened and he refused to let the Jews leave Egypt. And so, Hashem decided
that the benign miracles would not be effective with the stubborn king. It
was time for the heavy artillery -- the ten plagues.
Hashem commands Moshe: "Go to Pharaoh in the morning -- behold! He goes out
to the water -- and you shall stand opposite him at the river's bank, and the
staff that was turned into a snake you shall take in your hand" (Exodus
7:15). A simple question bothers me. Moshe had only one special stick.
There are various Midrashic explanations as to its origin, but everyone
agrees it was a unique one. It was a special one with special powers. Moshe
may have been a leader of many hats, but he only carried one stick. Why did
Hashem need to define the stick as the one that turned into a snake? He
could have simply asked Moshe to come with his stick. Moshe would surely
have known exactly which stick Hashem wanted him to take.
Charles Lutwidge Dodgson is better known to us as Lewis Carroll, author of
the 1865 children's fantasy story, Alice in Wonderland. What most of us do
not know about him was that he was also a brilliant mathematician spending
more than twenty-five years teaching at Oxford University.
An apocryphal story relates that Queen Victoria was so delighted after
reading his fantasy-laced novel, Alice in Wonderland that she asked him to
send her any other works penned by the same quill. Dodgson responded
immediately, but the Queen was somewhat taken aback when she received two of
his other works, Syllabus of Plane Algebraical Geometry and An Elementary
Treatise on Determinants.
We tend to look at the world and forget that routine natural events are also
replete with awe-inspiring miracles and supernatural properties. We become
acclimated to the mundane miracles of life so that we also shrug when Hashem
turns proverbial sticks into proverbial snakes. We feel we can do that too!
Therefore, before orchestrating the largest insubordination of natural law in
world history, by turning the flowing Nile into a virtual blood bath, Moshe
is told to bring with him the stick that Pharaoh only considered to be
capable of performing minor miracles. Moshe is told that the same stick that
was not able to impress Pharaoh has the ability to shatter the Egyptian
economy and with it the haughty attitude that kept the Hebrew nation
Sometimes our marvel of G-d's wonders is dulled by the scoffing of the
naysayers. They lead us to forget that the same power behind the minor
miracles of life are the generators of great miracles that we can hardly
fathom and surely not anticipate! Even the incomprehensible miracle of life
itself is blunted by its ongoing regularity. Our emotions become bored and
our intellect spoiled with the majestic events that are considered trite by
their regular reoccurrence. And when we fail to see the greatness of genius
in the wonderland in which we live, we expect G-d to send us a more prominent
message. But we must never forget that even the most awe-inspiring message
comes from the same Hand and Stick that bring us the simplest benign worms!
Dedicated in memory of David Kramer by Mr. and Mrs. Seymour Kramer and family