"Hashem said to Moshe, 'Say to Aharon..." (7:19)
Hashem commanded Moshe to defer to Aharon the task of implementing the first
plague, transforming the water of the Nile River into blood. Citing the
Midrash, Rashi explains that since the Nile had protected Moshe when he was
an infant, it would be a display of ingratitude to be the instrument through
which the river is smitten.1 What is the notion of expressing gratitude to
an inanimate object?
The value associated with an inanimate object is generally determined by the
manner in which it services mankind. This value increases when the object is
used by a person of great distinction; the greater the persona being
serviced the more elevated the object becomes. Much credence is given in
society to objects or places that once serviced men of great distinction.
The home of a past president becomes a landmark and a pair of glasses that
were worn by him, a collector's item. An object does not possess intrinsic
attributes that require a show of gratitude be made towards it. Rather,
showing respect and appreciation to an object expresses our reverence for
the person who benefited by it.
Consequently, man's obligation to respect himself makes it a requirement to
show respect to those items which have benefited him. Failing to acknowledge
the benefit that he received by lashing out at its source creates the
perception that he does not consider himself worthy of this benefit. If he
lacks respect for that which he has benefited from, he reveals that he lacks
respect for himself.
This notion is true concerning all aspects of appreciating benefit we have
received. If a person is unable or chooses not to express his gratitude for
the benefit he has received, he is proclaiming that he is not worthy of
receiving such benefit. Included in our obligation to appreciate what others
have done on our behalf, is the obligation that we have to ourselves to
acknowledge that we are worthy of receiving the beneficence of others.
"...and the staff of Aharon swallowed their staffs" (7:12)
Hashem commanded Moshe and Aharon to appear before Pharaoh.
Hashem informed them that Pharaoh will demand that they provide a "mofes" -
"wonder" to validate their claims that they are messengers of a higher
authority. Aharon cast down his staff and it turned into a snake. Pharaoh
summoned his sorcerers who replicated Aharon's actions. The Torah relates
that "Aharon's staff swallowed their staffs". What is the conflict being
waged between Aharon and the sorcerers? What message is Aharon sending
Pharoah and his sorcerers?
The Talmud refers to this episode as a "miracle within a miracle". Rashi
explains that Aharon's staff swallowed the sorcerers' staffs after it
transformed back into a staff. The Maharsha has difficulty with Rashi's
interpretation, specifically with why, according to Rashi, this is a
"miracle within a miracle"; the snake changing back to a staff is the first
miracle and the staff subsequently swallowing the sorcerers' staffs is the
second miracle. Should this not be described as a "miracle after a
miracle"? The Maharsha suggests that the miracle was that the staff of
Aharon did not expand after swallowing all the other staffs. This is the
Talmud's interpretation of a "miracle within a miracle". The Maharsha's
interpretation not only disagrees with Rashi's comments which make no
allusion to this miracle, but is not hinted to in the Talmud either.
It appears that Hashem was performing a powerful miracle for Pharaoh's sake.
If the purpose was to impress Pharaoh, why did Aharon's staff swallow the
sorcerers' staffs, implying that all the staffs transformed back from being
snakes? A staff swallowing a living creature would make a greater
impression. Would it not have been a greater miracle for Aharon's staff to
swallow their snakes? If, in fact, Aharon's staff did swallow their snakes,
and the Torah only refers to their snakes as staffs because that is what
they originally were, then it is possible that Aharon's staff never
transformed back from being a snake either. How would the Talmud know that
the miracle was that Aharon's snake in staff-form swallowed the staffs of
The Midrash states that the ten plagues which Hashem miraculously brought
upon the Egyptians corresponded to the ten utterances through which Hashem
created the world. What emerges from the Midrash is the understanding that a
miracle is not an illusion or a change in man's perception. Rather, a
miracle which involves a transformation in the nature of an object actually
creates the change, a new act of creation. A staff that becomes a snake
actually becomes a snake. Sorcery can make a staff display snake-like
qualities, but the "snake" is actually a staff. Aharon's snake reverting to
being a staff is itself a new miracle. The staff being capable of swallowing
the Egyptians' staffs is the second miracle. This is truly a miracle within
a miracle. The Torah identifies the Egyptians' snakes as staffs for that is
all they ever were. Their display of snake-like qualities was only an
illusion. Pharaoh and his sorcerers were being taught that their abilities
are only illusory, having no basis in reality. Only the Creator of the world
who is the ongoing source for all existence, has the ability to recreate
that which already exists and give it a new reality.