"When Pharaoh says to you, Perform a miracle,' then say to Aaron, 'Take your staff and throw it down before Pharaoh,' and it will become a snake." - Exodus 7:9
This Torah portion for this week is Va'eira, which means "and I appeared," from Exodus 6:2-9:35, and the Haftorah is from Ezekiel 28:25-29:21.
For the first of God's many miracles, Moses was commanded to go to Pharaoh and turn a staff into a snake. Moses did as he was commanded; Aaron threw down his staff and it became a snake in front of Pharaoh. But we all know what happened next. Pharaoh's magicians performed exactly the same thing! In fact, according to Jewish tradition, every 5-year-old in Egypt could perform that same "trick." Couldn't God have sent Moses with something a bit more impressive?
The Jewish sages teach that the miracle wasn't meant to impress; it was intended to send a message.
Consider the following. In Egypt, a snake, particularly a cobra, was the symbol of royalty and deity. The pharaohs were considered to be both kings and gods. That's why, when you see pictures depicting ancient Egyptian pharaohs, you will notice that their entire headdresses were comprised of snake and cobra symbols. Often, a small snake stood at the top of the crown representing the snake-god Uraeus. The sides of the headdress were meant to replicate the banded hood of a cobra. Even the straight pointy beards that we see on sculptures of pharaohs were meant to look like the underbelly of a snake. God didn't pick a snake as His first miracle in front of Pharaoh as a whim. It was a deliberate choice and a poignant message.
When Aaron's snake swallowed up Pharaoh's snakes, that's when things got interesting. It was as if God was saying, "You think that you are a god, but I am the only God. I can swallow you up, and once you are gone, there will be no trace that you ever existed." God, on the other hand, is forever.
In our times, we can also "replicate" many of God's miracles. God can provide food, and we can go to the supermarket and provide food. God can heal, and we can go the doctor and be cured. God can create light, and we can also bring light to a dark room with the flick of a switch. We, too, can do all that!
But don't be fooled. We are not God. Only God is God. He was, is, and always will be. He is the source of all that we can do and all that we can be.
At the end of the scene, Aaron's snake turns back into a staff. There's a message here, too. We are not God; we are simply a staff - a tool in His hand. To those who desire honor, power, and wealth, this message will sting like a venomous snakebite. But to those who crave meaning, peace, and holiness, it is a soothing sound that calms the snake in us and frees our soul.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President