The right man for the job

Pharaoh and his advisers assuredly looked upon Moshe with great suspicion and had a hunch that he might again assert himself against the country.

Rabbi Avraham Gordimer

Judaism Rabbi Avraham Gordimer
Rabbi Avraham Gordimer
Rabbi Avraham Gordimer

Rashi tells us that the Makkot of Dam and Tzefarde’a (Plagues of Blood and Frogs) were brought about by Aharon (Aaron) rather than by Moshe (Moses), because the Nile, which was smitten with these Plagues, had protected Moshe when he as a baby was placed therein. (Rashi on Shemot/Exodus 7:19, from Midrash Shemot Rabbah) This reflects the middah, the character trait, of hakarat ha-tov (gratitude), as it was not proper for Moshe to bring a Plague upon the body of water that was used to save his life.

And so too regarding Makkat Kinim, the Plague of Lice, it was Aharon and not Moshe who struck the earth, which thereupon turned to lice. Since the earth had protected Moshe when he killed the Egyptian taskmaster who was mercilessly beating a Jew, for Moshe hid the taskmaster's body in the ground, it was not appropriate for Moshe to be the one to inflict a Makkah upon the earth. (Rashi on Shemot 8:12, citing Midrash Shemot Rabbah)    

With this in mind, we must ask why Hashem instructed that Aharon, rather than Moshe, toss down his staff (to become a serpent and swallow up the other staff-serpents) when challenged by Pharaoh to provide a sign that God had spoken to Moshe and commanded that Pharaoh set the Children of Israel free. (Shemot 7:3-13) Why was this initial sign not performed by Moshe? The above rationale as to why Moshe did not bring about the Makkot of Dam, Tzefarde’a and Kinim does not pertain in the case of the staff becoming a serpent, so why was this sign not performed by Moshe himself, as were the balance of the Makkot after Kinim?

We read in last week’s parshah that Moshe had to flee from Egypt after killing the Egyptian taskmaster, as the Egyptian government had attempted to execute Moshe for his act. (ibid. 2:15) Although Moshe was later told by Hashem that it was safe to return to Egypt (ibid. 4:19), Moshe most certainly was viewed by the Egyptian government as a criminal and a rebel. Moshe’s life was not threatened when he returned to Egypt, but Pharaoh and his advisers assuredly looked upon Moshe with great suspicion and had a hunch that he might again assert himself against the country for the sake of the Children of Israel. Furthermore, since Moshe grew up in the palace of Pharaoh, where he became well-acquainted with high Egyptian culture and observed close-up how to govern, Pharaoh realized that Moshe could in the future quite likely seek to start an uprising and establish himself as a leader.

It is in this context that the narrative of Aharon’s staff must be understood. Had Moshe himself performed this sign, it could very well have signaled to Pharaoh and his advisers that Moshe, who was already viewed by the Egyptian monarchy as trouble-maker, was now presenting himself as a miracle man or a demigod who was seeking personal power and reign, competing with Pharaoh, who considered himself a mighty deity. The issue would have become wholly personal, and Moshe’s message that it was God who is the true and only Power would have been lost.

Pharaoh would have dismissed the whole thing as an attempted power grab by Moshe, using the idea of God commanding that the Children of Israel be freed as a mere excuse for Moshe to try to wrest control. It was thus Aharon, an outsider, who performed the miraculous sign with his staff, so as to prevent this event from being personalized by Pharaoh and branded a self-centered coup attempt on the part of Moshe. Only once it was clear that Moshe’s message was sincere and was focused on the authority of God and not on Moshe himself, could the challenge develop into something serious and grand.

When we critique or stand up for Torah values, we must follow Moshe’s example and keep at the forefront of our consciousness that our efforts are for the sake of God – l’shem shamayim. Once things become personal, they degenerate into a power struggle and fail to achieve the goal. We must at times take a stand and not shy away, but our outlook and presentation need to be solely those of honoring God and His Torah.