Monday, 18 January 2016

Three Signs for Two Peoples

Let's take a look at the signs Moshe is instructed to give Israel as proof of his divine mandate(שמות ד):

א וַיַּעַן מֹשֶׁה, וַיֹּאמֶר, וְהֵן לֹא-יַאֲמִינוּ לִי, וְלֹא יִשְׁמְעוּ בְּקֹלִי:  כִּי יֹאמְרוּ, לֹא-נִרְאָה אֵלֶיךָ יְהוָה.  ב וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו יְהוָה, מזה (מַה-זֶּה) בְיָדֶךָ; וַיֹּאמֶר, מַטֶּה.  ג וַיֹּאמֶר הַשְׁלִיכֵהוּ אַרְצָה, וַיַּשְׁלִכֵהוּ אַרְצָה וַיְהִי לְנָחָשׁ; וַיָּנָס מֹשֶׁה, מִפָּנָיו.  ד וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, שְׁלַח יָדְךָ, וֶאֱחֹז בִּזְנָבוֹ; וַיִּשְׁלַח יָדוֹ וַיַּחֲזֶק בּוֹ, וַיְהִי לְמַטֶּה בְּכַפּוֹ.  ה לְמַעַן יַאֲמִינוּ, כִּי-נִרְאָה אֵלֶיךָ יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵי אֲבֹתָם:  אֱלֹהֵי אַבְרָהָם אֱלֹהֵי יִצְחָק, וֵאלֹהֵי יַעֲקֹב.  ו וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה לוֹ עוֹד, הָבֵא-נָא יָדְךָ בְּחֵיקֶךָ, וַיָּבֵא יָדוֹ, בְּחֵיקוֹ; וַיּוֹצִאָהּ, וְהִנֵּה יָדוֹ מְצֹרַעַת כַּשָּׁלֶג.  ז וַיֹּאמֶר, הָשֵׁב יָדְךָ אֶל-חֵיקֶךָ, וַיָּשֶׁב יָדוֹ, אֶל-חֵיקוֹ; וַיּוֹצִאָהּ, מֵחֵיקוֹ, וְהִנֵּה-שָׁבָה, כִּבְשָׂרוֹ.  ח וְהָיָה, אִם-לֹא יַאֲמִינוּ לָךְ, וְלֹא יִשְׁמְעוּ, לְקֹל הָאֹת הָרִאשׁוֹן--וְהֶאֱמִינוּ, לְקֹל הָאֹת הָאַחֲרוֹן.  ט וְהָיָה אִם-לֹא יַאֲמִינוּ גַּם לִשְׁנֵי הָאֹתוֹת הָאֵלֶּה, וְלֹא יִשְׁמְעוּן לְקֹלֶךָ--וְלָקַחְתָּ מִמֵּימֵי הַיְאֹר, וְשָׁפַכְתָּ הַיַּבָּשָׁה; וְהָיוּ הַמַּיִם אֲשֶׁר תִּקַּח מִן-הַיְאֹר, וְהָיוּ לְדָם בַּיַּבָּשֶׁת.

The three signs given are:
  1. Staff turned to snake and back again
  2. The leprous hand and it's healing
  3. Pouring Nile water to blood

Now let us consider Moshe's second meeting with Pharaoh, before which he is commanded to give a sign to the King of Egypt(שמות ז):

ח וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה וְאֶל-אַהֲרֹן לֵאמֹר.  ט כִּי יְדַבֵּר אֲלֵכֶם פַּרְעֹה לֵאמֹר, תְּנוּ לָכֶם מוֹפֵת; וְאָמַרְתָּ אֶל-אַהֲרֹן, קַח אֶת-מַטְּךָ וְהַשְׁלֵךְ לִפְנֵי-פַרְעֹה--יְהִי לְתַנִּין.  י וַיָּבֹא מֹשֶׁה וְאַהֲרֹן, אֶל-פַּרְעֹה, וַיַּעֲשׂוּ כֵן, כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוָּה יְהוָה; וַיַּשְׁלֵךְ אַהֲרֹן אֶת-מַטֵּהוּ, לִפְנֵי פַרְעֹה וְלִפְנֵי עֲבָדָיו--וַיְהִי לְתַנִּין.  יא וַיִּקְרָא, גַּם-פַּרְעֹה, לַחֲכָמִים, וְלַמְכַשְּׁפִים; וַיַּעֲשׂוּ גַם-הֵם חַרְטֻמֵּי מִצְרַיִם, בְּלַהֲטֵיהֶם--כֵּן.  יב וַיַּשְׁלִיכוּ אִישׁ מַטֵּהוּ, וַיִּהְיוּ לְתַנִּינִם; וַיִּבְלַע מַטֵּה-אַהֲרֹן, אֶת-מַטֹּתָם.  יג וַיֶּחֱזַק לֵב פַּרְעֹה, וְלֹא שָׁמַע אֲלֵהֶם:  כַּאֲשֶׁר, דִּבֶּר יְהוָה.  {ס}  יד וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, כָּבֵד לֵב פַּרְעֹה; מֵאֵן, לְשַׁלַּח הָעָם.  טו לֵךְ אֶל-פַּרְעֹה בַּבֹּקֶר, הִנֵּה יֹצֵא הַמַּיְמָה, וְנִצַּבְתָּ לִקְרָאתוֹ, עַל-שְׂפַת הַיְאֹר; וְהַמַּטֶּה אֲשֶׁר-נֶהְפַּךְ לְנָחָשׁ, תִּקַּח בְּיָדֶךָ.  טז וְאָמַרְתָּ אֵלָיו, יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵי הָעִבְרִים שְׁלָחַנִי אֵלֶיךָ לֵאמֹר, שַׁלַּח אֶת-עַמִּי, וְיַעַבְדֻנִי בַּמִּדְבָּר; וְהִנֵּה לֹא-שָׁמַעְתָּ, עַד-כֹּה.  יז כֹּה, אָמַר יְהוָה, בְּזֹאת תֵּדַע, כִּי אֲנִי יְהוָה:  הִנֵּה אָנֹכִי מַכֶּה בַּמַּטֶּה אֲשֶׁר-בְּיָדִי, עַל-הַמַּיִם אֲשֶׁר בַּיְאֹר--וְנֶהֶפְכוּ לְדָם.  יח וְהַדָּגָה אֲשֶׁר-בַּיְאֹר תָּמוּת, וּבָאַשׁ הַיְאֹר; וְנִלְאוּ מִצְרַיִם, לִשְׁתּוֹת מַיִם מִן-הַיְאֹר.  {ס}  יט וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, אֱמֹר אֶל-אַהֲרֹן קַח מַטְּךָ וּנְטֵה-יָדְךָ עַל-מֵימֵי מִצְרַיִם עַל-נַהֲרֹתָם עַל-יְאֹרֵיהֶם וְעַל-אַגְמֵיהֶם וְעַל כָּל-מִקְוֵה מֵימֵיהֶם--וְיִהְיוּ-דָם; וְהָיָה דָם בְּכָל-אֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם, וּבָעֵצִים וּבָאֲבָנִים.  כ וַיַּעֲשׂוּ-כֵן מֹשֶׁה וְאַהֲרֹן כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוָּה יְהוָה, וַיָּרֶם בַּמַּטֶּה וַיַּךְ אֶת-הַמַּיִם אֲשֶׁר בַּיְאֹר, לְעֵינֵי פַרְעֹה, וּלְעֵינֵי עֲבָדָיו; וַיֵּהָפְכוּ כָּל-הַמַּיִם אֲשֶׁר-בַּיְאֹר, לְדָם.  כא וְהַדָּגָה אֲשֶׁר-בַּיְאֹר מֵתָה, וַיִּבְאַשׁ הַיְאֹר, וְלֹא-יָכְלוּ מִצְרַיִם, לִשְׁתּוֹת מַיִם מִן-הַיְאֹר; וַיְהִי הַדָּם, בְּכָל-אֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם.  כב וַיַּעֲשׂוּ-כֵן חַרְטֻמֵּי מִצְרַיִם, בְּלָטֵיהֶם; וַיֶּחֱזַק לֵב-פַּרְעֹה וְלֹא-שָׁמַע אֲלֵהֶם, כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר יְהוָה.  כג וַיִּפֶן פַּרְעֹה, וַיָּבֹא אֶל-בֵּיתוֹ; וְלֹא-שָׁת לִבּוֹ, גַּם-לָזֹאת.  כד וַיַּחְפְּרוּ כָל-מִצְרַיִם סְבִיבֹת הַיְאֹר, מַיִם לִשְׁתּוֹת:  כִּי לֹא יָכְלוּ לִשְׁתֹּת, מִמֵּימֵי הַיְאֹר.  כה וַיִּמָּלֵא, שִׁבְעַת יָמִים, אַחֲרֵי הַכּוֹת-יְהוָה, אֶת-הַיְאֹר.

 The first and third signs are repeated again, in slightly different form, for Pharaoh:

  1. Staff turned to crocodile. Eats magicians' crocodiles
  2. (no second sign)
  3. Entire Nile turned to blood(the first of 10 plagues)

What is the meaning of these signs? What is the reason for the discrepancies between the Children of Israel's version of the signs and Pharaoh's version?

The First Sign


The first sign shown to Pharaoh, turning the staff to a crocodile, is parallel to the first sign shown to the Children of Israel, turning the staff to a snake. Rashi clearly understood it as such, so much so that he equates the word for "crocodile" to the word for "snake":

ויהי לתנין - נחש

The pasuk also seems to use the two words interchangeably. After turning the staff to a Crocodile in front of Pharaoh, it is referred to as .הַמַּטֶּה אֲשֶׁר-נֶהְפַּךְ לְנָחָשׁ

So assuming both signs turned the staff into the same animal, which was it? What we call a "snake" or what we call a "crocodile"?

I tend to think it was a crocodile. For one, the pasuk in Ezekiel 29 is suggestive of such.

 ג דַּבֵּר וְאָמַרְתָּ כֹּה-אָמַר אֲדֹנָי יְהוִה, הִנְנִי עָלֶיךָ פַּרְעֹה מֶלֶךְ-מִצְרַיִם, הַתַּנִּים הַגָּדוֹל, הָרֹבֵץ בְּתוֹךְ יְאֹרָיו:  אֲשֶׁר אָמַר לִי יְאֹרִי, וַאֲנִי עֲשִׂיתִנִי.
Sobek
Secondly, it may be that the Crocodile was a fitting symbol for for Pharaoh in the Egytian cultural context(see Josh Waxman's recent post in parshablog about the crocodile god Sobek.)


So let's go back and focus on the differences between the two signs. When the Children of Israel are shown the staff changing into a crocodile, it is referred to as a "snake", a symbol that should recall for them the primordial serpent of Eden, a sign for temptation and sin. Not only that, but it is a terrifying serpent, which Moshe flees from when he first sees it. What happens next? Hashem commands Moshe to overcome his terror and grab it by the tail, a surefire way to get bitten, but instead, as soon as Moshe grasps it, it returns to a harmless staff. This sign contains a dual message for the Children of Israel:
  1. Though they have fallen into sin, Hashem calls them to "grab the snake by the tail" and repent
  2. With God's help the terrifying Pharaoh may become as tame and inert as a stick

With Pharaoh's version of the first sign, on the other hand, the crocodile is simply called a crocodile, because the message of tshuva is not relevant to him. Not only that, but the second part of this sign is quite different from the one performed before the Children of Israel. Here, the Egyptian Magicians perform the same trick, but Moshe's crocodile devours theirs. Pharaoh and his servants are being given a different double message:
  1. Egypt's Magic is no match for Hashem's Power
  2. Kingship belongs to Hashem. Hashem put Pharaoh on the throne. He can just as easily bring another more powerful king who will devour him


The Third Sign

Since there is no parallel to the second sign, let's skip to the third for now, that of the waters of the Nile turning to blood. At the burning bush, the pasuk distinguishes between the first two signs and the third in it's ability to convince Bnei Israel:

ט וְהָיָה אִם-לֹא יַאֲמִינוּ גַּם לִשְׁנֵי הָאֹתוֹת הָאֵלֶּה, וְלֹא יִשְׁמְעוּן לְקֹלֶךָ--וְלָקַחְתָּ מִמֵּימֵי הַיְאֹר, וְשָׁפַכְתָּ הַיַּבָּשָׁה; וְהָיוּ הַמַּיִם אֲשֶׁר תִּקַּח מִן-הַיְאֹר, וְהָיוּ לְדָם בַּיַּבָּשֶׁת

Whereas the first two signs were meant to convince Bnei Israel of Hashem's willingness to accept their repentance, this third sign makes a more passionate appeal. It is as if to say "Here is the blood of your sons who were thrown into the Nile. If you won't listen to Moshe for your own sake, listen to him for the sake of your slaughtered children!"

Compare this powerful, but small-scale symbol with the plague of Blood, performed in front of Pharaoh. All the water in Egypt is turned to blood, all life in the Nile dies, and the Egyptians are reduced to digging for ground water. The message here to Pharaoh is that the very blood of the infants he ordered thrown in the Nile will be his undoing.

The Second Sign


Finally let us return to the second sign, that of the Leprous Hand, which has no parallel among the signs shown to Pharaoh. We already mentioned that the first sign contained overtures to Bnei Israel to do tshuva. They may feel discouraged, however, by how far they have fallen. The answer to this is the sign of the Leprous Hand and it's healing. This miracle demonstrates that Hashem has the power to heal us from our impurity.

This understanding also tells us why Pharaoh received no parallel sign in this case. The option of Repentance that is being extended to the Children of Israel is not being extended to Pharaoh and his nation, in this instance. Therefore his first sign was not called nachash and his second sign is absent completely. Rather, the message of tshuva is for Israel alone, while Pharaoh and his nation must be paid back in full for all the blood they have spilled.

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