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Friday, January 16

The Weekly Shtikle - Shemos

After a lengthy discourse at the burning bush, HaShem instructs Moshe Rabbeinu to appear before the elders of B'nei Yisroel and proclaim in HaShem's name, "Pakod pakadti eschem," I have surely visited you. With this simple introduction, the elders would listen to Moshe and he would proceed to come before Paroah and begin the redemption process. However, Moshe contends that B'nei Yisroel will not believe him and will claim that HaShem never appeared to him. HaShem then proceeds to give Moshe three signs to use in front of B'nei Yisroel. The first is to turn his staff into a snake. The second was to place his hand in his bosom. Upon removing it, it became afflicted with tzora'as and turned white as snow. After placing his hand inside once more, his hand returned to normal. If they would not believe in the first sign, they would believe in the second. If they would not believe even the second sign, then Moshe was to take from the waters of the Nile and pour them onto the ground at which point they would turn to blood. (3:17-4:9)


The necessity of the signs seems easily explainable. Moshe was originally told that all he would need to say is "Pakod pakadti eschem, etc" in order to achieve the trust of B'nei Yisroel. According to the well-known Midrash, based on a pasuk at the end of last week's parsha, there was a tradition passed on from Yoseif that this specific phraseology was a code that would only be uttered by the ultimate redeemer of B'nei Yisroel. This was all Moshe really needed. However, since he showed a lack of faith in his nation's trust, he was required to prove his validity through these signs. Why three, though? What was it about the second sign that made him more believable than the first? What advantage did the third have over the previous two?


The first sign is a rather simple one. On the surface, there seems to be little significance to this trick. Perhaps, this was meant as a simple proof that Moshe Rabbeinu possessed special powers.  At a certain level of desperation, this might have been enough to gain the trust of the people. But Moshe had to do more. The second sign had more symbolic significance. When one is trying to prove his powers to the masses, it is unconventional to inflict harm upon himself. However, what Moshe was proving to B'nei Yisroel with this sign was that he was prepared to put himself in personal danger for the sake of the people. In this, Moshe was proving not only his extraordinary powers but his quality as a leader. A true leader is one who not only takes credit for the success of his followers, but is prepared to sacrifice his dignity, and perhaps even his life, in taking responsibility for their failures. Indeed, the end of this week's parsha is only the first of many instances in which Moshe Rabbeinu exhibited this aspect of leadership.


Finally, if these two signs still were not enough, the third sign would divert the nation's attention to a different aspect of the issue at hand. The Nile was the lifeline of Egyptian agriculture and an object of worship in and of itself. Turning it to blood symbolized the first step towards the destruction of this evil regime. The combination of these three signs would prove unequivocally that Moshe Rabbeinu was imbued with special powers and sent by HaShem to lead B'nei Yisroel to their long-awaited redemption.

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka


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