From Snake to Staff

When the Ribbono shel Olam instructed Moshe Rabbeinu to return to Egypt and be His messenger to lead Bnei Yisrael out of exile, Moshe Rabbeinu expressed concern how his brethren would react to him.

“But they will not believe me, and not heed my voice,” he told Hashem. “For they will say, Hashem did not appear to you.”

Hakadosh Baruch Hu then gave him three signs. The first one involved his staff.

“What is in your hand?” Hashem asked Moshe Rabbeinu.

“A staff,” Moshe Rabbeinu replied.

“Throw it to the ground,” Hashem instructed.

Moshe Rabbeinu threw it to the ground and it became a snake, and Moshe fled from it.

Hashem then told Moshe Rabbeinu, “Stretch out your hand and grasp its tail.”

Moshe Rabbeinu grasped it, and it became once again a staff in his palm.

The second sign involved his hand.

“Bring your hand to your bosom,” Hashem told him.

He did so, and when he withdrew it, his hand was stricken with tzaraas.

“Return your hand to your bosom,” Hashem instructed him. Once again, he did so. When he removed it this time, he saw that the tzaraas had vanished.

The third sign was of water from the river, which when poured out onto dry land turned into blood.

The Bluzhever Rebbe, Harav Yisrael Shapira, zy”a, a Holocaust survivor who served as a Rav for eight decades, as well as a Rebbe for nearly 60 years, teaches that these three signs were all interconnected.

Moshe Rabbeinu had stated an implied criticism of Bnei Yisrael when he said that they would not believe him. He also wondered what zechuyos they had to merit the Geulah.

The Ribbono shel Olam taught him to constantly seek out and exclusively see the good of Yidden; to recognize that when they do sin it is not out of malice, but out of misery. It is the poverty, the persecution and the oppression that are the roots of sin.

This was the message in each of these signs.

The staff that Moshe Rabbeinu held was hardly torn from a tree. It was created late on the first Friday of Creation, and the ineffable Name of Hashem was inscribed into it. It was given to Adam while still in Gan Eden, carefully guarded, and passed down the generations until Yosef Hatzaddik.

Upon the petirah of Yosef, his possessions were seized by Pharaoh. Yisro, then still an advisor to Pharaoh, came across the staff and eventually planted it in his own garden. No one was able to uproot the staff until Moshe Rabbeinu, who took it with him.

Yet despite the enormous holiness of this stick, when it was thrown to the ground — it turned into a snake, the symbol of evil and impurity.

Hashem told Moshe Rabbeinu to grasp its tail; Moshe Rabbeinu took hold of it, and it became a staff in his palm.

So it is with a Yid. Thrown to the ground, plunged into the depths of evil and impurity, merely reaching out to him, taking hold of him, giving him some chizuk, can return him to his previously high, unblemished state of purity.

We cannot even fathom the holiness of the hands of Moshe Rabbeinu, hands that were the conduit for many miracles for his people, hands that received the Luchos from Hashem. Yet even such holy hands, when “removed” from the “bosom,” is stricken with impure tzaraas. When “returned” to the bosom, to its proper place, it reverts to its previous state of holiness.

This is also evident with the water taken from the river. Those who are impure can achieve purity through immersing in water. Yet when water is removed from its proper habitat, this agent of purification can turn into blood, which symbolizes impurity.

The Ribbono shel Olam was informing Moshe Rabbeinu that it is “where” they are, i.e. the bitterness of their plight, that is causing the spiritual imperfection of the Yidden. In place of criticizing them, instead of wondering what zechuyos they had, it would be better to give them words of chizuk to lift their hearts and spirits.

For were they to receive this much-needed lift, were their hearts strengthened and “returned,” then they would certainly return with all their heart to Hashem, and fully merit the Geulah.

As the first of the six weeks known as Shovavim, a special period of teshuvah, comes to a close, let us strengthen each other and ourselves, so that we too can return to Hashem; and merit the Geulah sheleimah.