Ki yedaber aleichem Paroh leimor tenu lachem mofes v’amarta el Aharon kach es mat’cha v’hashleich lifnei Paroh yehi l’sanin (Shemos 7:9)
The Mishnah in Avos (5:6) teaches that one of the 10 items created at twilight on the sixth day of Creation, just before the onset of Shabbos, was the special staff with which Moshe performed numerous miracles, such as throwing it to the ground at the burning bush, where it was transformed into a snake (Shemos 4:3). However, in Parashas Va’eira, Hashem instructs Moshe that when Pharaoh demands that he provide a wondrous sign, he should tell Aharon to cast down his staff, which will turn into a snake, and the Torah subsequently records (7:12) that the staff of Aharon swallowed the staffs of Pharaoh’s sorcerers.
Similarly, in initiating the first three plagues of blood, frogs and lice, Hashem commands Moshe to tell Aharon to use his staff to bring them on (7:19, 8:1, 8:12), which seems to indicate that there were two different staffs, one belonging to Moshe that was used in Parashas Shemos, and one belonging to Aharon that was used in Parashas Va’eira. Were there, in fact, two different staffs?
The Ohr HaChaim Hakadosh (4:17) quotes the Zohar Hakadosh, which says that there were, in fact, two different staffs, and explains that this is why Hashem had to specify that Moshe should take “this” staff, and not the other one. This also appears to be the opinion of the Kli Yakar and Netziv (7:9). However, the Ibn Ezra (7:9) disagrees and maintains that there was only one staff, which belonged to Moshe. Whenever Aharon needed to use the staff to perform a miracle, Moshe lent it to him and transferred ownership to his brother, so that it was legitimately considered as belonging to Aharon.
As proof for his opinion, the Ibn Ezra notes that when the Jewish people asked for water in Parashas Beshalach (17:5), Hashem told Moshe to take his staff with which he struck the Nile and bring forth water from the rock. If there were two different staffs, then Aharon hit the river using his own staff, not Moshe’s. From the fact that Hashem described Moshe’s staff as having struck the Nile, we can deduce that there was only one staff, which Moshe gifted to Aharon to use on his behalf in bringing forth the plagues.
The Netziv writes that Rashi appears to agree with the Ibn Ezra, noting that when Aharon threw his staff on the ground in front of Pharaoh, the Torah says (7:10) that it became a tanin (serpent). However, Rashi comments that it turned into a nachash (snake), which is difficult to understand, because they are not the same, as a tanin lives in water while a nachash lives on land. If the Torah testifies that the staff was transformed into a serpent, why would Rashi deviate and say that it became a snake?
The Netziv suggests that Rashi felt compelled to stray from the text because, like the Ibn Ezra, he held that there was only one staff, which the Torah says was transformed into a nachash at the burning bush. In introducing the first plague, Hashem instructed Moshe (7:15) to take the staff that was changed into a nachash and use it to strike the river to turn it into blood.
However, if there were two different staffs and Aharon used his to initiate the plague, Hashem should have told Moshe to use the staff that was changed into a tanin, since Aharon’s staff became a serpent, and not the one that became a nachash, since that refers to Moshe’s staff. Due to this textual difficulty, Rashi concluded that there must have only been one staff, and he was therefore forced to depart from the text in saying that it was transformed into a nachash, even though the Torah describes it as a tanin.
This confusion about the staffs continues in Parashas Chukas (Bamidbar 20:8), where Hashem commands Moshe to take his staff and bring forth water from a rock. This is known as Mei Merivah (the waters of strife), as Moshe was punished for not following instructions. Rashi writes (20:11–12) that Moshe’s sin was that Hashem commanded him to speak to the rock to bring forth water, but he instead did so by hitting the rock with his staff. However, if Moshe was not supposed to use his staff, it is difficult to understand why Hashem commanded him to take it. Therefore, the Chasam Sofer suggests that the problem was that there were two staffs, one belonging to Moshe and one belonging to Aharon. When Hashem told Moshe, “Take the staff,” without specifying which one, Moshe, in his humility, assumed that He was referring to Aharon’s staff when, in reality, Hashem wanted Moshe to take his own special staff that had been around since the time of Creation.
Although Aharon recognized Moshe’s mistake, he felt uncomfortable correcting his teacher, and it was this misunderstanding about which staff to use that resulted in their inability to enter the Land of Israel as punishment for this incident.
Q: The Torah records (Shemos 6:25) that Elazar the son of Aharon took for himself one of the daughters of Putiel as a wife for himself, and she bore for him Pinchas. Why does the Torah stress three times in one verse that Elazar’s wife and her actions were “for him?”
A: 1) The Netziv explains that Elazar’s wife was descended from Yisro, which wasn’t considered nearly as respected a lineage as he came from. Still, she had such a great desire to be a helpmate to him in his spiritual growth that she was willing to completely negate her personal feelings and desires to assist him. Recognizing this, he was willing to overlook her lack of prestigious ancestry and marry her. Because of her dedication to him, she merited to give birth to him — the righteous Pinchas.
Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.