Rod and Real: Vaera 2018

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: When you recall events in your past, do you tend to exaggerate certain details? Is this an intentional habit, or one that happens naturally or even accidentally?

Many who are familiar with the stories of the encounters between Moses, Aaron, and Pharaoh remember that Aaron’s walking-staff turns into a snake. But that’s not how everyone remembers it:

The Pitch: “‘When Pharaoh speaks to you and says, “Produce your marvel,” you shall say to Aaron, “Take your rod and cast it down before Pharaoh.” It shall turn into a serpent.’ So Moses and Aaron came before Pharaoh and did just as the LORD had commanded: Aaron cast down his rod in the presence of Pharaoh and his courtiers, and it turned into a serpent. Then Pharaoh, for his part, summoned the wise men and the sorcerers; and the Egyptian magicians, in turn, did the same with their spells; each cast down his rod, and they turned into serpents. But Aaron’s rod swallowed their rods.” – Exodus 7:9-12

Swing #1: “Moses sought to make Pharaoh understand that although they were hated and oppressed in Egypt to such a degree that they had lost all resemblance to human beings, the Jews could become the greatest and noblest among men if only they would be freed from the corrupt atmosphere of Egypt. To accomplish this end, Moses showed him the ‘rod of God’, the rod on which the Ineffable Divine Name was engraved. This was the rod by means of which the greatest miracles of all were performed. When it was cast down before Pharaoh, i.e., when it was placed into the environment of Pharaoh, it turned into a poisonous serpent, but as soon as Moses took hold of it, i.e., as soon as it returned to the immediate environment of Moses, it was transformed once again into a ‘rod of God.’ Such is the strength of the influence of environment on man.” – Rabbi Meir Shapiro of Lublin

Swing #2: “The Vulgate may have added to the confusion by rendering [the reptile a] dragon.” – Brevard S. Childs, The Book of Exodus

Swing #3: “[This serpent is] not a snake. This is different from the snake that Moses’ staff became in Exodus 4:3. Moses performed that miracle for the Israelite elders (Exodus 4:30). Now, in front of Pharaoh, Aaron’s staff becomes a tannin. This is the term that is used for the big sea serpents that God makes on the fifth day of creation (Genesis 1:21). They are not merely snakes, as people have often pictured them. They are extraordinary creatures from a seemingly unearthly realm.” – Richard Elliott Friedman, Commentary on the Torah

Late-Inning Questions: Our commentators indicate that the creature that swallows up the creatures produced by Pharaoh’s magicians was a not lowly snake that miraculously defeats a larger force, but rather an intimidating animal that overwhelms its opponents. How does that change the meaning of this story? Is God trying to demonstrate God’s might in a subtle way, or in a big way? When we exaggerate details from stories of our past, does it hinder or help our memories of true events?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: Thank you to everyone for your patience during and directly after our unprecedented snowfall. Our synagogue did its best to make decisions that would keep everyone safe, even though sometimes it needed to err on the side of caution. We’re glad to be back at work.

The Big Inning at the End: As many as 170 Major-Leaguers are headed to salary arbitration hearings today unless they reach agreements with their current teams. Player salaries are absurdly high, of course, but pale in comparison to the wealth of the owners. We can only hope that players and owners will continue to negotiate in good faith, as they have over the last 20 years or so, lest we find our way into labor strife once again.

Shabbat Shalom!