“Then the magicians said unto Pharaoh, ‘This is the finger of God…’” (Exodus 8:19)
Parashat Va’era pits God’s might against Pharaoh’s stubbornness. The first several plagues convince Pharaoh’s sorcerers to give up their wands (Ex. 8:19), but Pharaoh remains resolute.
Moses tries to warn Pharaoh of God’s power. He and Aaron go to the palace where Aaron throws his staff down, turning it into a snake. Pharaoh’s magicians do the same with their staffs, whereupon Aaron’s snake swallows them all (Ex. 7:10-12). However, a closer reading shows the text says, “…but Aaron’s rod swallowed up their rods.” Does it really matter if it’s a snake or a staff that does the job? It turns out it does.
Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (1865-1935; first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of British Mandatory Palestine) explains: some miracles exist to help those in need and merely adapt or extend something that already exists. One example is the Chanukah miracle, when a jar of oil is miraculously “stretched” to last eight days (Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 21b). But the miracle of Aaron’s staff/snake/staff has a different purpose: to let Pharaoh know, “…I am the Lord.” (Ex. 7:5). In this case, God creates a “miracle within a miracle” completely independent of the natural world. So, while the Egyptians manage to work with nature to create a small disruption (although turning a staff into a snake is not chopped liver!), only God can manage something completely outside of nature: a stick that eats.
Pharaoh’s narcissism blinds him: in Parashat Sh’mot he believes he is above history and in Parashat Va’era this week he believes he’s above nature. This hubris dooms him, ultimately. Stay tuned.
Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom