This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Shemot (5762)
At the end of this week's section, we see Moses doing three "introductory" miracles for the Jewish people. The first of which was turning his staff into a snake and then back again.
Maimonides writes (Yesodi Ha Torah 8:1) that the Jews believed in Moses because they heard G-d speak to him at Mount Siani, but not because of the miracles he did; miracles can be done by magicians as well.
The reason Moses did the miracles, was only in order to provide for the needs of the people; when they were hungry and thirsty he provided Manna from heaven, and water from a rock. When they wanted freedom he did the ten plagues etc.
If so, why did he turn the staff into a snake and then back again? It didn't provide for any needs, and the Torah tells us that Pharaoh's magicians in fact did pretty much the same thing?
I'd like to explain with a story I heard from Rabbi Yosi Jacobson in Crown Heights.
The Rebbe once heard that a liberal law had just been passed in New York condoning certain immoral conduct in the public schools. The Rebbe wanted to protest publicly, but he knew it would be much more effective if the other orthodox groups would do so first.
He called Rabbi Jacobson's father, the editor-in-chief of a well-known Jewish newspaper the Algemainer Journal, and asked him to please contact all the groups (almost a hundred of them) and see if they would issue public statements in his paper.
Mr Jacobson did so and even succeed somewhat, but when he reported the results to the Rebbe he added that there were many that refused to participate, and even got angry and yelled at him saying, "What are you mixing into the problems of the Non-Jews? Haven't we got enough problems of our own, before you go out to cure the world?"
The Rebbe answered and said, "What can I do? I just can't stand it if "Atzulus" is not united with Assia!"
("Atzilus" is the highest level of holiness, "Assia" the lowest – as it is in this world).
Here is a similar story I heard from one of the Rebbe's personal secretaries, Rabbi Laibel Groner.
One of the Rebbe's distant relatives, a middle-aged woman, had been feeling very ill. She went to see a doctor who gave her a check up, and advised her that she had no other choice than to make a difficult and dangerous operation as soon as possible.
As could be expected, she was very apprehensive, and because of her family connection decided to call the Rebbe's wife at home and ask for the Rebbe's blessing and advice.
The Rebbe's wife said that although she could not promise, she would try to mention it to him when he arrived home. And sure enough that evening, she found an opportunity and asked. The Rebbe immediately replied that the woman should definitely NOT have the operation.
The next day when the relative called back to see if there was a reply, she was relieved to hear the Rebbe's advice. But on the other hand, she was feeling so poorly that she wasn't able to leave the hospital.
The next day the Rebbe's wife received another urgent call from the woman. The doctor's were driving her crazy. They said that refusal to have the operation was tantamount to suicide, and in fact she was feeling worse and worse every hour, and she felt she had no other choice than to let them carry out the operation. After all they were experts, they were so sure of themselves and it was becoming impossible to say no.
She begged the Rebbe's wife to ask the Rebbe again.
"Once the Rebbe says something he rarely changes his mind" she answered. "I won't ask him. But if he asks me about you then I'll tell him what you said".
Sure enough the first thing the Rebbe did when he arrived home was to ask about the woman.
"Well, she called again and said she is feeling very ill and the doctors are putting severe pressure on her to have the operation" his wife replied.
The Rebbe thought for a few seconds and said. "No, she has to search the entire hospital for a doctor who is willing to try another approach to cure her disease. But in any case she must NOT make the operation."
The Rebbe's wife relayed the answer and the woman's family began searching the hospital for another doctor.
Finally, late that night they found a doctor in another department who was willing to have a look, but only on the condition that no one knew of his visit. Somehow they got him into her room, and after a short examination he announced that he was willing to try something, but with absolutely no guarantees.
He would give her an injection of a certain drug. If she responded favorably, then they would have to move her to his department and only then would he be willing to finish the treatment.
They readily agreed. He gave her the injection, and sure enough an hour later they could see the improvement. She was moved into his department, he continued the treatment, and several weeks later she left the hospital a completely cured woman!
Of course the first thing she did when she arrived home was call the Rebbe's wife to thank the Rebbe for saving her life.
Rabbi Groner was present when the Rebbe's wife relayed the message of thanks and the Rebbe replied. "I just saw that if she made that operation she wouldn’t come off the operating table alive."
Then he hesitated for a few seconds and continued. "People have to understand that when we (the Rebbes) say something they have to listen, even if they don’t understand."
This is the meaning of this first "sign". Moses was trying to tell the Jewish people two things. Firstly, don't think that evil (represented by the serpant) is separate from, or more powerful than G-d (Moshe's staff). Evil, even such powerful evils as Pharaoh and all Egypt, is just another creation. G-d creates it and He can negate it when He so desires. As G-d would later say in the first of the Ten Commandments: "I am G-d THAT TOOK YOU OUT OF EGYPT" - "Atzilus" must be united with "Assia".
Secondly, this transformation can be accomplished ONLY by Moses. Only he has the staff, and only he has the courage, vision and power to go into Pharaoh and demand freedom. But Moses requires the unquestioning support of all the Jewish people.
So this is why Moses did the "sign" of transforming the staff. To teach the people the theme of the plagues. And Secondly, to win their loyalty and assistance.
Similarly it will be in the final redemption by Moshiach. The Lubavitch Rebbe says this redemption has already begun and Moshiach has already arrived. Soon the evil will be transformed, as Maimonides says and as we say three times daily in the Alenu prayer, and the entire world will only be occupied only in knowing and living the truth.
But this depends on us. We must learn all we can about Moshiach (especially the books Lekuti Torah and Torah Ohr) and do, say, and even think of all we can to reveal him even one second earlier.
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