On Sticks and Snakes and Change
When I first moved to L.A., a rabbi I met here told me that there was only one worthwhile women's shiur in the whole of Los Angeles. As sad as that may be, it is probably true, and I started attending this one shiur. (The state of women's Jewish education in L.A. and elsewhere is another topic altogether—and not a pretty one.) While back in L.A. on vacation, I attended and we learned something cool relating to last week's parsha (it's a Chumash shiur, not a parsha shiur, but they are learning Shemot). And since I've been blog delinquent for quite some time, I decided to share it:
There are lots of questions that revolve around the choice of signs God shows Moshe, who in turn shows them to the Jewish people. Moshe is told to throw down his stick, which then becomes a snake, and then to grab the snake by the tail so that it turns back into a stick. Then Moshe is told to put his hand to his chest, then take it away to reveal tzaraat and then put it back to his chest and take it away to reveal its return to normalcy.
A lot of mepharshim talk about how these are both signs of lashon hara and how that is either symbolic of the fact that the Jews have cured their lashon hara problem or that Moshe spoke lashon hara about the Jews when he said he feared they would not believe he was sent from God. Another mephorash speaks about how Hashem traditionally punishes those who oppress the Jews with tzaraat. But, surely, something more must be at play. (After all, the Jews have been oppressed for a long time since those incidents, and it doesn't seem that all of God's proofs to the Jews should revolve around lashon harah.) Why these signs, specifically?
A possible answer is that these signs both show extraordinary change. The sign was that change is possible. The signs, of course, were primarily there to prove to the Jews that Moshe was being sent from God to take the people out of Egypt. But the choice of signs was to tell them the Jewish people that they could change, individually and as a nation, from what they had become, as slaves for hundreds of years.
I really wish I could remember which mepharshim said what. Also, I don't usually go for the fluffy stuff but somehow this resonated. Amid all the other possible answers for what these signs could mean, there was something compelling about this one.