Parshat Va’eira Dvar Torah
By Stephen Kirschenbaum
The Imrei Daas was written by Rav Meir Shapiro, the founder of the Daf Yomi. It’s known that his last words to his Talmidim who had surrounded his bed prior to his death were ‘Nor Mit Simcha’ — only with joy. His last message was we have to move forward only with joy, only with Simcha. He has a well-known piece on Parshas Vaeira. When Moshe stands before Pharaoh and is performing the signs, the Chumash says, ‘Ki Yedaber Aleichem Pharoh Leimor Tenu Lechem Mofes Ve’amarta El Aharon Kach Es Matcha Vehashlech Lifnei Paroh Yehi Lesanin.’ Moshe is going to throw down the staff and it will turn into a snake. Asks Rav Meir Shapiro, why does it say Lachem? Perform for yourself a sign? Isn’t the Mofes, the sign for Pharaoh, to show Pharaoh who they are? Why is this being presented as when Pharaoh says to you, Tenu Lachem Mofes, make a sign for yourself? Why doesn’t Pharaoh say do a wonder for me? Further, of all things, why is the response of the staff turning into the snake the proper response?
He explains when Moshe comes before Pharaoh and says the Jewish people are the greatest people in the world, they are Hashem’s Bechor, His children, Banim Atem LaHashem Elokaichem, Pharaoh may respond, really? These Jews, who are on the 49th level of Tumah, these Jews who the angels are going to accuse at the Yam Suf were being Oved Avoda Zara, they’re your pride and joy, G-d? How are they different than the Mitzrim? The Egyptians worship Avoda Zara and the Jews worship Avoda Zara. However, Moshe will respond that its true that a Jew, when he is steeped in the filth of Mitzrayim, and he is broken by everything the Mitzrim have done to them, it’s true that the Jews are at a very low place. But this is only true as long as the Jews are subservient to Pharaoh. When HKBH takes them out of Mitzrayim, out of that destructive environment, then we will see what Bni Bechori Yisrael means. This is not their essential and true self. You will see this Pharaoh.
How is the Mofes with the snake the response? This is Pshat in the Pasuk. Tenu Lachem Mofes, prove that your words are true and correct. Prove to me, says Pharaoh, that if the Jews left Mitzrayim, all of a sudden they would be great Tzaddikim and be able to shake off the filth of Mitzrayim. This is what you are claiming, Moshe, so prove it. Show me before I even consider setting you free, that this is true. So, G-d says tell Aharon to take your staff; the staff is going to prove the reliability of Moshe and Aharon’s claim. The greatest influence on a person is the surroundings in which he finds himself. Klal Yisrael were in Mitzrayim. The whole notion of Mitzrayim, the word Meitzar means trapped, enclosed, and engulfed by your surroundings. The worst person who is in a positive environment can have an Aliya, and the best person who is in a negative environment can be dragged down. A person who is a low person but if he surrounds himself by the right people, the right environment will be uplifted, or a person can turn to a low level if he is in a negative environment.
The environment of a person has a major effect on them. So, Moshe was saying to Pharaoh, you look at Bnai Yisrael, now, they’re in a low place. But they can become princely people once they leave this environment. To prove this, HKBH says to Moshe, take the staff which has Shem Hashem etched into it and was made out of sapphire, so it contained intrinsic Kedusha and was very precious, and when you take that staff and throw it down on the floor, and it’s in the presence of Pharaoh, it turns into a Nachash, the greatest embodiment amongst the animals of Tumah. The root of everything wrong in this world. As soon as Moshe grabs onto the tail, meaning once you even come to the edge of it and it comes into contact with a Tzadik, a Moshe or an Aharon, then it turns immediately back into the staff that it truly is. The same is true by Klal Yisrael. The Jewish people in an unbelievable celebratory way will quickly revert to being proper servants of G-d. This is the idea in the staff, Tenu Lachem Mofes. Sometimes a person says this is who I am, but it’s not who you are in truth. If a person doesn’t surround himself with the proper environment, you become something that you are not. This is what Moshe is saying to Pharaoh: if a holy staff is in your hands, Pharaoh, it can become a snake. But, in the hands of Moshe and Aharon, it’s a Matteh Kadosh. This is perhaps why it’s brought down that as soon as Pharaoh dies, the Jews start to daven. The moment they get somewhat out of Pharaoh’s hand, they’re able to immediately begin connecting to HKBH.