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The Three Great Lies of the Exodus
Video 5 of 6
But the correspondence between the tenth plague and the second sign is even more exact than this. Because the tenth plague wasn't just about death. Tzara'at as we talked about before is a stillborn kind of death. How exactly did the Egyptians' firstborn die that night? Here I refer you to last year's course we did here at Aleph Beta on the Hagadah. If you haven't seen it, go take a look. But here is one of the central arguments I made. The Israelites in order to be saved from the effects of that tenth plague had to offer the Pesach offering. They had to eat in a certain way, when it was bunched up with its head over its knees. Then they had to take the blood of the animal, they had to put it on their doorways - according to the text they put it on both sides of the door and on the top of the door, and on the bottom. So that the entire doorway had blood on it. Then all night long; Lo teitzu ish mipetach beito ad boker - no one could come out of the house until the morning finally comes. You rush through Bechipazon - in haste, through the bloody doorway.
What does this remind you of? It reminds you of birth. The animal was all curled up with head over knees. Head over knees? That's the fetal position. You're in this dark place all night long, it's like the womb. Then you rush through the bloody doorway, you're being born. The nation of Israel was born that night, a process of birth had started, live birth.
But there were others who did not make it that night, they were Egyptian firstborn. Ein bayit asher ein sham meis - there was no house among the Egyptians that didn't have someone dead in it. If the house is like the womb, then what were the Egyptians who died in those houses of Egypt like? They were like stillborns. The lie about the stillborns now was coming true. You said they were stillborns, that's how you lied, so it will come true for you.
When all this happens, when this justice, this harsher justice comes to Egypt, compassion comes to Israel.
Ve'haya hadam lachem le'ot al habatim - G-d says to the Israelites right before the tenth plague. The blood that you put on the doors it's going to be a sign for you. Now isn't that an interesting word? During the three signs G-d had given a sign to Israel involving blood and now at the tenth plague as Israel is becoming redeemed G-d says, you know what, remember that sign with blood, you're going to mirror that sign back to me with blood. When you do, G-d says; Vera'iti et hadam - I will see that blood. What does that mean I will see the blood? Back in the Nile I knew what they were doing to you, and now, when you put that blood on your doors, I'll see it again. I know about the blood. Vera'iti et hadam upasachti aleichem - I will see that blood and I will pass over you. As Rashi explains it; Pasachti also has the connation I will have compassion over you. Vechamalti aleichem - Rashi says, I will be kind to you because I have seen the blood.
Then a verse later; And this day shall be an everlasting holiday for you. But what's the name of it? Hayom hazeh lachem lezikaron - it's a day of remembrance. You know in Israel today we have a Yom Hazikaron - it's Israel's day of remembrance for those who died for the dream of an independent state. In modern Israel Yom Hazikaron, the day of remembrance comes the day before Yom Ha'atzma'ut - the day of independence. It was that way centuries ago as well in the original Pesach. Yom Hazikaron, the first night of Pesach is the night of remembrance. The rest of the nights are the nights of freedom. The night of Korban Pesach it's the night when we know G-d remembered the trauma of blood in Egypt and turned that trauma into something else. G-d said, take the blood that's going to become the blood of your national birth, you're going to be born that day. I'm going to take the blood of death and turn it into the blood of life.
So we've talked now about the third and the second sign, how these signs uncover and rectify the lies of the past, and how they point to moments in the future, moments of redemption, that will recall and set straight those lies. Now it's time to talk about the first sign; that sign involving the staff and the snakes. The pattern we've seen thus far suggests that each of the signs reach back towards the past, to this moment of pain in Israel's experience of Egypt, but they also foreshadow a moment in the future. A moment in which that pain is somehow redeemed. In which the lie is set straight. Now the question is, does that pattern hold for the first sign as well? Yes, it refers to a moment of pain in the past that Israel was somehow a bunch of snakes to be trampled upon. But what of the future, how is that lie ever redeemed?
So let's use some basic pattern recognition to try to piece this together. The third sign, looking towards the future, it seems to presage the first plague. The second sign, looking towards the future, it seems to presage the tenth plague. As you go backwards through the signs you seem to be going forwards through the future, which means that the first sign, would foretell something farthest ahead in the future, after the first plague, even after the tenth plague, some climactic moment of redemption at the end of all of it.
Well if you weren't sure what that is, the language clues of the first sign will help you see it. Moshe has his staff and G-d tells him to throw down the staff and it will become a snake, and then Moshe recoils - the language for his recoiling is; Vayonas Moshe mipanav - and Moshe ran away from it. It turns out that that actual language - that if you take that verb of Vayonas, and you throw it together with Mipanav - or in the face of, you ask yourself well how many times in the Bible do we have that language? There's really only one other time we do have that language and yeah, you guessed it, it's after the first plague and it's after the tenth plague, it's at some sort of climactic moment in Israel's redemption from Egypt. Just to make it sort of abundantly clear, if you keep on reading, G-d, when talking to Moshe about the purpose of this first sign says; Lema'an ya'aminu ki nirah eleicha Hashem - it's in order that they believe that G-d has in fact appeared to you. Well that word Ya'aminu outside of the context of the signs, when is the next time that word Ya'aminu appears? Oh look at that, it also appears in that same climactic event that happens after the first plague and after the tenth plague.
The event of course that I'm talking about is really the moment when you know that Israel is never going to see Egypt again, that they're actually free. It's at the destruction of the Egyptian army in the great miracle that we know of as the Splitting of the Sea of Reeds. Yes, at that event Pharaoh is the one who shrinks away from the face of Israel. The very last thing that happens with the Egyptian armies just before they're destroyed is they look towards Israel crossing the sea and they say; Anussoh mipnei Yisrael - let me run away from Israel; Ki Hashem nilcham lahem b'mitzrayim - because G-d is fighting on their behalf. There it is; Vayanas mipanav - which describes Moshe in the face of the snake at the sign, becomes Anussoh Mipnei at the splitting of the sea. Of course Lema'an Ya'aminu at the sign becomes Vaya'aminu Ba'Hashem u'beMoshe avdo - when Israel sees the destruction of the Egyptian armies, the language that expresses their faith in G-d in that moment is they trusted G-d and Moses His servant.
So the language cues here seem to take you forward in history to the splitting of the sea. But the problem is, that the language is there but everything else doesn't seem to be there. The event of the splitting of the sea seems to have nothing to do with the event that we see here in the first sign. I mean, Moshe takes his staff and he throws it down and it becomes a snake and then he grabs hold of it again and it becomes a staff, what does that have to do with the splitting of the sea? It seems to sort of break the pattern. If you go back to the pattern we were talking about, so when you talk about the sign and when you take some water and you pour it on the ground and it's blood, that seems a lot like the plague of blood. When you see the hand becoming white as snow, so that's a symbolic version of death, it's a little version of the tenth plague. But how is the story of the staff being thrown down becoming a snake, a little version of the splitting of the sea?
Okay in order to see it, let's go back to the lie that this sign seems to redeem. The very first lie, the lie about Israel being a bunch of snakes and to be stamped out. How would you redeem that lie? If somebody dehumanizes you, subjects you to hundreds of years of slavery, pretty soon you begin to look at yourself like a snake too. What happened at the sea to redeem that?
Something did happen there to redeem that lie and all the little accoutrements that went along with it. Because let's go back to the lie about the snakes, let's look at its details. What did Pharaoh say? He said, these creepy-crawly, multiplying people, they're threats. Vehaya ki tikrena milchama venosaf gam hu al soneinu - when war comes they'll fight against us; Venilcham banu - and they'll war against us; V'olah min ha'aretz - and they'll emigrate from the land, they'll leave. At that point it was just paranoia; if he would have left well enough alone they might have stayed. But in fact you know they do leave and when do they leave? It happens at the splitting of the sea. Even the language is the same by the way. Nilcham Banu - Pharaoh was worried about, what's the last thing Egypt says when Egypt sees Israel? Ki Hashem nilcham lahem b'mitzrayim - because G-d is fighting on their behalf against Egypt, it's happening. The great fear of Pharaoh is happening at the sea. The snakes are rising up against Egypt.
Now the snake is clearly a symbol - a symbol of a dehumanized person. But you know what? It might just be that that symbol takes a kind of monstrous, physical form at the very end of it all. This is just a suggestion, just speculative, but look at that moment, the moment that Israel goes through that parted sea. Look at that exodus from 50,000 feet, what does it actually look like? There were walls of water on each side; the hundreds of thousands of children of Israel would have had to form a snaking column through the sea. That's what it would have looked like from 50,000 feet, a great snake slithering on the ground to freedom. One snake composed of all of those hundreds and hundreds of thousands of children of Israel that Pharaoh had once said were a whole bunch of little snakes. Indeed they've become a nation now, the many have become one. What Egypt confronts at that moment is their worst nightmare, a great, big snake that fights against them. You thought we were snakes to kill by drowning, now every one of these combines to become one, huge snake that will war against you, that cannot be defeated in water. You will be the ones defeated in water, the ones to drown.
So the bottom line is, the final culmination of Israel's redemption took place when Pharaoh's own nightmares came true for him. The snakes that he made up out of the stuff of his own mind came back to bite him. Maybe that's the way Divine justice goes? Yet Divine justice also comes with the possibility of compassion, maybe even for Pharaoh. Even at the very end, even as he stared the snake in the face, could there have been a way out? Strangely though, this sign of the snake, the way it gets performed actually suggests a possible way out that Pharaoh could have used if only he was brave enough to do it.
The way that Pharaoh could have avoided being destroyed by the snake of Israel, his only way out, even at the very end, would have been to somehow admit the lie on his own. When Moses saw the snake he shrank away from it in horror, but what did G-d say? There was an antidote here, when you see the snake, don't run away from it, grab hold of it. You know why? It's such a crazy thing, grab hold of a snake, are you out of your mind? You know why you could grab hold of that snake? Because it wasn't really a snake, it was really just a staff, it was an illusion. All the signs were illusions. Why do you think the Egyptian magicians were able to replicate the signs? If you're going to make miracles already, make impressive miracles, not stuff that magicians can replicate. It's because that's the whole point. It wasn't about how stupendously miraculous G-d could be, G-d was saying, I see, I know, and what do I know? I know about the lies. Magic is lies.
At the Burning Bush it was like G-d was saying to Moses, I'm showing you things that aren't really true, I'm showing you a staff that looks like a snake. You're really a staff, you're really tribes. The Hebrew word for staff remember, Mateh - a tribe. You're a tribe that has been turned into a snake by Egypt because someone cast it down and pretended it was a snake. What's the way out? The way out is just to confront it, to embrace it, to hold onto it as if it were human again and then guess what, it becomes what it always was, the illusion goes away.
Egypt's treatment of Israel was essentially just a self-fulfilling prophecy. They pretended Israel were snakes and then they shrank away from them in fear. Yes, there was a people, they were growing large, they were becoming numerous, but there were no indications that they were hostile. There was nothing to be afraid of. The fear was Egypt's paranoia. They decided it was so. Then finally at the sea it became so, they really did destroy the Egyptians.
But it didn't have to be that way, Egypt could have confronted its lie, could have grabbed hold of the tail of the snake, could have realized it wasn't really a snake, it was humans that you could embrace. Had they done so, one wonders what might have been if Pharaoh instead of shrinking away in horror from the snake one last time, what if he had chosen in another path? What if even at that last moment he had recanted the lie and run out to embrace Israel, would he have been saved? We'll never know.
As history actually turned out though, tragically, the last thing Egypt does when they see the snake one last time, is; Anussoh mipnei yisrael - they run away from it, echoing the very first time they shrank away in disgust; Vayakutzu mipnei bnei yisrael. Egypt never learned, they gave into their fear and they gave into the temptation to simply and easily see someone who is different than you as a snake, as an animal to be stamped on. You don't do that. You treat people who are different than you, who may seem a little scary, you treat them like humans, and guess what? They'll be humans. The flaw of Egypt is to run away, to shrink away in disgust and ultimately that flaw destroys them.
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