The Three Great Lies Of The Exodus
Understanding The Miraculous Signs God Showed Moses
Rabbi David Fohrman
Founder and Lead Scholar
It’s easy to mistake the three miracles performed by Moshe as insignificant: water turning into blood; a staff turning into a snake; and a leprous hand that healed. They were originally intended to instill belief in Pharaoh and the Israelites – but even Pharaoh’s own magicians were able to repeat the signs, and at the first sign of trouble, the Israelites lost faith. So, if the signs were unsuccessful, why did God have Moshe perform them in the first place?
Perhaps these signs suggest at a lifeline given to the Egyptians – an invitation to be part of the redemption process, not against it. Through a string of miracles, God continued to give the aggressors a chance to believe and do as Moshe instructed – even until the end. It was a chance for the redemption of Egypt, where all the pain would be forgotten. But in their rejection to recognize God, His compassion was directed to the Exodus, a justice wrought for the Israelites' pain and suffering. For the Israelite nation, the signs were beacons of hope of God’s power, and in the end, their faith in His miracles blossomed into triumph. Their pain and anguish could finally be left behind forever.
Rabbi Fohrman introduces these three miracles that God gave to Moses as a new way to look at Passover's core themes. Discover a story of belief, hope, compassion and redemption – significant themes that are relevant for the whole family, even today.
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Hi everybody, this is Rabbi David Fohrman and welcome to Aleph Beta.
Well it is Pesach season and there's lots of really interesting things we can talk about. We can talk about the pyrotechnics of the plagues, the tense bargaining sessions between Moses and Pharaoh – you name it. But today we are not going to talk about any of the really interesting parts of the exodus, we're going to talk about the boring stuff. The stuff that gets cut out of almost every cinematic representation of the exodus story; from The Ten Commandments, to The Prince of Egypt, you name it, no one talks about this. We're going to talk about the three signs that take place at the Burning Bush.
Three Miracles by Moses: One New Lens to Explain the ExodusYep, you might not even know that there are three signs that took place at the Burning Bush, but it happens. Moses in his conversation with God at the Burning Bush says, look You've got the wrong guy, just forget about it, they're never going to believe me, they're not even going to think God appeared to me. This whole thing isn't going to work. To prove that it will, God gives him three signs that he can reproduce to inspire belief in anyone who sees them.
These three signs at first glance, are the sort of supernatural magic tricks that Moses can perform. But what I want to suggest to you is that they are far more than this. They are actually a lens through which to view the entire Exodus story. Because 3000 years later you can start asking questions about the Exodus, questions that you might not have asked had you actually lived through the events.
It's a very violent story. We're telling R-rated violent stories to our kids at the Seder, about blood everywhere, about thousands of first-born dead. It just seems so violent and so awful and what would have been wrong with a nice, G-rated version of the exodus? God could have just made the hapless Egyptians stand aghast as magic carpets escorted happy Israelites to freedom and everything could have been happy. Why is it that it has to be so awful, so violent, so dark?
These questions about why the exodus had to happen this way, I think we can get a lens through viewing it all through these three signs. They explain to us how to look at these events. What were these signs? What did they mean?
Explaining the List of Miracles Performed by MosesFirst God tells Moses to take his staff, to cast it down, and then as if by magic it turns into a snake. Moses recoils but God says, no, no, no, grab hold of the tail of the snake. Moses does and then it turns back into a staff.
So God says, they should believe you if they see that sign, but if they don't, take your hand and bring it in your cloak next to your chest, and then take it out. Moses does so and his hand is white as snow.
So then God says, so those are two things that really should inspire belief in anybody who sees them, but if that doesn't work take some water from the river Nile, pour it on the ground, and when it hits the ground it will turn into blood. That's it. Those are the three signs.
If you just think about them in a vacuum, just the way I presented them to you, you say, oh wow that's pretty cool, I don't know anybody who can do that, if I saw that I'd probably believe too. But let me ask you a couple of questions.
Question Number 1, is there any meaning to these particular signs? Are these just Divinely-inspired magic? Could God just as easily have said, and now Moses to prove that you in fact represent the Almighty, take Aaron and put him behind this black cloak and take the saber and slash him in two, and then magically he's going to step right out from behind that cloak and he's going to be whole again, he won't have been harmed? Then if they don't believe that, here's a big top hat, reach your hand in and take out a rabbit. Is that what these are? Are these just sort of random, really impressive, magic tricks? Could it have just been anything? Is there any rhyme or reason to why these particular things were shown to Moses? Why these were the things that were supposed to inspire belief?
Okay so that's one question. But here's another question, let's talk about the effectiveness of these signs, how effective were they at achieving their aims?
Were Moses's Miracles Effective for Pharaoh or Israel?If you actually look how this played out, for example, one of these signs Moses performs in Pharaoh's palace, there's that moment when very dramatically, Aaron cast down his staff and it turns into this great snake. So it's very impressive, right? But what's the next thing that happens?
Pharaoh's magicians, his astrologers take their staffs and they cast their staffs and they also turn into snakes. Now what's the deal with that? I mean if you're God, if you're the master of the universe, couldn't you have come up with a magic trick that no one else could do? I mean if you're counting on this to inspire faith, if Pharaoh sleight of hand magicians can do it too, so who cares? How impressive is that, it's just garden-variety magic? So you could say, well, you know at the end of the day, Aaron's staff ends up swallowing all the other snakes, so you see that God's magic is a bit of a higher caliber than the Egyptian's magic. But couldn't God have picked a sign that no one else could replicate? It doesn't seem to be a very good belief-instigator that Pharaoh's astrologers can replicate it.
Okay, now perhaps you'd respond to that, you'd say, well look, that's what happened in the palace, but actually Pharaoh wasn't the main intended audience, the intended audience were the Israelites themselves. After all, Moses' issue that he expresses to God is that the people, the Israelites, won't believe me. So maybe they were there to inspire faith among the people, not for Pharaoh? So let's examine that, let's ask, how good were these signs at inspiring faith among the people?
So what happens? Moses comes back from the Burning Bush, he gathers everyone together and he shows these signs, and the text says; Vaya'amein ha'am – the people believed like God said. So end of story, right, it worked? But how well did it really work? If you keep on reading the story, the people actually seem to lose this faith rather quickly because early on in the narrative of the exodus from Egypt, Pharaoh, annoyed at Moses, doubles the workload of the people, and when that happens the people seem to lose whatever faith they had. Vayifke'u et Moshe v'et Aaron – they went and they met up with Moses and Aaron and they said to them, what are you guys doing? Let God judge between you and us, you've just made everything worse. By demanding our rights to Pharaoh, you've done nothing but given them a sword in which to kill us. Leave us alone with all this talk about the exodus, just let us serve Pharaoh in peace.
It doesn't seem like the signs are doing much at this point. Why even bother with them? It's no wonder that every movie representation of this leaves that out. Why are they there?
What Was the Significance of Moses's Miracles?So here's the beginning of a very tentative theory. According to the text the signs are there to inspire belief. But what exactly do we mean by belief? The Hebrew word for it is; Vaya'amein ha'am – and the people believed. Moses complained; Hem lo ya'aminu li – they won't believe me. What exactly do we mean by this kind of belief?
Interestingly, this word is going to appear one more time in the exodus story, at its culmination, in the story of the crossing of the Sea of Reeds. After Israel triumphantly crosses and after the pursuing Egyptian army is smashed by the waves, the text says; Vaya'aminu baHashem u'beMoshe avdo – the people believed in God and in Moses His servant. You see it's not so easy to figure out exactly what it means. Because if you would have asked me pick a moment in the exodus story where a non-believer might look at events and say, if that's stuff is really happening I'm changing my mind, now I believe, I don't think I would have picked either of the places in which the Torah talks about belief. The three signs on the one hand or the splitting of the sea on the other hand.
I wouldn't have picked the three signs because they're not dramatic enough, they just seem to be magic tricks, so I don't know if that would have done it for me. But when we look at the story of the splitting of the sea, I [have got to say 8:15] say yeah, that's pretty impressive, but I think I would have believed even before then. Because what happened in the middle? Huge, grand, epic plagues; the entire Nile turns to blood, hailstones raining down with fire and ice frozen to the same hailstone. One by one the forces of nature conspiring against Egypt in obviously miraculous ways.
Indeed, if you go back to our course on the exodus we did two years ago I made the argument there that the 10 plagues were explicitly designed to demonstrate that there was a creator to the universe. If you saw the 10 plagues, those are the things that would make you believe. So I would have believed long before the splitting of the sea, it wouldn't take the splitting of the sea to make me believe.
The problem is that the two times the Torah talks about belief don't seem to be the moments where most people would turn the corner on belief. The three signs, it's too little. The splitting of the sea, is too late. Yet the text is telling us it's not so. The text says the moments to look at when you think about belief are the three signs and then again, much, much later on at the splitting of the sea.
How the Passover Miracles Help Us Understand the ExodusWhat I want to suggest to you with these videos is that the three signs that take place at the Burning Bush are not trivial things to be glossed over or written out of the story, they're not cheap magic tricks, they're something else entirely. They're nothing less than a lens through which the entire redemption of Egypt can be seen.
They give us a new way of understanding that process of redemption. They give us a way of understanding the dark side of the process of redemption, the violence inherent in the plagues. The signs tell us that the exodus from Egypt didn't just make us free, it didn't just help us understand that there was a Master of the Universe, inspired us to understand something about the Master of the Universe, about this Being who redeemed us and set us free. It inspired us to understand why we ought to be loyal to Him, why we have a right to believe that He can actually connect with us. When we really begin to understand these three signs, I think we really begin to understand not just what the exodus means, but what it means to us.
Water Into BloodOkay so the logical place to start here is to ask what is the purpose of these three signs? According to the text the purpose is to inspire faith among those who will see the signs. But faith is a tricky word, what exactly does it mean in this context? I suggested to you in the last video that if faith means faith that God exists, then the three signs are a pretty lousy way of demonstrating that. I mean if somebody came to you and said, hey I'm the representative of the Maharishi Yogi and to prove that the Maharishi Yogi is real, here's my three tricks and then he performs three really impressive magic tricks. Would you believe? You know it would take more than that for most of us to believe in the Maharishi Yogi.So the three signs maybe weren't such a great demonstration that God exists, but maybe they weren't supposed to demonstrate that. Maybe it wasn't about God existing but who this God is and what His message is. That's the kind of faith that was needed. In fact, if you look at the verses, that's what the verses themselves suggest. Right before God reveals these signs to Moses, He tells him a message to deliver, a message that Moses fears the people won't believe. Gather together all of the elders of Israel and tell them God - Yud, Heih and Vav, Heih - appeared to you. Tell them this; Pakod pakadati etchem v'et he'asu lachem bemitzrayim - I have remembered them. Implicit, I'm going to redeem them. Then, not only have I remembered them but I have remembered what was done to them in Egypt.
This is the message and in fact, the signs do seem to be able to convey that message. Because after the Burning Bush story when Moses actually gathers together the elders like he was supposed to and performs these signs in front of them, that's exactly what they believe. Look at the text. Vaya'amein ha'am - and the people believe - what do they believe? Ki pakad Hashem et benei yisrael - that God has remembered them. That redemption is around the corner. Also; Vechi ro'oh et anyam - that God has seen their suffering. So this message seems to be a message that's designed to prepare the people, to make sure that they're going to go along with God and with Moses in this whole journey. They need to understand that redemption is right around the corner. That kind of makes sense, they need to have faith that it's going to happen.
But you know, if I was writing this text, the only message that I would think that's really important for the signs to convey is that message about the future. They need to have faith that God in fact has committed Himself to redeem them. That's enough, that's really the only task that the signs need to accomplish. But it doesn't appear that way from the text, it seems like there were two things that the signs had to accomplish, the people needed to believe something about the future, but they also needed to believe something about the past. The signs would somehow be the vehicle for this. It would help them understand that yes, redemption lies around the corner for them in the future, but that God had also seen the past; Vechi ro'oh et anyam - God had seen their pain. That's every bit as important. Why?
The answer is that the experience of being oppressed, of being broken down, is not something that just goes away over time. It's not like merely going free heals all wounds. All sorts of scars linger and one of the most tragic effects is the nagging suspicion so often felt by people who have been abused that somehow they deserved what happened to them. There's a kind of weird logic behind it, if you think about it. The fact that the victim they feel so much pain but the perpetrator, life seems so normal for them, they seem so oblivious to what they've done. It's like I'm crazy if I'm complaining, it's like this is all just happening in my own head. I mean, he's normal, I must be the not normal one. That's why abuse needs to be redeemed. The victim needs to see one of two things, that either the aggressor is confronted with what they've done, it's out there, it's real, I'm not crazy, and the aggressor apologizes for what they've done. Or, short of that, if the aggressor continues to live in denial, then there's consequences; their violence in some way comes back to haunt them. The long arm of justice becomes a source of solace for the victim then, helps the victim see that they're not crazy.
That's why it wasn't enough just for God to set the Israelites free, to take them out of bondage in Egypt. He couldn't just redeem the people, He had to redeem what was done to them too. How do you do that? How do you both redeem a people, set them free, and redeem what was done to them? The three signs show you the path. Let's examine them and I think you'll see what I mean.
As we look at these three mysterious signs, the staff turning into a snake, the white leprous hand and the water turning into blood, and we ask where should we start if we're trying to sort of figure all this out, what it might mean? I think the answer might be to start at the end. The Torah itself suggests that the last of the signs might well be the easiest to understand. Remember, when God first delivered these signs to Moses He said to him; Vehaya im lo ya'aminu loch - if they don't believe you; V'loh yishme'u lekol ha'ot harishon - they don't listen to the voice of the first sign, they'll listen to the voice of the next sign. If they don't listen to that sign, then take from the waters of the Nile, pour it onto the ground, and when the water hits the ground; Vehayu ledam bayaboshet - it will turn into blood. That last sign was supposed to be the dead giveaway. Why would it have been so obvious to them what that meant?
The sign takes place at the Burning Bush, what in the future though does this remind you of, water turning into blood? That's pretty obvious, right? I mean, it really reminds you of the first plague when all of the water in the Nile turns into blood. It seems like that's been presaged here in this sign. But now let's think about that future event, that first plague, the water turning into blood. Was there any sort of rationale for that? Any reason why that of all things ended up being the first plague? When we look back and think of it nowadays it's easy almost to trivialize it, it just seems like a really nifty trick. That's a way to start off the plagues with style. You know, we can sort of pontificate about all sorts of interesting possibilities. The Nile was the lifeblood of Egypt so the first thing that God did was hit them where it counted with the Nile. There's all these kinds of theories you could come up with. But ask yourself this, what would it have meant to the people of Israel themselves to have the Nile turned into blood? How would that have begun to redeem what was done to them in Egypt in God's own words?
So think back, what would you say is the worst thing the Egyptians ever did to the Israelites over the long centuries of enforced slavery? It wasn't just the backbreaking labor, it wasn't the fact that they didn't get paid for their work, it wasn't even the cruelty of the taskmasters in the field. It was something else, it was the babies in the Nile. Pharaoh had decreed that all baby boys who were born would be thrown into the Nile to drown, and as if the murder of children wasn't horrifying enough in and of itself, they chose to use the Nile. The Nile was such an important natural resource for them, their whole economy depended upon the Nile, and now they're using it for murder. Why? What was in it for them to do it that way?
It's because the Nile would cover up the crimes. You wouldn't see the victims, the Nile would just look like its placid self, just slowly meandering on its way, with the sun shimmering off the water. There was a kind of built-in plausible deniability. The Ramban in commenting on the murder of the children explains that when the verse says; Vayetzav pharaoh l'chol amo - that Pharaoh commanded all of his people to throw the children into the Nile. All of his people suggested the townsfolk, the regular people. It wasn't carried out by uniformed representatives of the Egyptian Government; the citizenry would find a Jewish child, cast him into the Nile. Then when the bereaved Israelite family would come to the authorities, the authorities would ask for proof, would ask for witnesses, and of course, the Nile would cover all the crimes. For the Israelites it would be this huge disconnect in their experience. The night would be full of screams and anguish, children taken from the arms of their parents and then the morning would come and you'd go outside and somehow everything would look normal. The sun rises like every other morning, the Nile looks the same as it did before, the Egyptians are out there sunbathing on the shore, reading Schopenhauer and playing Mozart on stolen pianos. Israelites are left alone. Alone with their grief to wonder whether they're the crazy ones.
As if the crime wasn't bad enough, nature itself would help hide the crime. The water looked just the same as before until the first plague, when the water turned into blood. It was the first act of justice for this greatest of all crimes. The truth would now be known, there's no hiding anymore, the aggressor is confronted with the reality of his crimes, and, what is justice for the aggressor is the beginning of empathy for the victim. Because the lies are over, the disconnect is over, I wasn't crazy, everyone knows now. Even more than that, God shows that He knows. I know what they did to you. That's the first great act of compassion, nature shows that it knows, God shows that He knows, there's no more secrets any more.
At that point the Egyptians have a choice, confronted with the reality of their crime they could choose to own up to the crime, to let them go, to apologize, and it could all be over here, justice would have been done. But if they didn't do this, if they continued to oppress the Israelites, they continued to live the lie, then things would progress further, more lies would have to be uncovered. Remember, the water turning into blood was only one of the signs, there were two others as well, what did they mean?
Staff Into SnakeSo the third sign corresponds to the most terrible thing the Egyptians ever did to the Israelites, and to the great lie that they told to cover it up. But this terrible atrocity committed by the Egyptians was neither their first crime nor their first lie. I'd like to suggest to you that the three signs actually correspond to three great crimes committed by the Egyptians and three great lies. We've talked about the third sign, the sign involving water and blood, but what about the signs before that? The signs involving the white hand, the sign involving the staff and the snake, they too refer to crimes, they too refer to lies. Let's see how. Let's start with the staff and the snake, God tells Moses to take his staff, cast it down to the ground and then miraculously it changes, it turns into a snake when it hits the ground. Moses recoils, he doesn't want to touch it, but God says, no, no, no, you should touch it, grab hold of it, and when he does it turns back into a staff. Strange stuff but does it remind you of anything at the very beginning of the process of enslavement? Might it remind us of Pharaoh's first great lie, the lie that made everything else after that possible? Let's look at the verses. Our story begins right before the advent of slavery, the words that describe a kind of population explosion, the story of the multiplying of the children of Israel seems to be told by the Bible from the Egyptian perspective.
U'benei yisrael paru - and the children of Israel were fruitful; Vayishretzu - they swarmed; Vayirbu - and they were great; Vaya'atzmu - and they were mighty; Bime'od, me'od - very, very much; Vatimolei ha'aretz otom - and the earth was filled with them. Those words describe a population explosion but not all of those words are such nice words, particularly the Vayishretzu one. It's a word used for insects in the Torah. Sheretz are these creepy-crawly things. The Torah seems to be saying, they multiplied like creepy-crawly things. But now that characterization gets compounded with something else. Vaya'atzmu - they were mighty. Now that's a word with dangerous overtones, a mighty people on the one hand that has the sense of creepy-crawly on the other hand. You see where we're going here? This, as later verses will show, is exactly how Egyptians interpreted these events.
The King of Egypt gathers his people and speaks to them using these verbs that the Torah has just talked about. Hinei am benei yisrael - he says, these people the children of Israel; Rav v'atzum mimenu. The Rav V'atzum is playing off of Vayirbu, Vaya'atzmu - the king looked at this and says, folks we got a national security problem here. They are great and they are mighty, they are mightier than us. These people are strong, they pose a threat; Hava nitchakma lo - let's deal wisely with them; Pen yirbeh - lest they increase even more. They might be benevolent now, but look what might happen. Vehaya ki tikrenah milchama - and when war comes in the future; Venosaf gam hu al soneinu - maybe they will gather themselves and add themselves to our enemies. Venilcham banu - and fight against us; V'olah min ha'aretz - and emigrate from the land.
Now if you pay close attention here you'll notice something. Yes, there was a population explosion, yes, the children of Israel were very great, but where did the sense of threat come from? There was nothing about them that was threatening, that was manufactured. Look what might happen, they'll join our enemies, they'll war against us. This is the stuff of his imagination. So the Egyptians began to oppress the Israelites, it started with; Vayasimu alav sarei missim - officers that would collect taxes. But then it slowly progressed; Vayiven orei miskenot l'Pharaoh - the Israelites were pressed into service building storehouses of grain for Pharaoh. But as they oppressed them; Ken yirbeh - so the Israelites multiplied. It seems like the early attempt at slavery was really an attempt to somehow staunch the population explosion but didn't work. Vayokutzu mipnei benei yisrael - and the Egyptians recoiled in horror from the children of Israel. Vayokutzu in Hebrew has a connotation of disgust. How are the Egyptians really treating the Israelites? Oh they're swarming, they're like these crawling things, they're like snakes.
The King of Egypt has expertly laid the propaganda groundwork for the genocide that is soon to follow. Because it's not easy to get a nation to engage in genocide. It's not easy to get a people to turn willy-nilly on their own countrymen. After all, these Egyptians they're human beings here we're talking about, people don't like to kill. How do you convince them to start? Egypt provides the great case study.
The first thing your populous must come to believe is that the people that you are targeting are a threat to them and if they're not a threat to them yet, they have to become convinced that they could be a threat. That's what Pharaoh is talking about when he says, and in the future these people can make war against us, they can join our enemies, become a fifth column.
But that alone is not enough to allow your rank and file population to commit atrocities against their neighbors. They need to believe something more too. They need to believe that this people who supposedly is a threat to them, that those people are also smarter than they are. The reason why you have to believe that they're smarter, more cunning than you, is because the business of killing is difficult, and when you take a defenseless people and you oppress them and you're harsh to them and you're cruel to them, and you commit atrocities against them, and you rationalize to yourself that you're doing it all in the name of national security, you still have to contend with something. They're going to cry out to you their countrymen for help, for mercy, for compassion. How do you inoculate your populous against that? How do you get them not to respond to the cries for help? You have to convince them that the victims are actually smarter than they are and therefore a cry for help could always be a trick. It could be a ruse, you can't trust them, they're too cunning and therefore they're too dangerous.
But then there's one final thing that you need to get your populous to believe if they're to be involved in the business of genocide. Because at the end of the day it's not just enough to believe that your target population is a threat, not even just enough to believe that they're smarter than you are, you also have to believe that they're not really human the same way that you are. They walk, they talk just like you, they may have two cars in the driveway, they may go to their jobs, but in some deep, essential, hidden way, they're not really human like you are. Hence, the language that we find here used to describe the multiplying of the people, it's not human language, it's creepy-crawly language. Vayishretzu - they swarmed; Vayokutzu mipnei benei yisrael - the people in Egypt recoiled in horror, or in shock, in disgust, from the children of Israel, the way people instinctively recoil from creepy-crawly things.
Speaking of creepy-crawly things, what is the king of the creepy-crawly things? If you ask the Bible itself that question, the answer would be the snake. The hatred between people and snakes goes back a long time, to Eden. Look what happens to the snake after the temptation at the Garden, what was the snake's punishment? The snake had been a very human-like creature, it was a talking snake, it was cunning - V'hanachash haya arom. It was apparently a walking snake also, because the punishment of the snake was that it needs to crawl on its belly through the dust of the earth as if beforehand it didn't do that. Sure seems a lot like a human doesn't it? But it wasn't really a human, in some essential way it was still an animal. It was an impostor human and that perhaps accounts for the abiding hatred that reigns between humankind and the snake forever more.
Who do we hate most? The ones who look most like us on the outside but we're convinced on the inside are so different from us, those are the ones who really get us nervous. Who do the Muslims hate most? The Shiites hate the Sunnis. Why? If a Christian or a Jew looks at the situation they can't tell the difference between Shiites and Sunnis, they can't figure out what the whole Tzimmes is about. Ah, it was the son-in-law who was the better follower of Mohammed or it was the cousin, what are they arguing about already? But if you're a Sunni or a Shiite, I mean this is big potatoes.
You only look like me on the outside, really you're just an impostor. The fact that you look like me makes it worse. The Protestants and the Catholics, looks pretty much the same to Jews and Muslims, but not on the inside, not if you are Protestant, not if you are Catholic. Yeshiva University and Open Orthodoxy, nah, looks pretty much the same if you're a Muslim or a Christian, but not on the inside. You wear the same Kippah as I wear, your beard is as long as my beard, your skirt is as long as my skirt. But on the inside I think you're an impostor. You may look like me, you may talk like me, but that only makes it worse. Everybody thinks you're me, but you're not.
Impostor hatred goes back a long time in human history. It goes back to the snake. The snake in the Torah, I think, becomes a symbol for that. The thing that looks just like you, the thing that looks human but really isn't, the thing we can't stand because it's an animal masquerading as one of us. So how were the Egyptians treating the Israelites in their midst? They were treating them as snakes. But as I mentioned before, it's not just that they were treating them as snakes, in their minds they transformed them into snakes, it's a lie that made killing possible. It was the last thing you needed to do to facilitate genocide.
Now let's revisit the signs, let's go to the very first sign, the sign that describes the beginning of it all, the staff and the snake. Oh the snake. God tells Moses, what's in your hand? It's a staff but in Hebrew the word for staff is Mateh. Mateh means one other thing besides staff throughout the Torah, it means tribe. It's as if you're holding the tribes in your hand. Tribes? The Tribes of Israel, that's what this Book is about.
Now take that Mateh, the Tribes, in your hand and now do what? Cast it down to the ground. That's what the Egyptians did. They took tribes and they cast them down to the ground. When it hits the ground it will turn into a snake because that's what they did. They cast you to the ground and in so doing they transformed you into something other than them. They transformed you into snakes in their minds. It was all fake of course, it was all sleight of hand, but so is this. I mean if you grab hold of the end of the snake guess what it's going to be? It's going to be a staff again, because it was never really a snake, it's all fake. But oh yes, well it looks like a snake, what do you do? You recoil aghast, because oh my gosh, it's a snake. That's what Moshe did; Vayonos mipanav - he ran away from the snake. That's what they did too, right? Vayokutzu mipnei benei yisrael - they recoiled aghast looking at you.
What's happening here with the sign? Its God's way of saying, I know they make you into snakes. These signs they show you that I understand, I get it, I understand the lie. Yes, the lies culminate with the shimmering waters of the Nile covering up the great sin of the bodies that they hide. But it didn't start there, the beginnings of the lies were with the snakes. The first great lie was that you're not really human, you're a snake.
So the signs begin to tell a story, a story of dehumanization culminating in genocide. The third sign tells the end of the story, the first sign tells the beginning of the story. But there's a second sign too.
A Diseased HandIf the first great lie at Egypt was that the Children of Israel are like madly procreating snakes, what was the second great lie? It's a lie that God exposes in the second sign. The second sign is the one in which God tells Moses to take his hand and put it inside his clothes next to his chest; when he takes the hand out it's ashen white as if it were afflicted by leprosy. Then he's supposed to put his hand back inside his clothes near his chest and take it out again, this time the apparent leprosy is gone. Almost as if the whole leprosy thing was just one, big fake. Just as the snake wasn't really a snake, really it was a tribe, so this hand it's not really leprous, it's all a lie. What does all this remind you of in Israel's experience in Egypt? It was the second great lie.To get an understanding of this lie let's look deeper at this idea of leprosy, this ghostly white state that flesh sometimes can assume. How does the Torah itself view a leprous state of being for flesh? It turns out that there's one person only in the entire Five Books of Moses that we ever find actually afflicted by leprosy, and it was Miriam. It happens much later on in the Torah, in the Book of Numbers. When it happens, look what Aaron her brother says about her. He says these words; Al nah tehi kameit asher b'tzeitzo merechem imo v'ye'achel chatzi besaro - let her not be like someone who is dead. So if we stop right there, the first thing we see is that the Torah identifies the state of Tzara'at - of being afflicted with leprosy - with death. It kind of makes sense, when is it that flesh turns ghostly white, when someone dies and blood drains from the flesh.
But if you go to that passage in the Book of Numbers and you keep on reading, you'll find that the Torah offers a more narrow characterization of exactly what Tzara'at is like. Al nah tehi kameit - let her not be like a dead person; Asher b'tzeitzo merechem imo v'ye'achel chatzi besaro - if it came out of its mother's womb without its flesh intact, that it died in the womb. Aaron's identifying state of Tzara'at is being like a stillborn, like someone who died in their mother's womb.
Let's go back to the second sign now and add it all up. A hand that turns leprous once you put it into your coat, next to your breast. But it's really a lie, it's fake leprosy because really it's a healthy hand. What is leprosy? It's death. What kind of death? Being a stillborn. What was the second great lie? It was the illusion of being a stillborn. Vayomer melech mitzrayim lamiyaldot ha'ivri'ot - and the king of Egypt said to the midwives who were Hebrews. He said to them; Beyaldechen et ha'ivri'ot - when you facilitate the birth of the Hebrew women; Ure'iten al ha'avnayim - and you see the children on the birthstones. Im ben hu v'hamiten oto - if it's a male child, kill it.
As commentators like the Ibn Ezra explain, it means kill it secretly, which means what? If you were the midwife after you had done the deed, you'd say, oh my goodness, I don't know if this baby is breathing. Then you just hand the baby to the mother and she would take the baby to her bosom, to see if she could get it to nurse. The baby wouldn't nurse. Then the mother would have to recognize that the baby is dead, it must have been a stillborn. It was a second great lie. The truth is, the baby wasn't a stillborn, it was alive, but it was crushed on the rocks, on the birthstones.
Now let's come back to that snake theme we were talking about before, the way the Egyptians were viewing Israel. What was it that Genesis says about the hatred between human and the snake again? Hu yishufcha rosh - humans will seek to kill it by crushing its head. The Egyptians were treating us like snakes indeed.
Yet the Torah tells us, that Pharaoh didn't get too far with this second like, presumably some but not many children were killed this way, because the Hebrew midwives, they came back to Pharaoh and lied to him with a very clever lie. Pharaoh said, what are you doing, how come you are allowing these children to live? They said to Pharaoh; Ki lo kenashim hamitzriyot ha'ivri'ot - you don't understand Pharaoh, the Hebrew women they're not like Egyptian women; Ki chayot heinah - they're just like animals; Beterem tavoi eleihen hamiyaledet vayaladu - they just take care of it on their own, they give birth before we can even get there, they don't need us. It's impossible to do what you're asking of us. It was the cleverest lie of all. They played right into the Egyptian psychology about the Hebrews being fake snakes. The Egyptians treated the Hebrews as if they weren't human as if they were animals, along come the midwives and says, you know, they're like animals. It's a lie that saves.
So then what happened in Egypt after the midwives successfully defended their countrymen against this threat? Egypt was not deterred, it just moved it to the next level of mobilization against Israel. Thwarted in his early, unsophisticated attempt at genocide, the king retreats to a method of killing likely to have greater success. That leads to the third and final lie, the one we started talking about when we first began to look at these three signs. The lie of the Nile. How do you kill a snake? If you take a snake that's an animal that only lives on the ground and you throw it on the water, it will drown. Better to deal with snakes that way, at an arm's length. Better to retreat to one final lie, the lie of the shimmering Nile that covers all sins. So now it's like, don't know anything about it. Someone entered your home at night and took your child, how awful. See if you can find witnesses. See if you can prove it.
So the three signs taken together seem to indicate a kind of understanding, an empathetic understanding, of a terrible evil - three terrible evils - that happened to Israel in the path of enslavement. It wasn't just what happened to us, it was the lies being told about us. The sort of split reality between the real world and the pain that we were experiencing. The happy-go-lucky Egyptian covering up of that pain through the water, through the hands-off nature of the killing, God shows us that He knew about that, He knew about all of it, and it's what helps the people believe. He knew about the blood with the water, that's the most obvious sign, as God says, when the signs are actually given they'll really get that sign. But once they get that one, they'll get the others too. Yes, the white hand, the stillborns, that's what they did to us. Didn't it all begin with the snakes, with the dehumanizing of who we really were? They took tribes and they cast us down. The symbolic nature of the signs retell God's knowledge of what really happened to us, and there's something empathetic about that knowledge.
The people respond to that empathy with belief; Vaya'amein ha'am ki pakad Hashem et amo vechi ro'eh et anyam - the people believed. What did they believe? They believed that God had remembered His people and that God had seen their suffering, He knows what we've been through. That makes all the difference in the world.
So maybe that's it. Maybe we can all go home. Maybe we've deciphered the signs, they're there to speak about God's knowledge of what happened. Except the signs seem to have another element too - at least the last one does. The one about the blood on the water, it didn't just have expression in the past, did it? It also had expression in the future. Yes, the cup of water from the Nile turning into blood when it hits the ground, remember, we saw a plague like that? The first plague is when that sign happens in grand and terrible ways, when the entire Nile turns into blood, when God says, I know the lie, and now I'm going to uncover the truth. The whole Nile is blood. The aggressor cannot escape their crime anymore. It's the beginning of justice. Could it be that the rest of the signs continue that path? That they too don't just have expressions in the past, but they foretell things in the future? Moments, key moments in the path of redemption. It wasn't just about the first of the plagues, it was about other moments too. Maybe God wasn't just seeing the great lies, but God was beginning to redeem those lies too. As we chart the course of redemption through the future, do we again hear echoes of the signs?
Redeeming the LiesThe beginning of the truth comes with the first plague, when the whole Nile will turn to blood. No longer would water assist Egypt in pretending. But if after that plague Egypt does not let you free, there will be more truth telling, not just the first plague, but the tenth one. To use the language of the signs, it might start with water turning into blood but it will end with the white hand - and it will end with death in the tenth plague, when some of the children but not all of them are killed. Just like the lie about the stillborns managed to kill some of the children but not all of them, because of the heroism of the midwives. 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 - God 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 God had given a sign to Israel involving blood and now at the tenth plague as Israel is becoming redeemed God says, you know what, remember that sign with blood, you're going to mirror that sign back to me with blood. When you do, God 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 God remembered the trauma of blood in Egypt and turned that trauma into something else. God 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 God 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, God, 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 God 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 God 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 God in that moment is they trusted God 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 God 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 God 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 God could be, God 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 God 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.
So - all in all, we’ve seen a remarkable pattern with these three signs. But if there is a possible problem that comes up when thinking about all this - how are the people going to figure it out? They have no inkling of the future, how are they suppose to know what we know? That, I think, is a very interesting question.
Seeing the FutureIt may be so that when the people saw the signs in the first place they would have had no idea how those signs would have meant anything in the future. But, once they lived through the events in the future, once they had gone through the first plague, the tenth plague, and then finally the splitting of the sea, they would have understood in retrospect that the signs has been pointing to those events. For example, once the entire Nile turns to blood and they would have thought back to the sign the water turning into blood, they understood. They understood that God planned this is all along. The same with the tenth plague, the same with the sea, once they looked at themselves and saw themselves as one big, long, snaking column, making it through and we've thought back to that great lie of Egypt, of how they were treated like snakes and stamped out and now they were the triumphant snake. Then they would have remembered that sign, they would have understood two things, that God knew about their pain, about their suffering, but then that God had planned this all along, this great, triumphant moment.This is actually the moment where all the signs would come true all at once; the snakes, the leprous hand, the water and blood. Yes, it all came true in stages, the first plague, the tenth plague, but now at the sea it's all happening at once. The Children of Israel collectively they're this one, great snake as it were, a column of people triumphantly snaking its way through this chasm in the ocean. Then the ghostly white flesh, the color of a stillborn that dies in a womb, that dies in water, the Egyptians die in water, they're vanquished by the crashing waves. Then finally you look out on the placid sea that covers it all. It almost makes it seem as if nothing happened, and the only trace of that great moment of triumph is when Israel looks back.
Vayar yisrael et mitzrayim meit al sefat hayam - Israel saw Egypt dead on the shores of the sea. What of the water? The water wouldn't have been bloody, it's too big. Just like the Nile, there would have been just a trace. Think back to that sign. Take the water, God had told Moses, and pour it on the ground; Vehayu ledam bayaboshet - and when it hits the ground it will turn to blood. Water, waves, lapping the shore, lapping the ground. When they do the faint trace of blood from the bodies of the Egyptians on the shore is the only memory that the ocean gives you of what just occurred there. Other than that, you can virtually go sunbathing by the Sea of Reeds and you'd never know anything happened. The water covers it all.
But you know what? The very next words of the verse, right after Israel sees Egypt dead on the shores of the Red Sea; Vaya'aminu baHashem ube'Moshe avdo - they believed in God and in Moses. There are those words again, the words from the three signs. The people believed when they first saw the three signs, but now, now that it was over, now that the culmination had happened, now they really believe. You know, those two moments of belief, I don't think they're separate moments. I think they play off each other. The second moment is magnified because of the first one. Let me try to sketch out the emotional power of this culminating moment, with perhaps a whimsical analogy.
An analogy from the world of music. One of the great films of my childhood was Star Wars by George Lucas. Perhaps the greatest of the film scores ever composed by John Williams was the score that he composed for that film. Hear some of his music here. He does something clever with his music and I want to point it out to you. The music you're listening to has a sort of mournful or hopeful quality to it, and this is one of those hopeful moments in the film, it's sort of at the beginning where the great hero protagonist is not yet a hero, he's hanging around his farm, dreaming of perhaps being of service to a great cause, a cause that's larger than him. But he's a nobody, and how could he really be of service to that cause? How could he mean anything in the larger scheme of events?
But that same music, that piece, appears again at the end of the film. Listen to it here, but it sounds so differently now, doesn't it? The music you're listening to now is a march, it has an entirely different emotional quality to it. It's triumphant, exultant, it's the climactic moment of the film, when that little farm boy had managed to singlehandedly destroy the enemy's greatest weapon and now, that joy and triumph was being celebrated. But you the audience listening to that joy and triumph can detect a special sweetness in it, because you remember the time that musical theme was first played, you remember when it was only just a hope. The sense of triumph that you experience now is magnified by the fact that you understand that it's the realization of a hope. Hope and triumph are not two unrelated concepts. Triumph is nothing but the blossoming of hope.
The questions we asked in the beginning about the violent nature of this all, I think they all fall away. Israel was the victim of terrible violence, violence covered by lies. At every stage in the redemption there was memory of that pain, memory of those lies, and the chance for those lies and that pain to be redeemed. The aggressor could have stopped and been a part of the process of redemption at any moment, even perhaps to the very end. The exodus is a story of both justice and compassion, of compassion for Israel wrought through the process of justice and compassion held out even to the last for the aggressors themselves. In the end hope did blossom into triumph and because it did, we could leave behind the pain and the anguish forever.