Keep Watching and See the Whole Picture

When presented with a situation, often we pay it attention until we are satisfied, and we take our eyes off the matter assuming it will play out how we conjecture.  Yet quite often it simply is not so.  Our task is to see it through until the ending and then draw conclusions.

This week in Parshat Vaera we read of the first seven plagues that afflict ancient Egypt, starting with Blood and concluding with Hail. However, before the plagues begin, Moshe and Aaron introduce our almighty G-d to the Egyptians by showing G-d’s miraculous powers by turning a staff into a snake.      

Exodus 7:10-13

וַיָּבֹ֨א מֹשֶׁ֤ה וְאַהֲרֹן֙ אֶל־פַּרְעֹ֔ה וַיַּ֣עֲשׂוּ כֵ֔ן כַּאֲשֶׁ֖ר צִוָּ֣ה יְוָ֑ה וַיַּשְׁלֵ֨ךְ אַהֲרֹ֜ן אֶת־מַטֵּ֗הוּ לִפְנֵ֥י פַרְעֹ֛ה וְלִפְנֵ֥י עֲבָדָ֖יו וַיְהִ֥י לְתַנִּֽין׃

Moses and Aaron came before Pharaoh and did just as G-d had commanded: Aaron cast down his rod in the presence of Pharaoh and his courtiers, and it turned into a serpent.

Pharaoh and the Egyptians were bewildered that the local Egyptian magicians were capable of sorcery and demonstrated their wares in response:

וַיִּקְרָא֙ גַּם־פַּרְעֹ֔ה לַֽחֲכָמִ֖ים וְלַֽמְכַשְּׁפִ֑ים וַיַּֽעֲשׂ֨וּ גַם־הֵ֜ם חַרְטֻמֵּ֥י מִצְרַ֛יִם בְּלַהֲטֵיהֶ֖ם כֵּֽן׃

Then Pharaoh, for his part, summoned the sages and the sorcerers; and the Egyptian magician-priests, in turn, did the same with their spells:

Since the Egyptians felt they were of similar caliber, it did not jar them when the next super miracle ensued:

וַיַּשְׁלִ֙יכוּ֙ אִ֣ישׁ מַטֵּ֔הוּ וַיִּהְי֖וּ לְתַנִּינִ֑ם וַיִּבְלַ֥ע מַטֵּֽה־אַהֲרֹ֖ן אֶת־מַטֹּתָֽם׃

Then each cast down his rod, and they turned into serpents. But Aaron’s rod swallowed their rods.

It does not say Aaron’s serpent swallowed the Egyptian serpents. That would have been fantastic enough, rather it says Aaron’s rod swallowed their rods. After the snakes returned to being rods, only then did Aaron’s rod swallow their rods. This should have been a wakeup call for Pharaoh that the G-d of Israel is formidable, all powerful and not to be challenged. However, Pharaoh hardened his heart and ignored the miracle.

וַיֶּחֱזַק֙ לֵ֣ב פַּרְעֹ֔ה וְלֹ֥א שָׁמַ֖ע אֲלֵהֶ֑ם כַּאֲשֶׁ֖ר דִּבֶּ֥ר       

Yet Pharaoh’s heart stiffened, and he did not heed them, as G-d had said. Why?!! Pharaoh could have saved himself and all of Egypt from destruction!

One answer is because Pharaoh only chose to look at pieces of the larger picture instead of seeing it in entirety.

It was not just the battle of staffs turned into serpents; it was also seeing a wooden staff itself devour others just like it. So too, this is not just Moshe showing up to disturb Pharoah’s empire of slaves, it was the culmination and fulfillment of the covenant that G-d forged with Abraham two hundred and ten years earlier. Seeing it in this light could have made a huge difference in his reaction. Instead Egypt’s downfall began.

So too in our lives we see, interpret and react based on the stimuli of the moment. However, when we step back and see the big picture we will respond more successfully with more depth and context.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Epstein
Community Scholar in Residence