Behold the Predator

January 29 2009

You can't believe everything you see in movies. That may sound obvious, but sometimes it applies even to things that we are quite sure to be true. For example, when and Aharon appeared before Pharaoh and threw the staff, what did it tum into? A snake, right?

Wrong! The word used is tanin, not nachash. Nachash is a snake. When Moshe was first addressed by his staff turned into a snake, a creature that symbolizes the evil urge. The message was that G-d is powerful and can change a supportive staff to an evil force at will - and the reverse. But when the staff was thrown down in front of Pharaoh, a different lesson was being taught, and it turned into a tanin, the creature that is mentioned by Yechezkel: .. .Thus says the Lord G-d: Behold, I am against you, Pharaoh king of Egypt, the great tanin that lies in the midst of his streams, which has said, My river is my own, and I have made it for myself. But I will put hooks in your jaws, and I will cause the fish of your streams to stick to your scales, and I will bring you up from the midst of your streams, and all the fish of your streams shall stick to your scales. And I will cast you into the wilderness, you and all the fish of your rivers; you shall fall upon the open fields; you shall not be brought together, nor gathered; I have given you for food to the beasts of the field and to the birds of the sky (Yechezkel 29:3 -6).

What is the great tanin that lies in the rivers of Egypt? It is the Nile crocodile. This awesome beast grows to over twenty-one feet in length and was the top predator in Egypt. Crocodiles account for more human than any other large animal. They will also kill lions, buffalos , giraffes and even sharks. The crocodile was the king of the Nile and was by the Egyptians. They embalmed hundreds them as mummies, wrapping them in strips of cloth, just as they did to humans. Even today, the crocodile is considered in Egypt to be a symbol of power, and it appears in murals celebrating their "victory" over Israel in the Yom Kippur war. In Yechezkel's prophecy, Pharaoh, human ruler of Egypt, appears as the great crocodile, ruler of the Nile. When Aharon threw down the staff, it turned into a tanin. The word tanin means "a serpentine creature." Sometimes this word can indeed refer to a snake. But in this case, it refers to a different serpentine creature: the crocodile , symbol of Pharaoh.

And, with the ensuing events, it thereby taught a powerful lesson: The Holy One said: This evil person boasts and calls himself a crocodile, as it is written, "The great crocodile ..." (Yechezkel 29:3). Go and tell him: "See this staff, it is a piece of dry wood; it shall become a crocodile with life and soul and swallow up all the other staffs, and it is destined to revert to a dry piece of wood. The same is true of you; I created you from a putrid drop and gave you empire and you boasted and said, 'My river is my own and I have made it for myself.' Behold I shall tum you back to nothingness and chaos. You swallowed up all the staffs of the tribes of the children of Israel , behold I shall cause you to disgorge all you have swallowed..." (Yalkut Shimoni, Shemos 7:181). The stick turned into the mighty crocodile , able to consume others. But when Aharon picked it up, it turned back into a lifeless stick. That was the lesson for Pharaoh: Don't get carried away with the idea of being a powerful ruler. You came from lifelessness and you shall return to lifelessness. And realize that all the suffering that you were able to inflict upon B 'nei Yisroel was only possible because Hashem willed it. You are nothing more than a stick, a tool in His hand. The crocodile may indeed be the King of the Nile - but it is a subject of the King of Kings.



What was the Tanin that Moshe's staff turned into?

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