Parshas Va'era - The Right Man for the Job
Rashi tells us that the Makkos of Dam and Tzefarde’a (Plagues of Blood and Frogs) were brought about by Aharon rather than by Moshe, because the Nile, which was smitten with these Plagues, protected Moshe when he as an infant was placed therein. (Rashi on Shemos 7:19, from Medrash Shemos Rabbah) This reflects the middah, the character trait, of hakaras ha-tov (gratitude), as it was not proper for Moshe to bring a Plague upon the body of water that was used to save his life.
And so too regarding Makkas Kinim, the Plague of Lice, was it Aharon and not Moshe who struck the earth, which thereupon turned to lice. Since the earth had protected Moshe when he killed the Egyptian taskmaster who was mercilessly beating a Jew, whereupon Moshe hid the taskmaster's body in the ground, it was not appropriate for Moshe to be the one to inflict a Makkah upon the earth. (Rashi on Shemos 8:12, citing Medrash Shemos Rabbah)
With this in mind, we must ask why Hashem instructed that Aharon, rather than Moshe, toss down his staff (to become a serpent and swallow up the other staff-serpents) when challenged by Pharaoh to provide a sign that Hashem had spoken to Moshe and commanded that Pharaoh set B’nei Yisroel free. (Shemos 7:3-13) Why was this initial sign not performed by Moshe? The above rationale as to why Moshe did not bring about the Makkos of Dam, Tzefarde’a and Kinim does not pertain in the case of the staff becoming a serpent, so why was this sign not performed by Moshe himself, as was the balance of the Makkos after Kinim?
We read in last week’s parshah that Moshe had to flee from Mitzrayim after killing the Egyptian taskmaster, for the Egyptian government had attempted to execute Moshe for his act. (ibid. 2:15) Although Moshe was later told by Hashem that it was safe to return to Mitzrayim (ibid. 4:19), Moshe was most certainly viewed by the Egyptian government as a criminal and a rebel. Moshe’s life was not threatened when he returned to Mitzrayim, but Pharaoh and his advisers assuredly looked upon Moshe with great suspicion and had a hunch that he might once more assert himself against the country for the sake of B’nei Yisroel. Furthermore, since Moshe grew up in the palace of Pharaoh, where he became well acquainted with high Egyptian culture and observed close-up how to govern, Pharaoh realized that Moshe could in the future quite likely seek to start an uprising and establish himself as a leader.
It is in this context that the narrative of Aharon’s staff must be understood. Had Moshe himself performed this sign, it could very well have signaled to Pharaoh and his advisers that Moshe, who was already viewed by the Egyptian monarchy as a troublemaker, was now presenting himself as a miracle man or a demigod who was seeking personal power and reign, competing with Pharaoh, who considered himself a mighty deity. The issue would have become wholly personal, and Moshe’s message that it was Hashem who is the true and only Power would have been lost. Pharaoh would have dismissed the whole thing as an attempted power grab by Moshe, claiming that Moshe was using the idea of Hashem commanding that B’nei Yisroel be freed as a mere excuse for Moshe to try to wrest control. It was thus Aharon, a third party, who performed the miraculous sign with his staff, so as to prevent this event from being personalized by Pharaoh and branded a self-centered coup attempt on the part of Moshe. Once it was clear that Moshe’s message was sincere and was focused on the authority of Hashem and not on Moshe himself, could the challenge develop into something serious and grand.
When we critique or stand up for Torah values, we must follow Moshe’s example and keep at the forefront of our consciousness that our efforts are for the sake of Hashem – l’shem shamayim. Once things become personal, they degenerate into a power struggle and fail to achieve the goal. We must at times take a stand and not shy away, but our outlook and presentation need to be solely those of honoring Hashem and His Torah.