Proof in the Putting
Volume 6 Issue 15
by Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky
This week, the Torah tells us how the Egyptian exile entered its waning
moments as the dawn of redemption begins. Moshe and Aharon threatened
Pharaoh with strong repercussions if Hashem's will was not fulfilled and
the Jews were not redeemed from Egypt. But before they took action, Moshe
and Aharon proved they were messengers from Hashem by displaying their
ability to control and even change nature. The first miraculous spectacle
occurred on a governmental level, in Pharaoh's palace. After those
demonstration did not impress the ruler, only then did the nation feel the
brunt of Hashem's punishment they were stricken with the plague of blood.
Moshe and Aharon did not enter the palace of the tyrant unaware of his
arrogance. They had met him before and were mockingly rebuffed. But this
time they were equipped to prove their powers and authority. They were
forewarned that their adversary would doubt their authority, and he would
ask them to produce celestial credentials with a sign that they were truly
Hashem tells them, "When Pharaoh speaks to you, saying, 'Provide a wonder
for yourselves,' you shall say to Aharon, 'Take your staff and cast it down
before Pharaoh -- it will become a snake!' " (Exodus 7:9).
The Noam Elimelech, Reb Elimelech of Lizhensk, questions the wording. What
would Pharaoh mean with the words "'Provide a wonder for yourselves"? He
asks. The wondrous act was not for Moshe and Aharon, rather it was for
Pharaoh! Shouldn't the posuk read "provide a wonder for me"?
With these words did Pharaoh, the master showman whose world renowned
chicanery held Moshe at bay for a year, teach us something about the nature
of miraculous occurrences that prove a point to a skeptic?
P.T. Barnum was a master showman who astounded hordes of foolish curiosity
seekers with displays of the bizarre and the seemingly impossible.
One of his amazing displays had a lamb grazing peacefully in a display
cage, while two fierce lions strolled nonchalantly only a few feet away. He
obviously felt that the exhibit would attract hundreds who would marvel at
his pretended prescient fulfillment, albeit partial, of the prophet
Yishayahu’s (11:6) description of the Messianic era. "And the wolf shall
lie with the lamb, and the leopard will down with the kid, and the lion
shall walk with the lamb dwell peacefully."
One of Barnum's friends, who was amazed at the sight of this post Messianic
mimicry, asked in wonder, "how long do you think you will be able to
maintain this exhibit?"
Barnum shrugged his shoulders, smirked, and replied sardonically, "as long
as my diminishing supply of lambs holds out!"
Reb Elimelech of Lizensk explains the words with which Hashem warned Moshe
and Aharon, "It will be when Pharaoh will ask, ‘give for yourselves a sign.’"
Pharaoh the charlatan would know the difference between a true sign and a
spectacular hoax. The difference is how the performer perceives it.
Pharaoh's conniving magicians performed sorcery that they themselves knew
to be filled with lies. As performers, they were not impressed.
Pharaoh would ask for a sign, not only that would impress him, but would
impress Moshe and Aharon as well.
The greatest accomplishment in life, and the greatest way to influence
others in a meaningful and lasting way, is to be as impressed and excited
about one's own actions as are others.
A parent or teacher who discusses Torah with true enthusiasm, impressed by
the Heavenly genius contained within, will surely impact a child in a more
meaningful way than a parent who exudes an "I heard this one already"
attitude toward his audience. Pharaoh understood that, and Hashem told his
Divine messengers that Pharaoh, who knew very well how to lie, would ask
for the real sign -- one that generated the same excitement for the
messengers as well as the recipients. It was not only a sign for himself,
but for Moshe and Aharon as well.
The Proof is not always in the way something is received. Sometimes the
proof is in the putting! Good Shabbos ©2000 Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky
Dedicated in memory of A. Milton Brown -- Avraham Mordechai ben Benzion --
Rosh Chodesh Shevat by Mr. and Mrs. Ben Brown
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The author is the Associate Dean of the
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