The Staff

D'var Torah by Rabbi Jay Spero


The Staff

Contact Rabbi Spero at 862-9546 or


In this week’s portion, Moshe and Aron come to Pharaoh to plead the case of the Jewish people. G-d instructs them to show Pharaoh a sign by turning their staff to snakes. Pharaoh scoffs at what he views as “unimpressive magic”. He even brings in schoolchildren to prove the Egyptian people’s proficiency in magic. Aron then turns the snake back into a staff, and his staff eats all the other staffs in the room. Pharaoh is also unmoved by this sign.

What is the meaning of this story? What is the significance of the staff?

The staff possessed by Moshe and Aron had been handed down since the time of Adam, the first man. Within the staff there was a duality. On the one hand, the staff had the four letter name of G-d on it, attesting to the mercy of G-d. Also inscribed on the staff, however, was the acronym of the ten plagues, attesting to the aspect of G-d’s judgment (Although the ten plagues had yet to take place, the acronym was the concept expressing G-d’s dominion over the entire creation, which was the purpose of the ten plagues. The first three expressed it below the ground, the middle three on the ground, and the last four above ground. Thus the acronym was a prediction of the coming expression of G-d’s power).

This duality also spoke to a much deeper concept. We know that free will is perhaps the most fundamental aspect of creation. Without it, there would be no possibility of true good, because there would be no choice. Thus, evil's role in the world is as a necessary option so that one may exercise one’s free will to be good. However, the question still remains: if G-d is pure good, how can evil come from a source which is pure good?

The answer is that evil was not created; rather, it was made possible. If we do what is right the world remains in its good state. If we pervert the world, though, we turn that evil possibility into reality.

This idea is signified through the staff. The word for staff in Hebrew is mateh. The word mateh can be used in a couple of different ways. It can mean to bend, and it can mean to extend or stretch out from the source, i.e., like a branch from a tree (which is what a staff is). The word mateh can also mean a tribe, which is what the twelve tribes were: extensions of Yaakov. This staff had originally been given to Adom—the first man. It was meant to stand as a junction between heaven and earth. G-d told Moshe and Aron to turn the staff into a snake to signify that Pharaoh was bending the world, much as a snake moves in a bent form, and the snake is a metaphor for the evil inclination, which causes man to desire to bend the world.

Pharaoh laughs at this message. Moshe and Aron counter his laughter by having the staff eat the other staffs. This display demonstrates that the straightness of the staff, when it is used as an extension between the heaven and earth, will always be able to overcome its use for evil. Thus the staff ideally symbolizes G-d’s attribute of mercy, but when need be, symbolizes His attribute of judgment.                                                       

Much of this Dvar Torah was adapted from Rabbi Akiva Tatz’s “Living Inspired”.


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