1998"Allow me to introduce myself..." God says, and then announces the new Name to Moshe. With this introduction, God attempts to inspire Moshe after Moshe's recalcitrant people have paid him no heed. He assures Moshe that even though Moshe has not been a big hit with his own people, Pharaoh, on the other hand, will be very impressed. So, Moshe and his brother Aharon pull a snake out of a staff, which swallows the snake/staffs of the Egyptian sorcerers. Pharaoh is still not impressed, as the Holy One has foreseen and now Moshe is being ordered to bring out the heavy artillery. He is instructed to:
On Water & Frogs...
" Go to Pharaoh in the morning, here, he goes out to the Nile, station yourself to meet him by the shore of the Nile, and the staff that changed into a snake, take in your hand, and say to him: YHWH, the God of the Hebrews, has sent me to you, saying: Send free my people, that they may serve me in the wilderness! But here, you have not hearkened thus far. Thus says YHWH: By this shall you know that I am YHWH: here, I will strike?with the staff that is in my hand?upon the water that is in the Nile, and it will change into blood. The fish that are in the Nile will die, and the Nile will reek, and the Egyptians will be unable to drink water from the Nile." (Exodus 7:17-18)
Note that Moshe is instructed to greet Pharaoh by himself. This is a personal encounter "mano el mano", or as far as Pharaoh is concerned, "deo el deo". Aharon is nowhere to be found. It's a dramatic statement because Pharaoh, who is fresh from the waters, is told that they are about to be polluted by the leader of the Hebrew slaves. After Moshe is told to confront Pharaoh the Holy One continues:
YHWH said to Moshe: Say to Aharon: Take your staff and stretch out your hand over the waters of Egypt, over their tributaries, over their Nile-canals, over their ponds and over all their bodies of water, and let them become blood! There will be blood throughout all the land of Egypt?in the wooden-containers, in the stoneware. Moshe and Aharon did thus, as YHWH had commanded them.
He raised the staff and struck the water in the Nile, before the eyes of Pharaoh and before the eyes of his servants, and all the water that was in the Nile changed into blood. The fish that were in the Nile died, and the Nile reeked, and the Egyptians could not drink water from the Nile; the blood was throughout all the land of Egypt. (Ibid:19-21)
The Holy One tells Moshe to use Aharon as the "plague-maker". Moshe is told to be the proposer and Aharon is the disposer. This is also true for the plague of "frogs". Moses is instructed to tell Pharaoh himself and then he is told to tell Aharon to make the plague happen: Exodus 8:1-2
1.YHWH said to Moshe: Say to Aharon: Stretch out your hand with your staff, over the tributaries, over the Nile-canals, and over the ponds, make the frogs ascend upon the land of Egypt!
2.Aharon stretched out his hand over the waters of Egypt, the frog ascended and covered the land of Egypt.
3.Now the magicians did thus with their occult-arts they made frogs ascend upon the land of Egypt.
If Moshe's reluctance to lead the people hinges upon his "heavy tongue", why is he given the speaking role while his silver tongued brother is relegated to the mute role of "staff-stretcher"? If Moses has already proved capable of addressing Pharaoh, why was it necessary to give Aharon a role. In later plagues Aharon is no longer part of the drama, why is he given a role here?
One might say that just as Pharaoh does not do his own sorcery, Moshe must be seen as an equal and, therefore, must have his "man" who will do his bidding. In order to show that Moshe belongs in the room with Pharaoh, Moshe also requires his "court". Otherwise, he may not be taken seriously. After Moshe's "credentials" are established, Aharon is no longer viewed as essential.
Such a solution explains why the first plague was executed in this fashion, but why the second plague? The Midrash in Exodus Rabba has an interesting answer:
Midrash Exodus Raba 9:10-19
YHWH said to Moshe: Say to Aharon: Take your staff and stretch out your hand over the waters of Egypt.
Rabbi Tanchum said: [It was as if] The Holy One said to Moses, "The water which protected you when you were cast into the Nile will not be smitten by your hand." Thus, Aharon cast forth his hand. According to the Midrash, Moshe is being told that water had not only allowed him to live, but also had protected him. The waters at the Red Sea were also going to protect him and it is only when he hits the rock to bring forth the water that is when the waters turn on him, blocking him, from entering the Land.
God states that Moshe owes a debt to water and will owe a debt in the future, therefore his relationship to water must be very different. God is instructing that Moses must have a unique respect for water, since water was used as an instrument for his salvation. Without water, where would he be? Moshe is instructed to develop sensitivity to situations from the most personal perspective. Even when water needs to be smitten, his hand should not do it.
When a job needs to be done, many questions arise. Who should do it is one question. Can they do it is another question. A third question is, 'should they do it.' The ability to perform a task may not be enough. It also must enhance one's individual development. It must enhance one's personhood. Moses could have turned that water into blood, but then God would have been complicit in creating the blindspots.
Prepared by Rabbi Avi Weinstein, Director, Hillel's Joseph Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Learning.