The three signs

The three signs

Shemot, Exodus 1:1-6:1

Moshe was called by G-d to be the leader of Israel, and to take out the Israelites from Egypt. But he objected that the Israelites would not believe him when he would tell them that G-d had called. Nor would Pharaoh, King of Egypt.

To forestall this possibility, G-d gave Moshe three signs to show Pharaoh and the Israelites that he was indeed called by G-d to lead this holy mission. First, G-d had Moshe throw down his staff and it became a snake. When Moshe picked it up, it became a staff again.

Second, G-d told Moshe to put his hand in his robe. He did so, and his hand became as white as snow. Then it returned to normal.

Lastly, upon G-d’s instructions, Moshe took water from the Nile and poured it on the ground, whereupon it changed into blood.

It seems to me that G-d could have told Moshe to do any miracles to show that he had sent him. So why were these three chosen? Perhaps, writes Rabbi Yaakov Peterseil, because they each had a message.

The first, turning the stick into a snake and back again, demonstrated that the mighty Egyptian army would later become as powerless as a lifeless stick in G-d’s hand.  The second — of the hand as white as snow — demonstrated that G-d is the only true healer. He alone can make us sick or healthy.  He would bring plagues and disease upon the Egyptians and their cattle. Third, just as the water turned to blood (but not back again), Hashem was saying that the Israelites would leave Egypt and never return.

In this sense, the three signs became an introduction to what was to follow: an epic confrontation between Pharaoh and Egypt versus G-d and Moshe.

The story of Exodus inspires us year after year to strive for true freedom, and to put our trust in G-d. For it is always in Him that we can rely, and on His power we can always depend.

Shabbat shalom.

(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)