Parshas Vaeira-Torah Or-The purpose of the Makos

This article is an excerpt from the above Sefer

Parshas Va’eira

“Vayomer Hashem El Moshe…”

[Torah Or p. 112]

This Mamar on this week’s Parsha discusses the episode of the first meeting between Moshe and Pharaoh, when Moshe came to request from Pharaoh the release of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt. Hashem told Moshe to tell Aharon, his brother, that when Pharaoh would ask them to perform a miracle to show their power and authority in coming as messengers of G-d, he should throw his staff on the floor and it would miraculously turn into a snake. Aharon followed precisely as he was told, and during that meeting he threw his staff to the ground and it turned into a snake. Pharaoh then called his sorcerers and magicians to perform the same miracle and they threw their staffs on the floor and made them turn into a snake. The snake of Aharon then turned back into a staff and it swallowed the snakes of all the magicians present. The Alter Rebbe asks numerous questions on this episode. What was the significance of making the staff turn into a snake? Why not another animal? Why did the snake have to turn back into a staff and only then consume the other snakes? Why was this chosen to be the first miracle to show Pharaoh? Couldn’t they have done something more convincing and significant?

This brings us to a discussion regarding the purpose of the Jewish people in Egypt. The Gemara states that the Jewish people emptied the country of Egypt “like an ocean without fish”. Spiritually, the intent of this statement is that the Jewish people refined Egypt, removing all of its Divine sparks, and elevated it back to holiness. How did the Jews bring about this elevation? This was accomplished through the Makkos. The Alter Rebbe delves into the purpose of the Makkos, what they meant for the Egyptians, and the spiritual accomplishments that they performed. There were many ways that Hashem could have chosen to redeem the Jewish people, and He could certainly have used a shorter method to release them, giving the Egyptians one great blow that would have forced them to release the Jews. The gradual set of punishments and plagues held a special purpose in the Divine mission of the Jewish people in Egypt. After understanding this matter, one can now understand the reason why Hashem chose that the first miracle shown to Pharaoh would involve a mere transformation of the staff into a snake and not a threatening plague like the others, as this miracle conveyed the message to Pharaoh regarding the purpose of all the other plagues.

  Explorations of the Mamar: 1.      What was the meaning behind the miracle of turning the staff into a snake? Why was this the first miracle that was chosen to show Pharaoh? 2.      Why did the snake turn back into a staff before swallowing the other staffs? 3.      How did the Jews empty Egypt of its spirituality through the Exodus? 4.      What was the purpose of the Makkos?  

 The Question:

The verse states, “And Hashem said to Moshe and to Aharon…take your staff and throw it before Pharaoh and it will become a snake…the staff of Aharon swallowed the other staffs”. As we asked above, what was the significance of the staff turning specifically into a snake and not another animal? Why did the snake turn back into a staff and only then consume the other snakes? Why was this chosen as the first miracle to show Pharaoh, as an introduction to the ten Makkos? Couldn’t they have done something more convincing and significant towards Pharaoh? This matter can be understood after first introducing the purpose of the Jewish people in Egypt.

The Jews emptied Egypt of all its valuables:

The verse states that the Jewish people emptied Egypt. The Sages [Pesachim 119a] interpreted this to mean that they made it like an ocean that had all of its fish removed. This means that the Jewish people in Egypt removed all of the holy sparks of Tohu that had fallen into Egypt until it became like an ocean without any fish. They did not leave even one spark in Egypt.

Understanding the falling of the sparks and their elevation:

The concept of Avodas Habeirurim, elevating the holy sparks of Tohu, is a fundamental principle of Chassidic and Kabbalistic teachings, and as stated above, it is the Divine service that we performed in Mitzrayim. What is the meaning of the sparks falling? What happened to them when they fell, and what does it mean that they have been elevated?

The explanation is as follows: While the Divine sparks were in Tohu, they were completely nullified to the Elokus that was found there. However, upon the occurrence of Sheviras Hakeilim, which caused the fall of the Divine sparks into the Kelipos of Biy”ah, the lower worlds, the sparks became concealed. The change that occurred to the G-dly sparks is similar to the change that was made to the soul upon its descent into the body. Prior to the soul’s descent, the soul was completely nullified to Hashem as there was no matter that darkened and concealed the soul from receiving a revelation of G-dliness. However, upon the soul’s descent into the coarse, material body, the body conceals the light of the soul and makes the world appear to be an independent existence. The soul no longer sees the complete nullification of all worlds and creations to the spark of G-dliness that is within them.

The same descent occurred to the sparks of Tohu upon their descent below. The sparks invested themselves within the Kelipos of Biy”ah, and these Kelipos darkened and concealed these sparks from every side, to the point that they could be the source of Yeishus, existences that feel independent of Hashem. Of this, the verse says regarding Pharaoh, [Yechezkel 29:3] Li Yeuri Ve’ani Asisani, that “The Nile is mine I have created myself”. In other words, Pharaoh, the epitome of Kelipa, was professing his independence from G-d, even though he also agreed that G-d is the G-d of all other gods [Elokah Dielokaya]. Therefore, although the sparks were originally nullified to G-dliness prior to the Sheviras Hakeilim, this was only due to the immense revelation of Elokus that it experienced there. However, after the Shevirah in which this Elokus became concealed, these sparks were no longer able to be nullified to G-dliness on the level that they were before.         

 Refining the Kelipas-Breaking the shell:

Based on the above, one can now understand why the forces of evil are referred to as Kelipos. The term Kelipa means a peel. Just like a peel surrounds the fruit and conceals it from being seen, such as the shell of a nut, similarly the Kelipos encompass the G-dly sparks and conceal them. From this name, one can also learn the method of how one can remove the sparks from within the Kelipos. Just like the only way to remove the fruit is through breaking the nut, similarly the only way to remove the sparks from their concealment is through breaking the Kelipos. It was for this reason that Hashem brought the miracles and plagues, as through doing so the Kelipos surrounding the sparks would be destroyed, as will be explained.

 The four rivers-the treasure of sparks found in the Nile:

The verse [Bereishis 2:10] states that a river came out of Eden to irrigate the garden and it split into four rivers: the Pishon River, the Gichon River, the Chidekel River, and the Peras River. The “Pishon River” refers to the Nile River of Mitzrayim.[1] The meaning of this verse applies not only in a physical sense, but also in a spiritual sense. The meaning of, “and a river left Eden” is that the Or Ein Sof found in the level of Chochmah of Atzilus diffused throughout Atzilus, into the Sefirah of Malchus of Atzilus, which is referred to as “the garden”. This is the meaning of the verse stating that the river left Eden to irrigate the garden. The river of Elokus left the Eden of Chochmah to irrigate the garden of Malchus. In Atzilus, there is only one river of G-dliness, as Atzilus contains the unity of G-d. However, in Beriyah, which no longer contains this revelation, and hence is the beginning of differentiation, the river of G-dliness is split into four parts. Just as physically in this world each river contains the unique characteristics of its waters, such as its unique taste and clearness, its strength and length, so too spiritually the above-mentioned rivers of G-dliness in Beriyah are different than one another. It is specifically the spiritual river of Pishon, which corresponds to the Nile of Egypt, that received the greatest amount of sparks, even more than the country of Bavel. This explains why the Jewish people were specifically exiled into Egypt to perform hard labor, as this country contained more Divine sparks than any other country.

The purpose of the plagues and wonders:

Based on the above explanation, one can now understand the purpose behind the miracles performed in Mitzrayim. The purpose of the miracles was so that Mitzrayim would “know that I am G-d”. The word “know” [ידעו] in Hebrew can also mean to break. The purpose of the Makkos was to break the Kelipos in Mitzrayim and release the sparks so they would once again become nullified to G-dliness. Once the Kelipa would be broken, the sparks could once again become attracted to Elokus and incorporated within it. This is the meaning of the verse, “The horse and its rider were elevated into the sea”. The rider, which was the Kelipa, was destroyed, and this allowed the horse, which was the spark, to be included in the sea of G-dliness. This is also the intrinsic meaning of, “And Mitzrayim will know that I am G-d”. This verse is puzzling because as the Egyptians all perished, who remained to “know that I am G-d”? The explanation is that the word “know” in this verse refers to the breaking of the Kelipos, which then allowed the sparks found within Mitzrayim to be freed and return to G-dliness, and these sparks would once again know G-d in a literal sense. This was also the purpose of the ten Makkos, to break the Kelipa of Mitzrayim. These miracles were only necessary for the Egyptians and not for the Jewish people, as the Jewish people are believers, the son of believers. [It is for this reason that the Jewish people did not experience the plagues in the same way as the Egyptians.]

 The message of the first miracle in turning the staff into a snake:

Based on the above, one can understand the meaning and purpose of the first miracle of the staff turning into a snake, which served as an introduction to the ten plagues. The purpose of the plagues was to show Pharaoh and Mitzrayim that the Egyptian king was not independent from G-d and that he required a constant vitality of G-dliness to keep him in existence. The Kelipos believed that they were no longer in need of G-dliness and they had no reason to be nullified to Hashem. The plagues showed the Kelipos that even now, while they were still Kelipos, they were completely dependent on G-dly vitality, and that they were truly nullified before Him. The only reason that the Kelipos did not see their need for G-dly vitality was because the G-dliness had descended below and became contracted and concealed. When the miracles were performed and a great ray of G-dliness was revealed, the contractions became reversed and the Kelipos became nullified to Elokus. The first miracle performed before Pharaoh was meant to convey this exact message. A staff is called a Mateh and Sheivet in Hebrew. The words Mateh and Sheivet also mean Hamshacha, to draw down. This represents the entire Seder Hishtalshilus of Kedusha and its descent below into the worlds, including the Kelipos. A snake, on the other hand, represents the source of the Kelipa of Egypt. Moshe and Aharon thus threw down the staff and turned it into a snake, which is Kelipa, to show Pharaoh that even the snake that is Kelipa receives from the Mateh, which is Kedusha. They then turned the snake back into a Mateh and it swallowed the other staffs. This represents the return of the snake, and the Divine sparks that it contained, to Kedusha


Lessons of the Mamar:

·         Going through troubling times? Everything has a Divine purpose. Although the Jewish people suffered terribly in slavery in Egypt, doing so fulfilled a Divine mission that would have otherwise taken thousands of years to perform. Hashem arranged for all the money of the world to go to Egypt in the times of the famine. He then arranged for the Jewish people to come live in Egypt and then leave with a “large plunder” as they emptied Egypt of all their Divine sparks. Of the 288 sparks of Tohu, we removed 202 sparks from Egypt in a most rapid fashion.

·         Kelipa, evil, receives its life force from G-d and has no power of its own. Even Kelipa will one day recognize and face its nullification towards G-d. Thus, even today one should not be intimidated by it and know that we will overcome evil and it will even join us in serving Hashem.


__________________________________________________________________________________ [1] See Rashi, ibid.

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