Parashas Vaeira, Part 2

Just before Moshe and Aharon went to Pharaoh the second time, Hashem said to Moshe (Shemos 7:8-9): “When Pharaoh speaks to you, saying, ‘Provide yourselves a sign,’ you shall say to Aharon, ‘Take your staff and cast it down before Pharaoh – it will become a snake.” The Midrash (Shemos Rabbah 9:1) notes that Hashem did not say “If  Pharaoh speaks to you saying, ‘Provide yourselves a sign,’” but rather “When Pharaoh speaks to you saying, ‘Provide yourselves a sign.’” That is, Hashem was declaring in advance that Pharaoh was going to ask for a sign. The Midrash points out that various righteous men asked for signs. Noach asked for a sign that Hashem would never again bring a flood. Chizkiah asked for a sign that he would be healed from his illness. Chananiah, Mishael, and Azariah asked for a sign that they would be saved from the ravages of the furnace. The Midrash then says that since these righteous men asked for a sign, it stands to reason that Pharaoh would ask for one. This syllogism is baffling. Let us see how the Maggid explains it.
The Maggid says that it was part of Hashem’s plan that Pharaoh ask for a sign. Hence Hashem said, “When Pharaoh speaks to you saying, ‘Provide for yourselves a sign.’” By declaring that Pharaoh would ask for a sign, Hashem “locked in” the demand for a sign – He voided Pharaoh’s freedom of choice, and made it inevitable that Pharaoh would ask for the sign. Hashem wanted Pharaoh to ask for a sign for the same reason that the righteous men that the Midrash mentions asked for a sign. Although Hashem had promised these men that He would act favorably, they feared that some future sin on their part would nullify the promise. They therefore asked for a sign, in order to lock the promise in: once Hashem gave a sign, He would be “bound” not to rescind the promise.
In this vein, it would have been fitting for Moshe and Aharon to ask Hashem for a sign that He would rescue the Jewish People from slavery. But they did not ask for any sign. Hence Hashem placed into Pharaoh’s mind the idea of asking for a sign. The sign was for the Jewish People’s benefit. [Perhaps the Maggid means to say that the sign of the snake was a harbinger of the miracles that Hashem would be performing later.] This is apparent from the phrasing of Pharaoh’s demand: Not “Provide me a sign,” but rather “Provide yourselves a sign.”
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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