A Jewish man prays for forgivness at the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem prior to the High Holidays. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
Praying at the Kotel


God provided Moses with three signs that symbolized redemption, return, and God’s desire to have the Jewish people back again.

This week’s Torah portion is “Shemot” (Exodus 1:1-6:1), and in it we read of the legendary meeting between God and Moses at the burning bush.

As we know, it was at the burning bush that God first introduced Himself to Moses and commanded him to return to Egypt and lead the Jewish people to freedom. Moses refused the mission. So God asked him again, and again, and again, but Moses refused every time. We are told that these “negotiations” lasted a week, and not 4.5 minutes as depicted in the movies.

One of the reasons Moses refused to accept the mission was because he believed that the Jewish people would not accept him or listen to him. Moses said they would never believe that they were about to be freed. God told Moses that this would not be the case, and to reassure him, He furnished Moses with a number of “signs” that would convince the Jewish people to accept him as their leader.

For the first sign, God told Moses to throw his staff to the ground and it would turn into a snake. Moses could turn the snake back into a staff by grabbing the snake’s tail. The next sign was the ability to make his hand appear leprous, and then healthy again. Finally, Moses was to draw water from the river which would turn into blood when he spilled it onto the ground.

What is the meaning and significance of these signs?

We are taught that the Jewish People had sunk to the lowest levels of spirituality and impurity while slaves in Egypt. At this point in time, they felt completely disconnected from God. They did not think that it was possible to repent and return to God. They did not believe God was at all interested in them, and assumed they would continue to be slaves in Egypt.

As such, God provided Moses with three signs that symbolized redemption, return, and God’s desire to have the Jewish people back again.

Where is the symbolism in each of the signs?

The staff turning into a snake: We all know that throughout Scripture, the snake represents evil and sin. But here, the message is that even one who has gone off onto a “slithering” path can again become straight and holy, like the staff used in the service of God.

The hand plagued by leprosy: Leprosy often symbolizes death in Scripture, as does sin. This sign was meant to convey that even when someone has virtually “died in sin,” it is never too late to become spiritually healthy again, just like Moses’ hand.

The water turning to blood: When a person separates form the community, like the bucket of water being separated from the river, his connections and commitments become weakened, “sick” and “injured” – symbolized by the blood. All people, especially the Jewish people, must remain connected to the community. It is only through community that we can maintain our identity and religious commitment.

To some extent, we are all always “leaving Egypt.” The key to redemption, freedom, success and continuity is through an attachment to God and to the community. With that, we will be sure never to fall to the spiritual depths to which the Jews in Egypt unfortunately had fallen.

By: Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel

For more insights by Rabbi Enkin on this week’s Torah portion, click on the links below: