Photo Credit: Jewish Press

This is Shabbat HaGadol, the Great Shabbat preceding Pesach, when we prepare to be redeemed from our exile. Rabbi Yaakov Abuchatzera spoke at length of the Midrash Tehillim on the pasuk, “The wicked have heaped falsehood upon me” (Tehillim 119:69). The midrash ties this to the plots of Pharaoh and the Mitzrim against us: “Come let us be wise with them” (Shemot 1:10). Rabbi Abuchatzera explains that any time the nations of the world conspire and take action against Israel, this is only possible because their representatives in the heavenly court, the supernatural “princes” of every nation, sense an advantage they wish to press with their earthly cohorts.

They know that when Israel is faithfully performing the will of the Creator, then they have no power over us, but if, G-d forbid, Israel deviates from the proper course of action, they know their opportunity is at hand. For this reason, it is not enough for them to torment us and to assail us physically, but they want to degrade us spiritually so that we don’t have the time or the presence of mind to learn Torah and to perform mitzvot. This is why Pharaoh decreed heavy labor upon us in Mitzrayim – so that we’d be too exhausted and too demoralized to do what otherwise we’d know that it is necessary for us to do to obtain the favor of Hashem. For this reason also, Hashem sent to us Moshe, Aharon, and Miriam to lead us and to inspire us and to return our focus and attention to the most important things that would defeat the wicked plans of Pharaoh and the forces of darkness that were arrayed against us.


Hashem didn’t only send the triumvirate of Moshe, Aharon, and Miriam to redeem us from our exile, but He also recalled the merit of our three forefathers. When Hashem reveals to Moshe the signs he will use to persuade Israel that the moment of redemption is at hand, He invokes their names: “Thus will [the children of Israel] believe that you beheld Hashem, the G-d of their fathers, the G-d of Avraham, the G-d of Yitzchak, and the G-d of Yaakov” (Shemot 4:5). Rabbi Yaakov Abuchatzera asks: Why is it necessary to enumerate each of the forefathers in this context? The first reason is to emphasize the fact that all the wiles and machinations of the wicked to oppress us are easily broken by the merit of our forefathers.

This is told in the context of the three signs because each of the signs might be seen to correspond to one of the patriarchs. The first sign, turning the staff into a serpent, recalls Yaakov because Yaakov’s greatest accomplishments are signified by reference to his staff, of which the Rav brings several examples. Yaakov was a straight and upright individual, and Israel following in his example are like the staff of Moshe. But when the Mitzrim seek to corrupt and twist us, then they are like a serpent attacking, and we, if we fall into their traps, also become twisted and coiled as a serpent and no longer straight and direct as our father Yaakov had been.

The second sign, when Moshe’s hand turned leprous and then returned to its healthy form, refers to Avraham Avinu. Avraham’s work is most frequently signified by his hand – the right hand of mercy, the hand that clutched the knife at the akeida, and so forth. The leprous hand represents the apparent victory of the forces of darkness and the corruption of Israel they seek to engender, but the righteousness of Avraham causes their plots to fail and in the end Israel remains as we were.

Finally, the water of the Nile turning to blood on the land represents Yitzchak because Yitzchak was known for digging wells. Also Yitzchak, among the forefathers, signified the Divine attribute of judgment, and blood typically symbolizes judgment. The plot of the wicked Mitzrim had been to lead us into error and transgression so that the Divine judgment would stand against us and we would be judged unfavorably, G-d forbid. But in the end the righteousness of Yitzchak stood firm in the face of the gravest challenge, and we were found worthy of being redeemed in spite of their most earnest efforts.

Thus we find that as wise as our enemies consider themselves to be, and even when they employ supernatural means to oppose us, they cannot prevail. Even at our weakest, when representatives of all the nations seek to unite against us and press their perceived advantage, they can never overcome us. They will never succeed in turning our G-d against us, the G-d of all the world, and they cannot prevail against the enduring merit of our forefathers who were steadfast in their faithfulness to Hashem in the face of every challenge, physical and spiritual.

May we be redeemed this Pesach in their merit, and may Hashem send to us Moshe, Aharon, and Miriam to unify us in the face of the nefarious scheming of our enemies.


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Avraham Levitt is a poet and philosopher living in Philadelphia. He writes chiefly about Jewish art and mysticism. His most recent poem is called “Great Floods Cannot Extinguish the Love.” It can be read at He can be reached by email at [email protected].