The Jewish nation cried out from the depths of Mitzrayim, from their backbreaking labor, to Hashem and they were heard. So when Moshe was in Midian Hashem called him over to the burning bush to have a meeting. Here, He informed Moshe that he would be leading his brothers into freedom. But, Moshe, who had been hiding away in Midian for sixtyish years since he killed an Egyptian, didn’t fully believe that the Jewish people would be willing to hear him out. Whether because of his stutter or his “lack of qualification” to lead, he didn’t think his brothers would listen at all. So God gave him three signs that would persuade the disbelievers.
First, God showed Moshe that his stick could turn into a snake and back again. Second, God made Moshe’s hand white with Tzaaras and then return to normal. And third, God said, “And if they do not believe these two… then take water from the river and spill it on the ground. The water will become blood.”(4:9)
So Hashem gave Moshe these three signs, yet what makes one more convincing than the next? Why not one sign that is really miraculous and no one can deny? Making a stick into a snake and back is certainly miraculous enough, it is definitely better than making his hand Tzaaras stricken and then healed, people have healed before. So if the world wouldn’t listen to the first, clearly miraculous sign, what would make them pay any attention to the second less miraculous sign? And if they go in order from least to greatest why not just skip all the way to the blood and move on?
The answer lies in the Gemara (Berachos 5a, Sukkah 52b). It tells us that if the Yetzer Horah is bothering you, you have three methods to fight back. To drag him to the Beis Medrash. And if that doesn’t work to say Shema, and if that’s not good enough one should think about the harsh judgment he will receive on the day of his death from sinning. Yet if it weren’t for the help of God we would never be able to stand up to the Yetzer Horah anyway. These three methods allow us to fight him, to battle him, and to ultimately win. And these three correspond to the three Avos and the things they taught us. Because of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov we know how to respond to the evil forces.
From Yaakov we learnt our first line of defense; Torah study. Yaakov studied Torah at the Yeshiva of Shem and Ever. And by learning the Torah, which is called peaceful all the obstacles will disappear peacefully.
Yet if we cannot focus on our learning we follow what Avraham taught us. Avraham spread the idea of One God to the world and this is the Shema, where we faithfully declare to the world God’s oneness and truth. If Torah isn’t flowing then the Shema and its unity with Shamayim should help to drive away the bad.
But then, if that Yetzer Horah is being really persistent, we follow the advice of Yitzchak – who represents judgment. Judging ourselves and reminding ourselves of the judgements to come after we die is the last line of defense against the Evil inclination.
What does this have to do with the signs Moshe was given?
The Midrash tells us the three signs did indeed correspond to our forefathers. And only through what our forefathers taught us were we able to be redeemed from Egypt. The three signs follow the order of the Gemaras advice for dealing with the Yetzer Horah. The first sign, the snake, represents Yaakov. For Yaakov represented the ultimate personification of Klal Yisrael, for his name was changed to Yisrael. And the staff represents rulership and level-headedness which is certainly a trait of a Talmid Chacham. The second sign, the Tzaaras, corresponds to Avraham who was always pure and straightforward in his pursuit of Avodas Hashem. The hand of Moshe that became Tzaaras stricken and then returned to purity represents Avraham, for through the love and strengths of Avraham we were able to take the blemishes and the impurities of Mitzrayim and confront them with simple faith and belief in God.
But if these two don’t work, and don’t dispel the doubts from the Jews’ hearts, God told Moshe this third sign would be indisputable. The blood. Blood, which represents death and judgment, Yitzchak, would certainly convince anyone who was still holding out. Yet this is still different from the first two which both go back to their original state; the snake back to the stick, and the Tzaaras stricken hand back to a healthy hand, the blood would not become water again. It would forever stain the ground. For that is what strict judgment does, it forever stains a person, thus, it’s the last resort and should rarely be used. We can learn as well that we must be careful not to judge others because there is no going back, that person is forever stained if we judge them. We have to look at everyone favorably, and to do this we must gain the faith in God that Klal Yisrael was supposed to gain just by simply seeing the stick turned snake, the Torah. For through the Torah we will never judge another. Each letter of the Torah represents a member of Klal Yisrael, and if we have trouble learning it is very well possible that we are staining the letters by judging others. Let’s see the signs, let’s understand at all times and in all places that what Hashem wants from us to have faith in Him always.