Questioning faith in the parsha
staffs and serpents
Among the many strands of meaning in the story of Moses, one seems to reflect what Buber calls “the demonic as one of the forms by which the Divine functions” and also ties in the theme of wrestling with God.
Consider the symbolism of the staff/serpent. The staff, a symbol of authority and leadership, is transformed into a serpent, the embodiment of the devil, of rebellion, the lowliest of beasts. Moses’s staff/serpent not only devours the serpents of lesser magicians, it also frightens Moses. The magician is not in command of the powers given to him, which may even turn against him, if God considers it necessary as part of His design.
Similarly, it is not Pharaoh but God who hardens Pharaoh’s heart so that He may multiply His signs and marvels. At the cost of suffering. Or, looking at it the other way round, the signs and marvels give meaning to the suffering.
Israel is both God’s Covenantal partner and God’s first son, the first son always being the one most at risk of being slain … or sacrificed.
When Moses returns to Egypt from Midian, he carries the rod of God in his hand. And just then, after telling Moses of His threat to slay the first-born son of Pharaoh, God apparently seeks also to kill Moses, or his son (the text isn’t clear).
It’s interesting that what saves Moses (or his son) is the circumcision of his son, with its suggestion of blood sacrifice.
Again and again we see the troubled and troubling nature of God’s relationship to Israel and the questions this raises about the nature of the Covenant.