More than a century has passed since the RMS Titanic sank in the Atlantic Ocean, but the public is as captivated by the ill-fated ship’s history as ever. Why? It’s hardly the only such occurrence!

There are a number of theories, but a popular one explains there’s so much narrative, metaphor, and irony in this particular ship’s tragic end. It was famously deemed “unsinkable,” yet despite all of its bells and whistles, it proved no match for an iceberg, and 1,500 passengers and crew members lost their lives.

The hubris of humanity met its tragic end in the face of nature.

Humans, after all, don’t run everything.

You know who does? You know who runs nature, too?


The Serpent Miracle

When Aaron and Moses first storm into Pharaoh’s palace, demanding the Israelites’ release in the name of G‑d, Pharaoh brazenly demands a sign of Divine power. Aaron responds by throwing his staff to the ground. It instantly turns into a serpent. The Egyptian sorcerers are able to do the same, and a battle of serpents ensues: Aaron’s serpent turns back into a staff and swallows all the others:

Each one of them cast down his staff, and they became serpents; but Aaron's staff swallowed their staffs.1

What is the meaning of this miracle? What’s the significance of the staff turning into a serpent, then back to a staff, and swallowing all the others in the process?

And why was this unique act chosen to be the first miracle to open the floodgates of miracles about to transpire in Egypt?

A Cosmic Project

To get to the bottom of this, let’s go back to the very beginning of Creation.

Kabbalah explains that G‑d implanted Divine energy in every corner of this freshly created world. The Kabbalists called these bursts of G‑dly energy “sparks.”

Of course, these sparks were, and continue to be, invisible to the naked eye. That’s because the coarse and overly materialistic veneer of a base and depraved world covers them and doesn’t let them “out.”

The Kabbalists compared this material veneer to a “shell,” akin to the peel that covers a delicious and desirable fruit.

It’s a broad and far-reaching concept, but in a nutshell (pun intended!), this reality creates our very purpose on earth: To access these sparks and “redeem” them. Or, in other words, to expose the G‑dly energy that exists in every interaction and corner of the world.

The Egyptian Project

Interestingly enough, the Kabbalists tell us, Egypt received an abundance of these sparks, making the job of “spark redemption” all the more important. At the same time, its “shell” was one of extreme depravity and moral degeneration.

Indeed, Egypt is seen as the prototype of evil that denies its creator. The prophet Ezekiel said, “O Pharaoh, king of Egypt, the great crocodile2 that lies down in the midst of its rivers, who said, ‘My river is my own, and I made myself.’”3

This is the secret to the great plagues visited upon the Egyptians, to crush the thick shell of Egyptian defiance, and finally release those sparks to bring them closer to G‑d. When it was all done, the “Egyptians shall know that I am G‑d.”

Back to the Serpent

As a prelude to the cosmic shift that was about to happen, Aaron cast a staff in the Egyptian palace and got things going.

You see, the visual of a staff is representative of that G‑dly energy that descended from on High to be implanted in this world. The long, slender stick connotes a downward flow of energy, symbolic of the spark’s journey through the cosmos into the Egyptian landscape. Though they’ve been cast far, they are directly attached to G‑d; a straight line can be drawn right back to Him.

The serpent, of course, is the exact opposite: Hearkening back to the days in Eden, it is the prototype of evil and negativity in this world.

So, first Aaron transforms the staff into a serpent, representative of the sparks’ sad journey from being before G‑d to being trapped in a depraved Egyptian cage. From staff to serpent.

But then, the serpent turns back into a staff, symbolizing what thankfully happens next: Eventually, even Egypt will be broken and the G‑dly energy will revert back to her source. “Ten wondrous plagues are coming, my Egyptian friends,” Aaron broadcast. “And when G‑d is through with you, there won’t be a corner of this country that doesn’t know Him. Every last vestige of Divine energy in this land will be exposed.”

From serpent back to staff—swallowing all the negative serpents along the way.

Stop Being a Serpent

We sometimes get carried away with the Egyptian mentality. We delude ourselves into thinking we made ourselves. Not literally, of course, but Titanic-esque.

What does that look like?

You keep Shabbat, of course. But you’re very worried about shutting off for too long, so you work until the last minute, inappropriately rushing into Shabbat like a madman.

Yes, you’re honest in your business dealings, but when Amazon accidentally delivers an extra package, you don’t bother letting them know.

Your friend wasn’t nice to you, or somehow never has money when you request the hundred dollars you lent her last week, so you get upset at her, vowing never to be nice again, and start scheming her downfall.

Do you get the idea?

If you really, really believed that G‑d runs the show, that there is G‑dly energy behind everything, you wouldn’t do any of the above. Shabbat is more important than that last email, Amazon may not need your money, but G‑d is still watching, and your friend? Eh, she’s just a tool.

Instead, you’ve fallen into the Egyptian trap of “I made myself,” getting carried away with how much you can manipulate your own destiny. You’re effectively declaring the Pharaoh-like statement of, “I am in control, it’s all up to me, and so now that X is or isn’t happening, I’m upset and afraid.”

But you don’t. G‑d does. Lean back and let the holiness and Divinity around you come forward while you watch the show. You’re a staff connected to G‑d, not an Egyptian serpent with a hubris problem. And when you internalize that, you will have experienced your own personal Exodus.4