One of the central insights in this week’s Torah portion, Va’era, is the Jewish concept that nothing acts independently in this world other than God. The Ten Plagues in Egypt were meant to clarify and strengthen this tenet of faith. God said to Moses, “And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord” (Exodus 7:5). This is also what Moses said to Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, when he refused to set the Children of Israel free: “...in order that you should know that there is none like the Lord, our God” (ibid. 8:6).
One of the nicest examples of this struggle is the miracle of Moses’s staff turning into a snake and then turning back into a staff. Snakes were important in Egyptian mythology. Most of the pharaohs wore a sort of crown etched with a snake as a symbol of the power of their sovereignty. When Moses stood before Pharaoh and turned his staff into a snake and back again – through a Divine miracle – he was nullifying their pagan faith. The snake had no more power than that of a stick held by a person who does with it as he wishes.