A recurrent theme in Judaism is the idea of spreading light. The Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, famously teaches that just a little bit of light can dispel a lot of darkness; indeed, just as a small candle can illuminate a whole room, one small kind deed or mitzvah can outshine all the darkness in the world. This principle governs the theory that just one more mitzvah could lead to the arrival of Moshiach, and forms the basis of the Jewish way of spreading positivity rather than battling with negativity.
In this week’s Parsha, we read about the plagues which blighted Mitzryaim after Pharaoh refused to listen to Aharon and Moshe Rabbenu, and let the Israelites, who were living under bitter slavery, leave Mitzrayim. Some of these plagues- which we continue reading about in next week’s Parsha- are rather graphic and horrific; the Nile turns to blood, and frogs swarm the land, in a series of tragedies which worsen, until they culminate with pitch black darkness and the death of each family’s firstborn.
And yet, in the midst of slavery, horror, and destruction, the Rebbe teaches us that we need to find- and spread- light. He uses this metaphor to explain the first miracle, in which Aharon turns his staff into a serpent. It’s only after the serpent has turned back into a staff, that it swallows the other serpents of the Egyptians. This seemingly puzzling action contains an explanation linking Parshas Vayera to the very nature of the Jewish people.
The Rebbe says, “Our task is to create light, not to battle darkness. Nevertheless, there are times when we are forced to resort to battle, when we must vanquish those who seek to vanquish us. Thus Moshe, the gentle shepherd of Israel, and Aharon, the ultimate man of peace, find themselves in the role of “judge and chastiser of Pharaoh,” crushing the might of Egypt and obliterating its icons and myths.
Therein lies the lesson to be derived from the fact that Aaron’s rod swallowed the “serpents of the Egyptians” after it had reverted back to its original form, rather than as a serpent itself. For even when he wages war, the Jew is not a warrior. Even when he consumes the serpents of the enemy, he is not a serpent himself, spewing poison and hate. His instrument of vengeance is as devoid of vengeful feeling as a petrified rod, as cold to the rage of war as a lifeless stick.”
We all find ourselves in situations which challenge our neshomos and our role in life as Torah observant Jews. Sometimes, as much as we detest conflict, we realise that we have no choice but to fight back against an external force which threatens to vanquish us, or to face horrific consequences. This might apply to the conflict between keeping the Torah laws in a world where Orthodoxy is considered “the other” or outdated, dealing with toxic people in our lives who threaten our wellbeing, or it might even refer to the internal battle with our own yetzer horo. Whether it’s a literal or metaphorical battle, we must remember the lesson of Aharon’s staff, and avoid feelings of vengeance and violence, for we, as Jews, are not warriors.