God tells Moses that Aaron will serve as his prophet, and that all that God says to Moses, Aaron will convey to Pharaoh for him. This gives Aaron a unique status. He’s not a direct prophet of God at this point, but rather is a prophet to another prophet. This makes me wonder: similar to the game of telephone, would there have been a chance that things would get lost in the gap between God – Moses – Aaron – Pharaoh? How many levels would a statement have to go through, and what does this do to the message?
Luckily, it seems like Aaron and Moses get their tag-team routine down pretty quickly. God tells Moses that He plans to harden Pharaoh’s heart, and perform wonders in Egypt so that the Egyptians will know that He is God. “And the Lord spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying: ‘When Pharaoh will speak to you, saying: Show a wonder for you; then you will say to Aaron: Take your rod, and cast it down before Pharaoh, that it will be come a serpent.’ And Moses and Aaron went into Pharaoh, and they did so, as the Lord had commanded; and Aaron cast down his rod before Pharaoh and before his servants, and it became a serpent (Exodus 7:8-10).” However, the sorcerers of Pharaoh are able to replicate this particular wonder, and though Aaron’s staff swallows the others, Pharaoh is not impressed. This moment is captured in my latest indulgence of Prince of Egypt awesomeness:
Pharaoh’s heart remains hardened. So God tells Moses, “Go to Pharaoh in the morning; lo, he goes out onto the water; and you shall stand by the river’s bank to meet him; and the rod which was turned into a serpent you will take in your hand. And you will say to him: The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has sent me to you, saying: Let My people go, that they may serve ME in the wilderness; and behold, you have not listened; thus says the Lord: In this you will know that I am the Lord. Behold, I will smite with the rod that is in my hand upon the waters which are in the river, and they shall be turned to blood (Exodus 7:15-17).'” Here, we have the threat of the first plague, blood.
When Moses and Aaron come to the Nile and see Pharaoh, Aaron does as God instructed, and the Nile turned to blood. This first plague, therefore, was carried out by Aaron, not Moses. I once heard a midrash (story) explaining why this was the case. When Moses was a baby, the Nile saved him, as it was the vehicle that brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter. Therefore, he was unable to cause harm to the river that saved his life by turning it to blood. Therefore, Aaron performed this plague. While Egypt suffered as a result, Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he still refused to let the people go. Seven days later, Moses went to Pharaoh again, threatening to set frogs upon the land if he still refused to let the people go.
The plagues have officially begun. Egypt is about to be slammed by all manner of tragedies, most of which will impact the common people far more than Pharaoh. This whole saga calls into question the idea of collective punishment. Did every single Egyptian, children included, deserve to be punished for the enslavement of the Israelites? And what do we learn from this today? Did every single German citizen carry the guilt of what the Nazis did? Are all Palestinians responsible for terror attacks against Israelis courtesy of Hamas? How do we punish those who actually commit these heinous acts, and what should happen to those who allow them to take place?