This sheet on Exodus 4 was written by Moshe Sokolow for 929 and can also be found here

Moses’s Shtick* * (The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) defines shtick as “an act or stage routine” and recognizes its Yiddish derivation from the German, in which it literally means a stick or piece).

In this chapter, God prepared Moses for his confrontation with Pharaoh. At this point in time, we have no inkling that there will be numerous confrontations; for all Moses knows now—he will succeed at first without having to try try again.

Two items stand out: The first is the staff that Moses was instructed to take along. Since we have already been introduced to him as a shepherd, we can safely assume that the staff in question was his shepherd’s crook, a long piece of wood curved at the top so it can be placed about the neck of a recalcitrant sheep to direct it to safety.

This staff, which he now turned into a snake, will also be featured the plagues of hail and locusts. The fact that he was instructed to bring it to bear when drawing water from the flint rock (Numbers 20:8 ff.) suggests that it was also in his raised hand at the splitting of the sea, the battle against Amalek, and may have accompanied him throughout the forty year sojourn in the wilderness. Aaron, too, has a staff (7:9 ff.) and it makes its comeback in the Korah incident (Numbers 17).

The second noteworthy item is Aaron himself. When Moses balked at his mission, citing a difficulty with public speaking, God indicated that Aaron would do his talking. Verse 16 describes their relationship as “He [Aaron] will serve as your spokesman (peh, mouthpiece?) and you [Moses] will be his boss (elohim).” Curiously, when this relationship is referenced in 7:1, there is a significant substitution: “You [Moses] will be a boss [elohim] to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron will be your prophet [nevi’ekha].”

Applying the axiom that things equal to the same thing are equal to each other, we may conclude that the principal meaning of prophet is spokesman.

(ב) וַיֹּ֧אמֶר אֵלָ֛יו יְהוָ֖ה מזה [מַה־] [זֶּ֣ה] בְיָדֶ֑ךָ וַיֹּ֖אמֶר מַטֶּֽה׃
(2) The LORD said to him, “What is that in your hand?” And he replied, “A rod.”

Dr. Moshe Sokolow is Associate Dean of the Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration, Yeshiva University

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