My dear friend and teacher, Sky Yardeni, recently outlined the difference between help and support. In his articulation, help is defined by actively doing something with or for someone. Support, on the other hand, is having their back – while less active, the very knowledge of another’s reassuring presence leads to confidence within. Both are important in their time, and it is the role of a good teacher or friend to ascertain what the circumstances demand.
It is not surprising that after Moses’s initial appearance before Pharaoh – resulting only in further affliction of the Israelites – that this week’s parasha opens with our fledgling leader declaring his self doubt. He addresses God saying, “Behold the children of Israel do not listen to me, how then will Pharaoh heed me.” Then, as an added note of self deprecation, he comments, “And I am of impeded speech” (Shemot 6:12). God recognizes that support is not enough at this moment, Moses’s needs help.
What follows is an amazingly compassionate course in leadership beginning by reassuring Moses that he is not alone. God sends Aaron to help Moses both speak to Pharaoh and bring about the miracles. From here until the end of the parsha, God slowly weans Moses off of the support of his elder brother – thereby planting him on his own two feet. This process has five steps corresponding to Moses taking a more singular role. Each step includes a speaking component and an action.
First, God speaks to Moses and Aaron together to go before Pharaoh. Moses is told to instruct Aaron to turn his staff into a snake. Second, Moses has instructions for Aaron to use his staff to bring about a miracle, but God speaks to Moses alone. In order for Moses to solidify his belief in himself and the process, God repeats this step three times (blood, frogs, and lice). Third, God again speaks to Moses alone to go before Pharaoh. In contrast, however, God removes Aaron from the picture altogether saying that God, without intermediary, will bring about the miracle. This step is repeated twice (wild animals and pestilence) as a lesson that there is nothing unique or special about Aaron – in fact it is and always has been God conducting the wonders. Fourth, Aaron is brought back as a helper in Moses’s first action. God speaks to Moses alone to go before Pharaoh. He and his brother are then to both throw handfuls of soot towards the sky (bringing down boils). However, Moses throws the soot alone! Seeing the budding leader show his first signs of initiative, God moves on to the fifth and final stage. Once more, God speaks to Moses alone to go before Pharaoh. This time, it is Moses who is to raise his staff and bring about the seventh plague (hail).
God, infinitely understanding, patiently and without reproach gives Moses exactly the help and support he needs. So much so that in the course of seven plagues, Moses transforms from a mumbler devoid of self confidence to a fully realized leader. This metamorphosis sheds light on the age old question: if there are ten plagues, why split them into two parshiot – 7 and then 3? Besides seven being the best number (Shabbes!!), it is precisely the amount of experience Moses needs to come into himself.
We all are learning and growing at all times. As my mentor Jonathan Dubinsky says, “no matter how well you know a person, you don’t know them at all, AND they are changing every day.” I hope that we have the strength to reach out in our times of need, and the courage to heed our friends’ calls. And above all, remember that no matter how isolated we may feel, we are never truly alone. For God is always giving support, and even a helping hand if only we are open to receive it.