Written by Tamar Fox. Check out last week’s post in this series, Double Mitzvah – Shemot.
My favorite movie when I was a kid was Clue, a film packed with sexual innuendo and explicit sexual references, all of which sailed right over my head. Mostly, I loved the slapstick comedy. But watching it now I’m shocked at just how much I didn’t pick up as a child, despite watching the movie at least a hundred times.
Sometimes, when I read the Torah, I have the same experience. Even though I’ve read it all before, I’m often shocked at the things I didn’t pick up on a previous read. In this week’s parsha, I find myself cringing at the scene in which Aaron changes his rod into a serpent. Then the Egyptian sorcerers get in on the game, whipping out their rods, which turn into serpents, and are then devoured by Aaron’s rod/serpent. Later, Aaron uses his water to turn the water of the Nile into blood. And as the plagues progress, the rod remains incredibly important.
So. Rods. Reading these stories as an adult woman it’s hard not to think about the phallic symbols that dominate this story in an almost comical way. The beginning of Moses and Aaron’s negotiations with Pharaoh are essentially a pissing contest. The use of the rod to bring about many of the plagues suggests that God wants to be very clear about whose is the biggest. And I won’t go into the deep and complex gender dynamics implied by a rod changing water into blood, suffice it to say this is basically Freud’s wet dream.
What gets me about all of this is that ultimately the final plague that really gets the Israelites out of Egypt doesn’t involve the rod at all. It’s simply (spoiler alert for next week) the angel of death, an ethereal force of God, not a symbol of a penis, that ultimately loosens the people from their bondage (and to skip ahead to parshat Beshalach for a minute, God instructs Moses to use his rod to split the Red Sea, but Moses instead uses his hand, with no mention of the rod, to get the job done.)
Perhaps the lesson here is, in effect, that size doesn’t matter. Focusing on phallic symbols, or on the phallus itself, won’t get you anywhere at all. Certainly not out of bondage…