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Thought for the Day: Signs and Wonders; What's the Difference?

Imagine you went to the president of the bank that holds the  mortgage on your house.  You just push past the secretary, walk into his office, pull out a sealed deck of cards, and say, "I am going to open this sealed box of cards in front of you.  You will pick a card -- any card -- and I will be able to tell you what card you picked.  Then you will forgive my mortgage or I'll levitate your secretary!"  How likely is that to work?

Yet that seems to be pretty much what is happening in the beginning of Sh'mos.  Moshe goes into Paroh, does some cool stuff, then Paroh's magicians mostly repeat them (but probably as sleight of hand tricks, suggests the Sporno).  Moreover, when HaShem instructed Moshe to command Paroh to release Klal Yisrael, HaShem also reminded Moshe that, "I will harden Paroh's mind and multiply My signs (ososai) and My wonders (mofsai) in the land of Egypt."  (Sh'mos 7:3)  If the point is to spring Klal Yisrael from Egyptian servitude, then just levitate them out of there, for goodness sakes.  But there is a rule that HaShem doesn't like to do miracles, you say.  Well... I would say that y'tzi'as mitrzayim is pretty much the granddaddy of all exceptions to that rule; nu?

In point of fact, getting Klal Yisrael out of Mitzrayim was not the point.  Rather, the point is: "The Egyptians will know that I am HaShem."  (Sh'mos 7:5)  HaShem is introducing Himself and His beloved nation (b'ni b'chori yisrael) to the world.  Each "os" and "mofes" is part of that plan.  So; what's and "os" and what's a "mofes"?  The Sporno says an "os" (sign) is to demonstrate that the one performing the sign is a true and reliable messenger of HaShem.  A "mofes" (wonder), on the other hand, is to demonstrate an aspect of HaShem's control and management of reality.  Mostly you will see the term "os" used in relation to klal yisrael, who don't need any demonstration of who/what HaShem is, but do need to be convinced that Moshe is His true/reliable messenger.  On the other hand, "mofes" is usually used in relation to the Egyptians, who need to be taught the lesson of who HaShem is, but we don't really care what they think about Moshe (who is just one more Jewish problem to them).  The Sporno notes, moreover, that one action can be both an "os" and a "mofes", since it depends on the intended receiver.


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