The Ari ztl writes that in Galus Mitzrayim the Dibbur (speech) was in galus and that is why the geulah is called פסח which is a combination of two words פה סח the mouth speaks. This concept is alluded to in Tehillim (81,11)אנכי ה’ אלקיך אשר הוצאתיך מארץ מצרים הרחב פיך ואמלאהו that Hashem’s taking us out of Mitzrayim gave us the ability to widen our mouths. Let us try to understand a little of the meaning of the Ari’s revelation.
Galus Mitzrayim started with the closing of the eyes and the hearts of Yisrael (Bereishis 47,28 Rashi). We can interpret this statement of Chazal to mean that davening to Hashem was getting to be more challenging and almost impossible for Am Yisrael. For one of the requirements to tefillah is stated in Yevamos 105b that the posture of tefillah is eyes down and heart up. Placing the eyes downwards directs one to humility and the heart above directs one to kavanah both of which are necessary for a proper tefillah. In short, Galus Mitzrayim took its toll by robbing from the Jewish Nation the power of its tefillah.
This inability to daven stripped Yisrael from their mission as the אדם of creation, a title that proclaims that Man’s purpose on this world is to daven to Hashem and that is why this unique power of speech was gifted to him alone. The passuk says that when Hashem breathed within Man His breath, Man became a nefesh chaya which is interpreted by the Targum as רוח ממללא a speaking spirit. The Medrash adds two words, קדם מלכה that he became a speaking spirit “before the king”. Speaking before the king describes the act of tefillah more than any other speaking activity and specifically Shemoneh Esrai where we find the halacha of standing before the king (Raza D’Shabbos p.95). Therefore Pharaoh was insanely antagonistic to any expression of even a semblance of tefillah and he squashed any possibility to do so with a fury.
For example, when Moshe came to Pharaoh during the plague of the frogs Moshe asked him when he would want the plague to go away. Pharaoh responded tomorrow. The Ibn Ezra asks that this response is abnormal especially when the entire empire of Egypt has been suffering up until now by being literally attacked by millions of these creatures everywhere. He should have said immediately without a minute’s waste. He explains that Pharaoh did not believe in Hashem and that He answers the prayers of those who beseech Him. He believed that the source of the entire plague that befell Mitzrayim was a pure act of nature and just as it came at a certain time it will leave today by the same forces of nature. Moshe who is very learned in astrology, is merely playing “make believe” that it is him and his tefillos to Hashem that is causing its departure. Surely Moshe is assuming that Pharaoh would ask for the ridding of the plague today. Yet Pharaoh was willing for his entire nation to suffer another day of this plague in order to prove that tefillah does not work. He chose rather to wait and watch as the natural plague of nature disappears today even without Moshe’s tefillah.
Now we can understand the message that Hashem was sending to Pharaoh by turning the staff into a snake and back again. Why a snake and why replace now the word נחש with תנין when נחש was written previously (Shmos 7,15)? We would suggest that both Pharaoh and Bnei Yisrael were symbolized at this demonstration, as a snake. Pharaoh and his kingdom paralleled the snake (Shmos Rabba 9,3) because the curse that the serpent received in Gan Eden for his role in persuading Chavah to eat from the Aitz Hadaas, was the same philosophy of Pharaoh, that tefilla does not exist. As Rav Simcha Bunim from Peshischa explains that by Hashem telling the serpent that he will eat dust his entire life, He thereby removed from him the merit of needing to daven to Hashem for sustenance since dirt is found everywhere. The non ability to daven was the real curse to the serpent for it meant that it was now cut off from having a relationship and dependency on Hashem.
So too Pharaoh, who did not believe in the medium of tefillah to Hashem, and he caused that the Yidden should also lose such a power to the point that their dibbur was in galus, was the reason why he and his nation is about to receive the Ten Plagues. If Yisrael had that power of tefillah and davened, it would have served as a zechus to take them out of Mitzrayim even prematurely. As the passuk says (Devarim 4,7)ומי גוי גדול אשר לו אלקים קרובים אליו כה’ אלקינו בכל קראינו אליו. Galus Mitzrayim caused that even Am Yisrael took on this characteristic of the Nachash and did not believe that their tefillos would help or be accepted. Overtime they lost that power of tefillah.
With this explanation we can answer the question of the Meforshim why the passuk says (Shmos 7,9) that Pharaoh תנו לכם מופת give to yourselves a sign that Hashem is powerful instead of תנו לי מופת to give me a sign? Pharaoh was inquiring what was going through Moshe’s mind that Hashem wants to redeem Yisrael. If they themselves don’t believe in Hashem and proof to this is that they don’t even daven to him, why would Hashem find them worthy of redemption?
Moshe then demonstrated to Pharaoh the miracle of the staff and snake. The word תנין, a snake, which together with its four letters and word, equals the gematriah of תפלה. Pharaoh and Am Yisrael are both symbolized by the תנין for their inability to daven. However, the difference is that if it wouldn’t have been for Pharaoh’s severe afflictions on Yisrael, Hashem’s people would daven to Him because tefillah is in their blood and essence and would have been redeemed. As the title of אדם suggests, that if you take the filler letters of the word אדם, aleph is לף, dalet is לת, and mem is מ, incredibly it spells the word מתפלל. Yisrael is the אדם of creation and our essence is tefilah. The neshamah of a Yid is constantly davening to Hashem 24/7 yearning to come closer and to cleave to Him. By Moshe picking up the תנין by its tail and then watching it being transformed back into a staff, it showed that even if Yidden were able to grab only the “tail end” of tefillah, which meant to minimally express a krechtz, a sigh, a moan, a scream, an ohy, that alone would have been sufficient to gain Hashem’s support to free them since our essence is already tefillah and deveikus with Hashem.
Evidence to this concept, can be gleaned from the fact that the passuk says that after Moshe picked up the snake by the tail it returned to the former staff in his hand. The Avodas Yisrael deduces from this that one would think that the head of the snake represented the top of the staff, and the tail represented the end of the staff. Yet when he picked the snake up by the tail he should be left holding the bottom of the staff in his hand. However, the passuk says to the contrary ויהי למטה בכפו it transformed into a normal staff in his hand which conveys that the top and bottom switched their positions. According to our interpretation the message to us is that even though one only has kavanah at the tail end of his tefillah or he cannot even find the words to say to Hashem but sobs in its place, his tefillah was upright due to the circumstances, his heartfelt intentions, and his very essence portrayed by the neshamah which is constantly davening to Hashem.
This could explain why the first plague on Mitzrayim was blood. The passuk says לא תאכלו על הדם and in Berachos 10b the Chazal explain this passuk to mean that one should not eat before he davens for his blood. The sefarim explain that the word אדם is a combination of two parts: the letter aleph which signifies the intellect and the neshama, and the letters דם which symbolize the body and its functions. Davening is the act of subjugating one’s bodily desires to the neshama and that hierarchy should continue throughout the day in all of one’s matters. By not davening you leave out the aleph and what remains is the דם with an uncontrollable drive of its own. By removing the power of tefillah from Am Yisrael, Mitzrayim left them with just theדם of אדם without the joint efforts and inputs of the neshama a manifestation of שכל, intellect. Tefillah is compared to water as the passuk says (Aicha 2,19) שפכי כמים לבך נכח פני ה’. The acronym of שפכי כמים לבך is שכל the power of the neshamah. Chazal tell us that the lower waters cry “to be before the King” which is tantamount to an act of tefillah yearning to come close. Tefillah is the expression of subjugating one’s hearts and desires to the neshamah and שכל. By removing the aleph from Am Yisrael, the Egyptians were punished that their waters also turned into blood.
Now we can gain another incredible insight in the words of Chazal who tell us that the Ten Makkos corresponded to the Ten expressions of tefillah (Devarim Rabba 2,1). What is the connection between the two? As we explained above, Pharaoh and the kelipos of Mitzrayim wanted to crush the dibbur of Am Yisrael so that they would lose their spirit and emunah in Hashem and cease davening to Him. This cessation of speech would consequently cause that they would never ever merit a geulah from their bondage. The geulah from their clutches is expressed with ten terms of tefillah for that is our true geulah the ability to speak before the king. That is why the halacha dictates the connecting of the beracha גאל ישראל to the beginning of Shemoneh Esrai אדנ’ שפתי תפתח without an interruption, because that is exactly what happened when we were freed from Mitzrayim. Our mouths opened up with the ability to daven to Hashem.
The מטה by which the Makkos were administered, is gematriah 54דן . The gematriah shows that the מטה was used in order to fulfill the Bris Bain Habasrim whereupon it states וגם את הגוי אשר יעבודו דן אנכי (Bereishis 15,14). However, the מטה also alluded to another concept that of the passuk שמע ישראל ה’ אלקינו ה’ אחד and ברוך שם כבוד מלכותו לעולם ועד which combined contain 49 letters. The letter hey ofמטה symbolizes this world which was created with the letter ה (Menachos 29b). The letter ה is composed of the letters of a yud inside a dalet that express that through the Ten Sayings (yud) and their expansions into the four directions (ד), the world as we know it was created. The message sent by these two sentences is Hashem is echad and there is nothing besides Him, and all creation exists to bring about the honor of His kingdom. Therefore the ה which symbolizes the Ten sayings that created this world become nullified in order to bring about the revelation of Hashem’s Kingdom. This goal was achieved by the Ten Makkos and hinted within the word מטה which alludes to the mission statement of Am Yisrael in this world.
This also applies to the power of tefillah and its ten lights which the מטה revealed. Tefillah whose purpose is in order to reveal the honor of Hashem’s Kingdom, possesses the power to change the laws of nature and bring about Kovod Shamayim as the passuk above says בכל קראינו אליו.
The word מטה also means bed. What life lesson do these identical letters, one for staff and one for bed reveal? A bed is also called פוריה (Kesuvos 10b) upon which we multiply descendants upon this world. There are two types of descendants, one physical and the other spiritual (Bereishis 6,9 Rashi). Spiritual descendants share the same letters as מטה matteh. For every time we subjugate the body to the neshamah we reveal the lights of Hashem’s glory into His world of concealment. We also hold the matteh of Hashem in our hands 24/7. We just have to use it properly and for the right cause.