When the Egyptians realized that they were being attacked by supernatural forces at the Red Sea, they said, “I must flee from the presence of Israel, for G-d [Havayah] is fighting for them against Egypt.” (Ex. 14:25)
As you know, Pharaoh derived sustenance entirely from immature divine consciousness [mochin d’katnut], which is alluded to by the word “End”.
The words usually translated as “Red Sea” [in Hebrew, “Yam Suf”] really mean “Reed Sea”, and can also be read as if they were vocalized “Yam Sof”, meaning “Sea of the End”. The “end” is the final sefira, malchut, which descends into the lower worlds, i.e. the lower levels of divine consciousness. Relative to its native environment, these lower levels of consciousness are “immature” or “constricted”.
This is the significance of [the fact that] the snake puts its tail in its mouth.
Pharaoh personified the Primordial Snake.
From the teachings of Rabbi Yitzchak Luria
adapted by Rabbi Moshe Yaakov Wisnefsky
“The Snake at the Sea’s End”
The surprise appearance of Pharaoh, King of Egypt (yes, “that” Pharaoh, King of Egypt…the one that gave Moses so much trouble) in the role of the primordial serpent may take you a little off guard, but from the perspective of Kabbalah, many things look different. In Judaism, the serpent is less a specific being or entity (i.e. Satan) and more a representation of an idea or a force, in this case, the personification of the evil inclination. In this sense, you could have many evil people across history personifying the snake. Hitler could be a personification of the ancient serpent of Eden.
But there’s more:
This being the case, Pharaoh was both a head and a tail, in the idiom of the verse, “G-d will cut off from Israel both the head and the tail…on one day.”(Isaiah 9:14)
Pharaoh, here signifying the evil inclination in general, acts as the tail, the lowest consciousness of the Jew, and as the head, i.e. the tail elevated to and usurping the role of the head, proper divine consciousness.
This also alludes to the [Primordial] Snake. Originally, he was the tail and Adam was the head, but [because of the Primordial Sin] this was inverted and the snake became the head and Adam the tail.
Adam here personifies the Good Inclination, or divine consciousness. Sin consists of reversing the hierarchy between divine and material consciousness.
This is the mystical meaning of the verse “He will hit you on the head and you will bite him in the heel” (Gen. 3:15).
Man hits the snake on the head because the snake has usurped man’s role as the leader; the snake bites the heel because by sinning man has become the heel/tail instead of the head.
This is very interesting when your deconstruct the role of snake as Pharaoh back to the original appearance of the serpent in the Garden, and then re-visit the relationship between the snake and Adam (which I suppose we could project back up to the relationship between Pharaoh and Moses).
Adam is the heel (or tail) rather than the head because by sinning, he exchanged roles with the serpent. Instead of man ruling over Creation, now evil rules and man struggles to allow good to ascend while evil inhibits his efforts. The snake bites the heel but the heel will crush the snake.
In Christian thought, the heel of man is symbolized by Jesus crushing the evil of Satan, and Rabbi Wisnefsky, when recounting the wisdom of the Rebbe in his article Transforming the Primordial Snake, presents an interesting interpretation that seems to apply:
Since the snakes were deadly, anyone who had been bitten was for all intents and purposes already dead. Healing the bitten person was thus tantamount to resurrecting him.
Now, in order to resurrect a dead person, it is not enough to simply infuse his body with life, because the body has already lost its capacity to support life. First, the dead body had to be made capable once more of living. This can be done only by a force that transcends the laws of nature, including the dichotomy of life and death. Infusing this transcendent force into the dead body restores its capacity to support life, after which the person’s soul can re-enter it and he can live again.
This is why G-d also commanded Moses to heal the people using a snake. By using the image of the deadly, Primordial Snake to restore life, G-d indicated to them that resurrection requires eliciting a level of divinity that transcends the dichotomy of life and death. When people saw the snake, they understood that in order to elicit this transcendent divinity and be healed, they had to transform their own, inner “snake” – their evil inclination – into a force of good.
What was that? Resurrect the dead?
Let’s weave Rabbi Wisnefsky’s commentary into more familiar language. When man fell in the Garden, he was “bitten” by a “poisonous” snake and that “poison”, the evil within us, has continued to sicken humanity down through the ages. Christianity considers a sinner as “spiritually dead”, unable to perceive God let alone to attempt to perform His will.
Jesus, by his death and resurrection, provides the means by which mankind can be healed of our poison and by which we can be brought back from the dead. The commentary above talks about the restoration of the soul and the resurrection of the body, both of which we see in the promise of Jesus Christ. The last paragraph of the Rabbi’s missive illustrates that we must see and be aware of our evil inclination, how it serves as the barrier preventing us from a holy life, and also shows us how we can conqueror that nature and bend it to our will and God’s will (Romans 8:37).
I’m sure that Rabbi Wisnefsky would say that I’m playing fast and loose with his interpretation of the Rebbe’s teachings, but there seems to be more than a casual similarity between the Rebbe’s lesson and what we know of the role of the Messiah relative to the subjugation of evil. Jesus came during the Second Temple period to provide for the repairing of our damaged souls, to reconcile us with God, and to prepare the way to eternal life. When he returns, he will finish the job and completely heal us and the world of the evil that plagues us and restore us to the state which we enjoyed with God in Eden.
All Israel has a share in the World to Come, as is stated: “And your people are all righteous; they shall inherit the land forever. They are the shoot of My planting, the work of My hands, in which I take pride.” –Sanhedrin, 11:1
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever. –Revelation 22:1-5
We’re not there yet. We’re still in “exile”. However, God is here with us.
Perhaps, for you, this exile is not so bad. And you feel you are doing whatever you can about it, anyway.
But it is not just you. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all their children through all the generations, as well as all the heavenly hosts,
the entire Creation—all is unfulfilled, in exile and imprisoned.
Even the Creator, blessed be He, locks Himself into prison along with His Creation.
Until you get us out of here.
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
“Pity on the Cosmos”