When Moshe was going before Pharaoh Hashem instructed him to bring along a stick, Moshe’s staff. Moshe was told to throw this staff to the floor in front of Pharaoh and it would become a snake. Obviously this alone is a tremendous display of Hashem’s influence in the world, but there is a message we can take to better ourselves in serving Hashem on a daily basis.
Our environment has a tremendous effect on us. Even the biggest sinners can become righteous if they surround themselves with people who are holy and pure, conversely, Tzaddikim can be greatly challenged if they are surrounded by negativity and impurity. Good people who live upright lives can become snakes if they are cast down into an environment of impurity.
When Moshe threw his staff to the floor he changed its environment from his holy hands to the dust of Egypt. Showing Pharaoh the detrimental effects Egypt was having on the Jewish people. That, even the purest of Jews can become evil in these surroundings – and entreating Pharaoh to release us from slavery. Yet soon after the staff became a snake Moshe redeemed it and just by lifting the snake; it returned to its previous form, a straight staff. This story is a lesson for us to surround ourselves with good people who will help redeem us from negativity and bring us back to where God wants us. But when we want to leave our personal Mitzrayim and straighten our lives out, away from evil, we sometimes feel stuck and unable to move. This feeling happens when we become stuck in the negative atmosphere of ‘Sur Mera’. The pasuk in Tehillim says, “Sur Mera, V’Aseh Tov – Go away from evil, and do good.” (34:15) This simple prescription for Teshuvah is so powerful, yet as the Chiddushei Harim points out many people find themselves stuck in the “Sur Mera – Going away from evil”. Sometimes people dwell too much on their past mistakes, going over and over in their head. And as Rebbe Nachman of Breslov famously said “You are wherever your thoughts are” so if one is constantly dwelling on their past mistakes they will feel so terrible as if they committed these sins over and over when all they want to do is Teshuvah. This negative environment of “Sur Mera” is what can turn the righteous into a serpent. One who desires to do Teshuvah is considered as if they already repented, but if a person decides to wallow in the mud of their past and stay in that negative atmosphere they will only stay a snake, never to graduate and uplift themselves to a life of truth and positivity. Therefore a person on the path to Teshuvah must “Sur Mera – turn from the evil” not to dwell on it but to quickly do a 180 and head in the opposite direction, to “Aseh Tov – to do good” leaving the past behind. Like Moshe uplifted the snake from a bad environment instantly changing its form, we can instantly uplift ourselves out of the mud, out of our Mitzrayim into the hands of holiness by simply doing good. Eventually overcoming our past mistakes by diluting them with the powerful remedy of our Teshuvah through doing good deeds in this world.