Parshat Bo tells the incredible story of how Bnei Yisrael transform from being a slave nation to a free nation. However, if we look a little closer in the Torah text we learn of another transformation that conveys a powerful message about shifts in the priorities of Bnei Yisrael as they leave Egypt and journey towards the promised land.
Early on in the Parsha we find that Hashem commands Moshe to stretch out his hand over the Egypt to initiate the plague of locusts (see Shemot 10:12), and later on, he is told to stretch out his hand to bring darkness upon Egypt (see Shemot 10:21). As should be clear, both instances refer to the hand as an instrument of punishment.
However, just a few verses later the Hebrew word for hand is used in a completely different manner when Moshe prophetically describes to Pharoh how Bnei Yisrael will soon worship Hashem with feast-offerings in their hands (see Shemot 10:25).
Taken together, it seems that this contrast is meant to highlight how the obstinance of the Egyptians quite literally ‘forced the hand’ of Hashem to punish them, while the aspiration of Bnei Yisrael was to use their hands to bring offerings to God.
Similarly, later on in the parsha we find three references (see Shemot 13:3, 13:14 and 13:16) to the fact that Hashem took Bnei Yisrael out of Egypt with a strong hand, along with two references to the mitzvah of tefillin (see Shemot 13:9 and 13:16) which we are told should ‘be a sign upon your arm’. Here too, it seems clear that this contrast is meant to highlight how the hand – either physical or metaphorical – can be used as a tool for divine punishment or divine worship.
Ultimately, each of us have the potential for bringing good or bad, light or darkness to the world. But while there are times when we must use our hands to stand up to injustice, we should never forget that the ideal is for us to use our hands to convey a message of loyalty to Hashem and peace to the world.