Every September at the Puyallup fairgrounds about 40 miles south of Seattle, occurs one of the Lapin family’s favorite fairs. On one special day each September, we would head to the Washington State Fair. We’d arrive early morning, soon after opening and leave only when the lights started going out late that night. We love that fair.
One attraction, popular at almost every fair in the country for the last seventy-five years, is the girl-into-gorilla illusion. The audience is shepherded into a dark tent. When the curtain opens, a girl is seen in a cage and before everyone’s astonished eyes she begins to sprout hair. Her features go from girlish to gorilla. Her delicate arms gradually turn into huge hairy appendages dangling from enormous shoulders. Then, just as the transformation seems complete, the “gorilla” breaks open the cage. Everyone flees in terror, their frantic screams helping to attract the audience for the next show.
Spoiler alert: I am going to explain how it is done. Imagine you’re in a brightly lit room on a dark night. Looking at the window, you clearly see a reflection of you and the room you’re in. That window behaves like a mirror. If the lights in the room are gradually dimmed while strong lights outside are gradually brightened, from inside the darkened room you can clearly see the garden outside the window. The window is no longer a mirror but a window.
Back to the gorilla illusion. Unbeknown to the audience, there is a glass wall between them and the girl. A man in a realistic gorilla outfit is off to the side. The glass is angled and arranged so if the glass was actually a mirror, you’d see him. Assistants gradually lower the light in the area around the girl and gradually raise the illumination around the gorilla. Careful placing of the players ensures that the reflected image of the gorilla merges with the image of the girl and as the light changes, seen through the angled glass, the girl gradually transforms into a gorilla. It is always a crowd pleaser.
I discovered the secret of this illusion by using one of the rules of ancient Jewish wisdom: whatever is kept in the dark is where they don’t want you looking! Peering carefully off into the gloom of the side room, the man in the gorilla suit is always just visible.
The Scriptural source of this rule fascinates me. Look at these three examples from Exodus:
1a) And the Lord said to Moses, carve for yourself two stone tablets…
1b) And he carved two stone tablets…
2a) And the Lord spoke to Moses, go descend…
2b) Moses turned and descended from the mountain…
3a) And the Lord said to Moses, ascend to me to the mountain…
3b)Moses ascended the mountain…
Not surprisingly, whatever God told Moses to do, he did. Moses’ action is described using exactly the verb God used in issuing the directive. There are many similar examples.
However, here is a notable exception:
And the Lord said to Moses, stretch out your hand and grasp (Heb: ACHaZ) its tail [the snake’s]
…and he stretched out his hand and firmly grabbed (Heb: CHaZaK) it…
Because this is so unusual, even the King James translation acknowledges that two different verbs are used for the directive and the action.
“…Put forth thine hand, and take it by the tail. And he put forth his hand, and caught it…”
However, even that historic translation fails to adequately emphasize the qualitative difference between the two Hebrew words ACHaZ and CHaZaK The former suggests a taking hold that merely links Moses’ hand and the snake, as a person might grasp a friend’s hand in greeting.
But the latter, CHaZaK, implies complete mastery over the object being grabbed. By firmly grabbing it and exerting human mastery over the snake, Moses can convert it into a harmless and inert wooden stick. It is so easy to miss the subtle but powerful difference in words. We are so easily distracted by the brightly lit drama that we might miss the important distinction.
Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that Moses instantly recognized the symbolism that the snake represented Pharaoh. Moses realized that merely grasping the snake would not do. He needed a strong hand to firmly grab the snake.
After all, God could hardly have been clearer just a few verses earlier:
…Egypt will not let you go other than through a strong (CHaZaKa) hand.
Anyone watching this scene play out would have seen the spotlight on the snake. After all, that is where the drama appears to be. But the real place to be watching was where Moses’ hand grabbed the snake’s tail. And as any fan of the late, great Australian animal lover, Steve Irwin, knows the most dangerous place to grab a snake is the tail. Moses firmly and fearlessly grabs the snake’s tail, rendering it impotent. It is a forerunner of future events in which Moses would do the same to the mighty Pharaoh.