6# Chukat (Num. 19:1-22:1) (English Translation: ‘Statute’) (6-19-21)
(FIERY SERPENTS: ‘SNAKES ON THE PLAIN!’)
The people spoke against God and against Moses, "Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in this desert, for there is no bread and no water, and we are disgusted with this rotten bread." The people came to Moses and said, "We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord that He remove the snakes from us." The Lord sent against the people the venomous snakes, and they bit the people, and many people of Israel died.
So Moses prayed on behalf of the people.
‘And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a ‘Fiery Serpent and Set It On A Pole’, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live’.
‘What reason did He see for punishing them by means of Serpents? The Holy One, Blessed Be He, therefore said:
"Let The Serpent, who was the first to introduce ‘Slander In The Garden Of Eden’, come and punish those who speak ‘Slander In The Plains Of The Wilderness’."
The obvious questions which this story raises: ‘Why A Snake’? If a Snake has positive healing powers, why did the Snake able to entice Adam and Eve to turn away from God’s Commandment? One would certainly not expect the Snake to be a ‘Source Of Blessing and Healing! What does the Serpent represent?
We must begin by emphasizing that ‘It Was NOT The Snake Itself That Brought The Cure’! In the words of The Sages:
“Could a ‘Snake On A Pole’, cause death by Not looking at it, or could it really give life by only looking at it? However, when Israel would ‘Look Upward and Submit Their Hearts To Their Father In Heaven’, they would be cured; but if not, they would waste away.”
In other words, their healing consisted of simply looking upward, towards The Throne Of God, they Repented and Reaffirmed Their Trust In God and His Healing Power, and Were Cured!
Keeping this in mind, we can understand why The Snake was chosen. A venomous Snake is a Source of Harm and Destruction. Spiritually, too, The Snake brought incredible Harm To This World when it enticed Eve to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. Yet here was the image of the Harmer that actually Healed! Or as the Sages puts it: ‘IT’S AMIRACLE WITHIN A MIRACLE!’
But did the Brazen Serpent itself contribute at all to the healing? It might sound spiritual to say that God could have told Moses to make anything or even nothing. That might be true, but I wouldn’t think that God’s instructions were up for debate. It certainly doesn’t seem they are. People are bit by snakes; they have to look at a snake. Coincidence? I think not!
What is clear is the association between the instrument of Punishment and the instrument of Healing. How could it be that the object which was the source of Pain could end up being the source of Healing?
Calling the Israelites to ‘Look Upon The Source Of Their Pain’ forced them to: ‘Acknowledge the Consequences Of Their Actions’, and the result was Healing!
Jesus used this Torah Portion in his conversation with Nicodemus to point to Himself, when he said:
“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life”.
To Look Upon The Crucified Messiah, is to see The Consequences Of Our Sins. It is when we realize that ‘Our Attitudes And Behavior Resulted In The Terrible Suffering Of The Son of God, that we can be ‘Healed From The Consequences Of Our Actions.
(FIERY SERPENTS:‘SNAKES ON THE PLAIN!’)