Snake on a stick by Benjy Lebowitz


In Parshat Chukat, the Torah tells us that Bnei Yisrael complained about the Mann that Hashem provided.  Although the Mann was a miracle that Hashem provided every day, Bnei Yisrael nevertheless complained, “Lama HeElitunu MeeMitzrayim LaMut BaMidbar Ki Ein Lechem VeEin Mayim VeNafsheinu Katzah BeLechem HaKelokeil,” “Why did you bring us up from the land of Egypt to die in this Wilderness, for there is no food and no water, and our soul is disgusted with this insubstantial food?”  Because of this display of ingratitude, Hashem brought fiery serpents against Bnei Yisrael, and a large number of people died.  After seeing the destruction that these snakes caused, the people understood their transgression, and they approached Moshe, begging him to intercede with Hashem on their behalf. Hashem told Moshe to make for himself a snake and place it high upon a pole, and whoever would look at the snake would be healed of his snakebites.  Rashi, quoting a Mishnah in Masechet Rosh Hashanah, explains that the copper snake did not in and of itself bring healing.  Rather, when Bnei Yisrael looked towards heaven at the snake on the pole, they would focus their hearts on Hashem and would therefore be healed.

The Torah tells us that Moshe made a serpent of copper and placed it on the pole.  Why did Moshe specifically choose to make the snake out of copper?  After all, Hashem had only told him to make a snake.  Rashi explains that Hashem told Moshe to make a “Nachash”, which is etymologically similar to the word Nechoshet (copper), both of them containing the sequence Nun, Chet, Shin.

The Ramban writes that there is much more taking place here than just a simple play on words.  He explains that the way of the Torah is that it will often produce something that is a miracle within a miracle.  Normally, a person runs away from the source of something that has harmed him or has caused him to get sick. Moshe, however, understood that the exact way in which Bnei Yisrael were harmed was the same way in which they would be healed.  Moshe specifically made the snake out of copper because the appearance of a fiery serpent is similar to the color of copper, and by picturing the snake that had harmed them, Bnei Yisrael would be healed.  The lesson for Bnei Yisrael was that clearly the source of healing was Hashem, for only Hashem could heal somebody in the exact way that they were harmed.  By comprehending this lesson, Bnei Yisrael  understood that Hashem is behind everything and that it is inappropriate to complain against anyything that Hashem had done for them. 

A very important message can be derived from this story.  We must appreciate the daily miracles that Hashem does for us in our own lives and never express any ingratitude for the things that Hashem does for us.  The Jewish people’s every need was provided for in the desert, yet they started to forget what Hashem had done for them and complain.  Therefore, Hashem had to bring a plague upon them to remind them of everything that He does for them.  It is important for us to remember and to be grateful to Hashem for everything that He does for us.  

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