Parshat Chukas 5784: The Chok of the Copper Serpent, and the War of Simchat Torah?

Shalom Friends;

This week, our Parshat HaShevua, Chukas is being sponsored by Dr. Ari and Rivka Stern of Ramat Beit Shemesh dedicated in honor of their children and grandchildren — that they should all be matzliyach to do the Ratzon Hashem and for a refuah shleima for all of the cholim as well as for the safe return of all Chayalim and the liberation of all remaining hostages — and salvation and true peace for all of Am Yisrael. To the Stern family, many thanks for your sponsorship and for your continued kindnesses.

You can celebrate a Simcha — a birth, a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, a Chassuna or other Simcha event in your life, or commemorate a Yahrtzeit of a loved one, or for whatever other reason by sponsoring a Parshat HaShevua.

Please forward to your relatives and friends and encourage them to sponsor a Parshat HaShevua. And please be in contact with me with any questions, or for further details.

Best Regards,

Moshe Burt
skype: mark.burt3

Parshat Chukas 5784: The Healing Powers of the Copper Serpent, and the War of Simchat Torah?

by Moshe Burt

Following the Aaron HaKohen Godol’s death, the assumption of Kohen Godol by his son Elazar, and Am Yisrael’s victory over the Canaanite king of Arad, Rabbi Shmuel Goldin writes in his sefer, “Unlocking the Torah Text,” Sefer Bamidbar Parsha summary on our Parshat Chukas (page 180) :

The people rose to complain against Hashem and Moshe over the rigors of the continuing journey and Hashem responds by releasing an attack of poisonous serpents. The Am turn to Moshe, beseeching him to pray for their salvation. In response to Moshe’s prayers, Hashem commands him to fashion a copper serpent and place it on a pole in full view of the people. Hashem instructs all victims of the serpent’s bites to gaze upon the copper serpent and thereby survive.

Torah records:

“They [Am Yisrael] journeyed from Mount Hor by way of the Sea of Reeds to around the land of Edom, and the spirit of the people grew short on the way. The people spoke against Hashem and Moshe: ‘Why did you bring us up from Egypt to die in thus Wilderness, for there is no food and no water, and our soul is disgusted with the insubstantial food.’ Hashem sent fiery serpents and they bit the people. A large multitude of Yisrael died. The people came to Moshe and said, ‘We have sinned, for we have spoken against Hashem and against you! Pray to Hashem that He remove from us the serpent.’ Moshe prayed for the people.” (Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 21, posukim 4 – 7 as rendered to English in the Artscroll Stone Edition Chamash)

“Hashem said to Moshe, ‘Make yourself a burning one and place it on a pole, and it will be that anyone who had been bitten will look at it and live.’ Moshe made a snake of copper and placed it on the pole; so it was that if the snake bit a man, he would stare at the copper snake and live.” (Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 21, posukim 8 – 9 as rendered to English in the Sapirstein Edition “The Torah: with Rashi’s Commentary)

The Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash provides commentary regarding the copper serpent (page 851) :

Even people who had been bitten were cured when they looked at Moshe’s copper serpent.

The Sages said (Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash citing Rosh Hashana 29a), “Does a serpent cause death or life? Rather, when they looked upwards and subjected their hearts to their Father in Heaven they were healed, but if not, they died.” (ibid, citing Rashi) Hashem could have healed them without the serpent, but then they would have thought that they were cured through natural means. (ibid, citing B’chor Shor)

Rabbi Goldin writes (“Unlocking the Torah Text,” Sefer Bamidbar, page 205) :

…Scholars…, unwilling to accept this episode at face value, struggle to find logical meaning in the symbol of the copper serpent.

Rabbi Goldin provides questions and Rabbinic understanding regarding the copper serpent (ibid, pages 203 – 204) :

How can Hashem Who commanded at Sinai “You shall not make for yourself a graven image nor any likeness of that which is in the Heavens above or that which is on the earth below or that which is in the water beneath the earth (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Sh’mos, Perek 20, posuk 4) now instruct Moshe to create what seems to be Divinely sanctioned idolatry?

Why doesn’t Hashem simply suspend the attack of the serpents without introduction of this strange symbol?

Rabbinic recognition of the serious philosophical issues raised by this episode is evidenced by a dramatic departure from the norm in the Mishne.

In the third chapter of the tractate of Rosh Hashana, the Mishne interrupts its Halachic discourse to raise two philosophical questions. The second of which reads as follows: “Does a [copper] serpent cause death; or does a [copper] serpent grant life? Rather, when Israel glanced Heavenward and submitted their hearts to their Father in the Heavens they were cured; and if not they perished.” (Rabbi Goldin citing Mishne Rosh Hashana Perek 3, posuk 8)

Clearly, to the Rabbinic mind, no supernatural powers can be attributed to the copper serpent. Any cure granted to Am Yisrael could only have been issued from Hashem Himself.

The Rabbis of the Mishne, however, seem to beg the central question. If the B’nei Yisrael were cured when they “submitted their hearts to their Father in the Heavens,” why was the copper serpent necessary at all? If this event is simply an example of Divine response to mortal prayer, what role does the copper serpent play?

Some… consider the episode of the copper serpent to be beyond the realm of human understanding. The Ibn Ezra… connects our questions concerning this event to the shroud of mystery that envelops all Divinely ordained miracles. Even during moments of clearest Divine Revelation, Hashem’s ways remain beyond our ken [noun: knowledge, understanding, or cognizance; mental perception].

We can no more comprehend why Hashem commands Moshe to perform a miracle through the medium of a manufactured serpent than we can understand why a tree branch should sweeten the waters of Mara (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Sh’mos, Perek 15, posukim 22 – 25) or why, much later in our history (Rabbi Goldin citing Melachim II, Perek 20, posuk 7), date honey should cure King Chizkiyahu’s affliction of boils (Rabbi Goldin citing Ibn Ezra on Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 21, posuk 8)

For purposes of this vort, this author prefers the pshat of casting eyes skyward toward Shemayim and submission of our hearts to Hashem. In this brutal, protracted (adjective: drawn out or lengthened in time; extended in duration) war we currently face, our unified sincere hearts and tefillot aimed toward Shemayim seem as crucial to victory by the Yad Hashem over an animalistic, barbarous enemy as was casting one’s eyes and heart toward Shemayim via that copper serpent was in healing the wounds inflicted by live serpents in Bamidbar.

May it be that our Chayalim, regardless of the machinations of their high command, emerge totally victorious — eradicating from the face of the earth Hamas, their terrorist buddies and the so-called “innocent civilians” of Gaza who joined with Hamas in their murderous deeds, that the Chayalim return home whole — physically, mentally and spiritually and that the Chayalim Liberate and bring home all remaining hostages. And may we see the restoration of true unity within Am Yisrael.

May we, the B’nei Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently re-settled in Gush Katif, once the IDF, by the Yad Hashem, destructs and eradicates the wild beasts of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, all other terror entities, and if necessary Iran, and that our brethren be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them, that the thrice expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebuilt homes and the oft-destroyed Yeshiva buildings in Homesh be rebuilt, as well as the buildings of Yishuv Elchanan, all at total government expense. May our Chayalim return from battle unharmed — physically, mentally and spiritually and may all of the hostages brutally taken by the wild beasts of Hamas be liberated and brought home to their families. Baruch Hashem that our dear brother Jonathan Pollard is now in his fourth year at home in Eretz Yisrael and continues in a new chapter in his life. May Esther Yocheved bat Yechiel Avraham have an aliyah in Shemayim and may her spirit and memory continue to lift Jonathan to at least 120 years. May the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem — as with the return in April, 2019, via Russia, of the remains of Zachariah Baumel, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of nine years ago. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and prevent Chas V’Challila the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we see, in 5784, the REAL Jews from the Ukraine and Russia as well as the US and Canada, the real Jews via matrilineal descent, make Aliyah enmass — via thorough review by Misrad HaPanim. And may we soon and finally see the total end to the Communist Chinese Wuhan Lab corona virus pandemic and all like viruses and variants. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nei Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem Al’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayrah b’yamainu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos!
Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.