to close a deal with G-d

Friday, 22 June, 2018 - 7:03 am

As I was driving along yesterday, I was listening to an Israeli radio program. A snake catcher was talking about his rather challenging and somewhat dangerous work. When the interviewer asked him, “What interests you about snakes?” he answered: “There is something mysterious about snakes. The word nachash (snake) has the same root as the word nachesh (to guess). Why? Because with snakes you never know what its response will be. It’s all guesses.” And then he told how he once crawled in the dark under a house in order to catch a snake, and the snake was in a position of victory. “I was already beginning to close a deal with G-d about a good place in Gan Eden, but the snake decided to have mercy on me; he didn’t bite me, but instead passed over me and disappeared.”

Whoever knows this week’s parasha and me, understand that at that moment I knew that I had my weekly post…

In parashat Chukat, Bnei Yisrael once again complained about Moshe and Aharon, and, in response, Hashem sent poisonous snakes to attack them. “And they bit the people, and many of the people of Israel died.” It seems that snakes can be very convincing: the fact is that it didn’t take long for Bnei Yisrael to come and say, “We have sinned, as we have spoken against Hashem and you.” Moshe went to pray for the people, and Hashem instructed him to create a snake out of copper and to place it up high. “Make for yourself a fiery serpent and place it on a pole, and it will be that anyone who was bitten will look at it and live.”

Chazal in masechet Rosh Hashana say: “Can a snake kill or bring to life? But, rather, when Yisrael would look up and subject their heart to their Father in Heaven, they would be healed.” In other words, the purpose of the copper snake that was on a pole was that Bnei Yisrael would look up to Heaven and do teshuva, or, perhaps, as the snake catcher said so aptly, “close a deal with G-d about a good place in Gan Eden.”

He is right, that anonymous snake catcher. A snake is guesswork. One cannot know whether he will kill or give life. On one hand, death came to the world because of him. After the sin of eating from the tree of Knowledge, which he engineered successfully, Hashem said to Adam: “For you are earth and to earth you shall return.” In our parasha, as well, the fiery serpents bit and killed many Jews.

On the other hand, it seems that the cure for death is that copper snake. Anyone who looks at it is healed, and lives. The snake has also become an international symbol of medicine, as one can see in the logo of the World Health Organization.

So, as Chazal asked: Does a snake kill or does it bring to life?

And the answer is exactly their answer: the snake, like any creature in this world – and it doesn’t matter whether it crawls on the ground, walks on four legs or on two – is an agent of Hashem. If Hashem wants – it will kill. If Hashem wants a person to live – he will. And all we have to do is look up to Heaven and close a good deal with Him.


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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