2001After Moshe has displeased God by striking the rock thus forfeiting his right to enter the land (Numbers 20:9-13), the people of Israel are once again in rebellion against God and Moshe. More is expected of them and they truly are developing an independent relationship with God as witnessed by the following verses. They do, however, still seem to have much to learn.
CHOOSING THE SNAKE PATH
1 Now the Canaanite, the king of Arad, who sat-as-ruler in the Negev, heard that Israel was coming by the Atarim Road, so they waged war against Israel and captured from them war- captives.
2 Then Israel vowed a vow to YHWH and said: If you will give, yes, give this people into my hand, I will devote their towns (to destruction).
3 Now YHWH hearkened to the voice of Israel, he gave (them) the Canaanites, and they devoted-them-to-destruction along with their cities; so they called the name of the place Horma/Destruction.
4 They marched from Hill's Hill by the Reed Sea Road, to go- around the land of Edom, and the people (became) short-tempered on the way.
5 The people spoke against God and against Moshe: Why did you bring us up from Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and our throats loathe the despicable food!
6 So YHWH sent upon the people vipers, burning-snakes; they bit the people, and there died many people of Israel.
7 The people came to Moshe and said: We have sinned! For we have spoken against YHWH and against you. Intercede to God, so that he may remove from us the vipers! So Moshe interceded on behalf of the people.
8 And YHWH said to Moshe: Make yourself a burning-snake and put it on a banner-pole; it shall be: whoever has been bitten and then sees it, will live. 9 So Moshe made a viper of copper, and he put it on a banner-pole, and it was: if a viper bit a man and he looked upon the viper of copper, he would live.
Your Torah Navigator
1. In the beginning of this section, who vows to God, Moshe or the people? Why is this significant?
2. Who do the people speak against? Why do they speak against God?
3. Why do they call Mannah despicable food?
4. Why does God command Moshe to "Make yourself a burning-snake and put it on a banner-pole; it shall be: whoever has been bitten and then sees it, will live."
5. Why would people believe that a symbol of their suffering
would end up being their salvation?
Mishnah Rosh Hashanah Chapter 3 Mishnah 8
"'Make yourself a burning-snake and put it on a banner-pole' Does a snake cause death or bring life? Does it not mean that when Israel looks to the heavens and binds their hearts to their father in heaven, they would be healed, and when they didn't, they would die."
Your Mishnah Navigator
1. What question is the Mishnah asking?
2. How is it answered?
When Israel sees that the symbol of the snake can heal, the rabbis assume that Israel must believe that God is behind the healing, for only God can transform an instrument of death into a lifeline, but in order to do that it requires one to believe that God controls and manipulates nature to the point that snakes kill, but their symbols heal. This required an extraordinary understanding of God's role in the natural world. As Israel becomes more responsible and more autonomous, they are also tested. There were those who refused to look at the snake, and there were those who understood they must do so. Moshe was now the barometer for the belief of the autonomous individual. Some would pass and some would fail, but as they get closer to entering the land, they are being prepared for this new relationship. A relationship that struggles between personal responsibility and allegiance to the God of Israel.
Prepared by Rabbi Avi Weinstein, Director Hillel's Joseph Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Learning.