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Who is to blame?

By Rabbi Yehonatan Salem
June 20, 2018

Having suffered more setbacks on their journey through the desert after some thirty-eight years on their way to the Holy Land, the Jewish People were getting weary. They began complaining about their general predicament and about the manna, with which they were divinely-sustained on a daily basis. G-d punished them by sending poisonous snakes, which attacked those who complained, injecting them with venom and killing many of them. Realising that their complaining was unjustified, and full of remorse, the people came to Moshe Rabbenu, asking forgiveness and requesting  him   to intercede on their behalf with G-d, to remove the plague. After Moshe prayed, G-d instructed him to prepare a copper snake and to hang it up high, as a banner for the people to look at. Anyone who had been bitten and would look at the snake, would live.

Let us understand, why did G-d command Moshe Rabbenu specifically to make a snake for the people to look at, in order to cure them, if snakes were used to punish them? Moreover, the Ramban (Chukat 21:9) points out that medically, if one was bitten by a certain animal, to then go and stare at that animal or even to mention its name may cause the victim irreparable or even fatal damage. The emotional trauma will cause the victim to deteriorate further. If so, what was the rationale to make a snake figure in order to heal them?

The Ramban explains that G-d specifically wanted them to be healed through what naturally would be fatal for them. By doing so, the people would understand that it is not a snake which causes death, or, which brings a cure. Rather, when a person follows in G-d’s ways then he is spared, but if he falls to sin, then a snake may be used as a means for getting him back onto “the straight and narrow.” When we realise that crises come in order to make us contemplate our actions and raise our hearts to heaven, then, to blame the crisis on the snake is as irrational as to credit the snake with the cure. G-d wants us to stay on “the straight and narrow,” with our hearts and intentions corresponding to the will of Hashem. The objective of a crisis is not to give us a hard time, but rather,     to restore our connection with G-d. When it seems to us that “we got out of bed on the wrong side” and that nothing seems to work, let us not blame our wives, children, the traffic, the bank manager or the postal service. Rather, let us contemplate our ways and pray for divine assistance, to get ourselves “back on track” as soon as possible.

When travelling recently by bus, I noticed that whenever the driver wandered slightly into another lane, or came too close to       a car in front of him, a sensor started beeping him, signalling him   to reposition and drive safely. This system helps him to be able to reach his given destination safely and happily. Similarly, G-d sends us warning signals when we start to deviate from the correct path, to encourage us to reposition ourselves back onto our appropriate paths.

Have a safe, enjoyable and fulfilling journey to your destination!

Shabbat shalom

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