Vol 13.12 - Chukat 2                      Spanish French Audio  Video

Hebrew Text:

Page71   Page72   Page73   Page74   Page75   Page76   Page77


(5733) Rashi: (Num. 21:9) "a copper snake" The healing of Bnei Yisroel through the copper snake according to Pnimiyut

The L-rd said to Moses, "Make yourself a serpent and put it on a pole, and let whoever is bitten look at it and live.

on a pole: Heb. עַל נֵס, on a post, perche in French. Similarly,“and like a flagpole (וְכַנֵּס) on a hill” (Isa. 30:17);“will I raise My standard (נִסִּי) ” (ibid. 49:22);“raise a banner” (נֵס) (ibid. 13:2). Since it stands high, and serves as a signal and is to be seen, it is called נֵס (a sign).

whoever is bitten: Even if a dog or a donkey bit him, he would suffer injury and steadily deteriorate, but a snake bite would kill quickly. That is why it says here (regarding other bites), “will look at it”-a mere glance. But regarding the snake bite it says “he would gaze”-“and whenever a snake bit (a man), he would gaze” (verse 9), for the snake bite would not heal unless one gazed at it (the copper snake) intently (Yer. Rashi.H. 3:9). Our Rabbis said, Does a snake cause death or life? However, when Israel looked heavenward and subjected their hearts to their Father in heaven, they would be healed, but if not, they would waste away. — (Rashi.H. 29a)

Moses made a copper snake and put it on a pole, and whenever a snake bit a man, he would gaze upon the copper snake and live.

a copper snake: He was not told to make it of copper, but Moses said,"The Holy One, blessed is He, called it a snake (נָחָשׁ), so I will make it of copper, (נְחשֶׁת), one term similar to the other term. — (Mid. Gen. Rabbah 19:31:8)



1. On the verse: “Moshe made a copper snake”, Rashi states the words: “a copper snake” and explains: “He was not told to make it of copper, but Moses said: "The Holy One, blessed is He, called it a snake (נָחָשׁ), so I will make it of copper, (נְחשֶׁת), one term similar to the other term”

The reason that Rashi writes: ”He was not told to make it of copper”, was intended, simply, to be precise , (and to say – with astonishment): We do not find in the verse that G-d commanded him to make it of copper, Therefore Rashi explains the reason of Moshe why he made it copper since “,"G-d called it a snake . . . one term similar to the other term”

One must understand (the following difficulties):

1. The lengthiness of the wording: “He was not told to make it of copper, but etc.”. For it is not Rashi’s style to preface (and write) the difficulty/question, in understanding the verse, that he is explaining and resolving in his commentary.

2. Specifically in this case where (he writes): He was not told to make it of copper”. - this thing is proven from the wording of the verse where: "G-d said to Moshe, ‘Make yourself a saraf-serpent’” and the Torah did not add any more details. Therefore, Rashi should have concisely stated “Moshe said G-d called it a nachash-snake etc.”

3.  Rashi writes: “(Moshe said),"The Holy One, blessed is He, called it a nachash-snake, so (therefore) I will make it of nechoshes-copper , one term similar to the other term” – Yet the verse clearly states that G-d called it ‘(Make yourself) a saraf-serpent?

4.  Why does Rashi explain the words: “nachash haNechoshes-copper snake” after he explains the words: “whenever a nachash-snake bit a man, he would gaze upon etc.” – the opposite of the order of the verses?

(note: The Rebbe explains in a footnote that there are different versions of Rashi here and that in the original there was a separate heading)

2. And the explanation is:

Previously on the verse: “The L-rd sent against the people the venomous snakes”, Rashi states:

“the venomous snakes: (nechashim HaSorfim, lit. snakes that burn), “because they ‘burn’ a person with the venom of their fangs”. Thus the word “serafim” is a description of nechashim. In other words they are “nechashim HaSorfim - snakes that burn”.

And since statement of G-d to Moshe : ‘Make yourself a saraf-serpent” followed (the verse stating:) “The L-rd sent etc. the venomous snakes”, it is understood that the explanation of saraf-serpent here is (a description) from the language burning (and not a species of snake). Therefore one must say that G-d said: "Make yourself a snake that burns (nachash saraf)”. (In other words a nachash-snake – which is the primary name – that burns)

And the reason that the verse does not clearly state: "Make yourself a snake that burns (nachash saraf)” is because:

According the simple understanding of the verse, it is understood that the Torah does not specify all of the particulars of the words that G-d says to Moshe in each and every command. For we find that, many times, G-d’s command to Moshe is stated in the Torah only generally (b’ofan klalli). And only afterwards

(when G-d’s command is transmitted to Bnei Yisroel through Moshe, or at the time of fulfilling the command)

are the particulars explained.

(In other words, after it is clear that Moshe Rabbeinu did not command or do anything on his own rationale, without hearing it from G-d.

For certainly, also all the particulars of the command that are added in Torah

(when Moshe told them to Bnei Yisroel, or when they were fulfilled)

were said to Moshe from G-d when G-d commanded him concerning it, but (at that time) it was not explained there in the Torah)

So too it is in our case:

When G-d commanded Moshe, he told him to make a “’snake that burns’ (nachash saraf)” - that parallels the punishment in which it says: “The L-rd sent etc. the nachashim haSarafim-venomous snakes” - but the Torah just specified “Saraf”.

And the reason is:

The making of the “nachash haNechoshes-copper snake” was in order to save them from the punishment of the nachashim haSarafim-venomous snakes. And since the entire tragedy came about through that which: “they burn the person”, therefore the Torah just wrote the main statement: "Make yourself a saraf-serpent”.

And this is especially so, since one could say that a person relies on that which is said near and before this: “nachashim haSarafim-venomous snakes”

3. Accordingly, we can understand why Rashi prefaces his explanation on the words “whoever is bitten look at it etc.” before his explanation on the words: “nachash haNechoshes-copper snake”

According to that which was explained above –

that even though it is not written in the Torah that G-d said to Moshe to make a nachash-snake , nevertheless it is understood that he indeed said it to him when He commanded him, -

one could ask from the other perspective:

How does Rashi know that “He did not tell him to make it of copper”? It is possible that just as He told him to make a nachash-snake (although the word "nachash" was not explicitly mentioned in the Torah), so too He told him to make it of copper, but the Torah was concise and did not explain it.

In order to debunk this idea, Rashi prefaces in his explanation, on the words “whoever is bitten look at it etc.” :

“for one who was bitten by a snake would not quickly heal unless one gazed at it intently. Our Rabbis said, Does a snake cause death or life? However, when Israel looked heavenward and subjected their hearts to their Father in heaven, they would be healed, but if not, they would waste away.”

These words explain that the act of the “nachash haNechoshes-copper snake” was not to heal someone who was bitten,

(for then there would be room to say that, just as there is a reason to make it with the form of a “nachash-snake” so too there is a reason to make it “nechoshes-copper”)

but to awaken Bnei Yisroel that they should look heavenward and subject their hearts to their Father in heaven, in order that G-d should heal them. And for this action of the “nachash-snake”, there is no difference what material it is made from. Therefore there is no rationale to say that G-d told him to make it “nechoshes-copper” (but that in the Torah it did not state it specifically)

However, the purpose of making it in the form of a nachash-snake is simple to understand.

When the person bitten, sees the thing that harmed him, this itself causes the person to do Teshuvah for his sin.

And this is especially so in our case, where the punishment was specifically through a snake – which is connected to the actual sin. As Rashi explanation (in verse 6)”:

“Let the snake, which was smitten for speaking evil (to Eve) come and punish those who spread slander (about the manna). Let the snake, for which all types of food taste the same etc., come and punish those ingrates etc.”

Thus, it is well-understood, that by looking at the “nachash-snake”, one was really awakened to look heavenward and subject their hearts to their Father in heaven. And therefore, this viewpoint allows, as aforementioned, that on G-d’s command to Moshe in making the “saraf-serpent”, it also states (its name): “nachash-snake” (and not just its description).

And after all this is explained from Rashi‘s aforementioned commentary, Rashi then returns to explain the words nachash-snake – “He did not tell him to make of nechoshes-copper” – since there is no difference in this to the effect of the “nachash-snake”.

Since this is so, the question arises:

Why did Moshe make the snake from copper? Moreover the Torah specifically delineates that he made it of copper?

Therefore Rashi continues:

"Moshe said: The Holy One, blessed is He, called it a snake (nachash), so (therefore) I will make it of copper, (nechoshes), one term similar to the other term”

This itself is also the reason that the Torah informs us that Moshe made the snake from “nechoshes-copper” – to teach us the lesson of “one term similar to the other term” – practical Halacha (Halacha l’maaseh) And from this we also know that a name is "something" (Shemah milsa hu -  the name is indicative of its nature) – even in actuality.

4. From the aspects of the homiletic style of Torah (yayina shel Torah) which is alluded to in this commentary of Rashi :

Since Moshe‘s making the snake out of “nechoshes-copper” – is stated in the Torah, it itself is a proof (in Pnimiyut) that even this has a connection to the general aspect of healing which comes through the “nachash-snake”.

And this can be understood by prefacing the aspect of healing Bnei Yisroel, that came through the “nachash-snake”:

If those that were bitten by the snakes –

that kill with their bite,

did not “look at it etc. and live” – they would die.

Therefore it is understood that from the actual bite of the snakes, they were (already considered) on the level of dead people.

(And more so, the level of “nachash-snake” itself depicts the aspect of death. For because of the sin of the Tree of Knowledge which came about through the snake, death was decreed in the world – so much so that even those four

(Benjamin, Amram, Jesse, and Caleb the son of David)

that did not have this sin within them – (nevertheless) died because of the machinations of the snake)

Therefore one needed to “look at it etc. and live” – which is the drawing down of life into this person.

And from this it is understood that whoever was bitten by the snake “and (looked at the nachash haNechoshes-copper snake ) and lived”, fulfilled a glimmer (m'Ein) of the Resurrection of the Dead (Techiyat HaMaisim), for they were considered dead.

It is known that the power to “revive the dead cannot come from the level of the source of life (makor haChaim).

Because “Once the vitality has withdrawn, it is impossible to return and draw down from that level itself, in order to revive the dead. Rather, it must come from the level of abundant mercy (rachamim rabim) of G-d’s Essence which is above the level of the source of life”. “For (at that level) death and life are equal, and because of this even the dead can come alive”

And this is why the healing of Bnei Yisroel was through “look at the “copper snake and live”. For since this was drawn down from G-d’s Essence where” death and life are equal” it makes a complete transformation (ishapcha mikatza el hakatza), so that even the “snake” whose aspect is death, is transformed and made into a source of life.

And this bestowal from G-d’s Essence to transform the “snake”,

(which is the level of death) to “life” – “(for is it possible that) a snake cause life?”-

is through the prefacing of the Avodah (and Teshuva) of Bnei Yisroel which corresponds to the action of the bestowal (peulat hahamshacha): (which is: subjecting one's heart to G-d, as it states): “(But) when Israel looks heavenward and subjects their hearts to their Father in heaven” .

Subjecting (Shibud), refers to the entire heart, even the Evil Inclination which is the level of the “snake” that is within him. (for instead of being opposed to holiness, it is transformed to being (dedicated/meshubad) to G-d, And from this comes a vitality in holiness (“The snake revives”) –

This Avodah effects the level of Ishapcha Sitra Achra (the overturning of evil) in the world, so much so that the darkness itself illuminates – that even the “snake” itself, whose aspect is death, is overturned to be drawn down through the level of life. (Note: i.e.  it becomes a symbol of life).

5. Accordingly, one can understand the connection of “nechoshes-copper” to the “nachash-snake” which through it, life was bestowed on Bnei Yisroel. For even copper (itself) depicts a level that is enclothed within Klipah. And this itself is the reason that nechoshes-copper comes from the word nachash-snake (which is the aspect of evil) – “one term similar to the other term”. For the name of a thing depicts the vitality of that thing, Therefore by overturning the level of nachash-snake in the world to holiness (through Avodat HaAdam) it causes also the overturning in the level of "nechoshes-copper"

6. Accordingly one could explain the reason why the Torah did not clearly express the command , by stating:

"Make yourself a nachash-snake“, even though “G-d called it nachash-snake

This is clarified by an explanation of a saying of the Sages:

 “(When they were asked what the punishment of a sinner should be):

  • The Torah replied: “A sinner should bring a guilt-offering and he will be forgiven.
  • They asked G-d, and G-d replied: "Let him do Teshuvah and he shall be forgiven." (Yalkut Shimoni, Tehillim 702)”

Seemingly: Even according to the answer of Torah that he “bring a guilt-offering etc.” requires that one do Teshuvah (for only then does the offering atone)

The explanation is:

According to the Torah‘s answer, Teshuvah does help, in that the intentional sins are considered unintentional ("Zedonos na'aseh k'shgagos') but not that they are completely forgiven“.

Therefore one needs to “bring a guilt-offering” (and after they have been made unintentional, “the offering helps, for through the offering the unintentional sin is forgiven”)

And this is the innovation of G-d’s answer: "Let him do Teshuvah and he shall be forgiven”, that the Teshuvah atones even for intentional sins (zedonos) so much so that they are transformed into merits (zechuyos)

And the reason for this is:

From the Torah‘s perspective there is measurement and amount , therefore Teshuvah does not have the power to (completely) atone for intentional sins.

However, from G-d’s perspective, who is above all measurement and boundary – for “who will say to Him, ‘What are You doing?’" and “if your transgressions are many, what do you do to Him?” – therefore, (through Teshuvah) even the intentional sins are transformed into merits.

And the same is in our case:

The reason that the command “(Make yourself a) “nachash-snake”, “ that through this: “and look at it etc. and live” is not specified in the Torah, is to hint that,

 from the power of Torah intentional sins (which is the level of “nachash-snake” and death) are not made and transformed into merits (life);

but “G-d calls it (to that which one looks at and lives) nachash-snake “ –

the power that even the snake should be transformed into an aspect of life

 (in other words, even the level of the three impure klipot (gimmel klipot haTemaiyot) should be transformed to good)

comes from G-d – the Giver of Torah, who is above Torah.

(M’Sichas Shabbat Parshat Chukat-Balak (Yud-Beis Tammuz)

Matot-Maasei 5729)



http://www.sie.org/templates/sie/article_cdo/aid/2470445/jewish/Chukas.htm(external link)

Date Delivered:   Reviewer:       
Date Modified:    Date Reviewed: