Dealing with Serpents Then and Now
Does the serpent kill or does the serpent heal? ask the Talmudic Sages in regard to an episode recorded in this weeks Torah portion.
As punishment for speaking out against G-d and Moshe for leading them into the wilderness, poisonous serpents were sent by Heaven to attack the people. After many died from their bites the people regretted their sin and begged Moshe to pray for relief. Moshes prayers were answered with a command to make a snake of brass and hang it on a high pole. Any Jew who would suffer a bite from one of the real serpents needed only to gaze at the brass serpent and would be healed.
The answer given by our Sages to their rhetorical question is spelled out in a mishna (Mesechta Rosh Hashana 29a):
So long as Jews looked upwards and committed themselves to their Father in Heaven they were healed; and if not they succumbed.
The message is a timely one. Jews in Eretz Yisrael suffer from two-legged serpents intent on murder with their terrorist venom. In such a situation we must reflect on the fact that the Heavenly response to Moshes prayer was not the simple elimination of the serpents but rather a prescription for relief based on the need to look to Heaven. Crushing the heads of terrorist serpents has not succeeded in ending terror. What is needed is a return to the method of our ancestors looking upwards, committing ourselves to our Father in Heaven and thus gaining healing for Israel forever.