Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

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Location: Bet Shemesh, Israel

I taught Tanach in Immanuel College, London and in Hartman, Jerusalem. I was also an ATID fellow for 2 years. At present, I work for the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. The purpose of this blog is to provide "sedra-shorts", short interesting ideas on the weekly Torah reading. Please feel free to use them and to send me your comments.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Parshat Chukat

The Deadly Serpents

While skirting around the land of Edom, Israel complained again.

"The people spoke against God and against Moses, 'Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in this desert, for there is no bread and no water, and we are disgusted with this rotten bread'" (Bemidbar 21:5).

We should not be surprised by these complaints. Israel was on the verge of entering the Promised Land, when they were suddenly attacked and defeated by the King of Arad in the Negev.

This defeat forced them to take a detour: "They journeyed from Mount Hor by way of the Red Sea to circle the land of Edom" (ibid 4). Rather than entering Canaan via they are now going on a diversion. Perhaps this setback would make them wait another forty years. It was therefore, only natural for the people to become "disheartened because of the journey" (ibid).

The problem with this complaint is however, twofold. Firstly the people complain against God. Secondly, they do not say what the problem really is, rather they complain that God does not provide for them. Yet, within their complaints, there is an inherent contradiction. First they say "there is no bread" and secondly "we are disgusted with this rotten bread".

God punishes Israel by sending them deadly, fiery, snakes. Why? What does this punishment teach them?

We first come across the snake in Sefer Bereshit. There he tempts the woman to eat from the tree of knowledge, saying that she would "surely not die" (Berehit 3:4). The woman than sees that the "tree was good for food and that it was a delight to the eyes" (ibid 6).

The punishment for the snake was: "you shall walk on your belly, and you shall eat dust all the days of your life" (ibid 14). All food for the snake was like dust.

God had given Israel manna was a delicious food that: "tasted like a wafer with honey" (Shemot 16:31), yet Israel now called it "rotten bread".

God therefore, sent Israel snakes. They were sent to remind Israel how grateful they should be for the manna from heaven.

In a future Sedra Short we will look at the Nechushtan, the copper serpent that Moshe built to save Israel from the snake bite.

Last year's Sedra Short on Parshat Chukat, entitled: "How Red was the Red Heifer?" appears at .

Another Sedra Short on Parshat Chukat, entitled: "The Red Heifer and Sefer Bemidbar" appears at

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