Looking Up: The Copper Serpent

When the Children of Israel complained, after not being able to cross through the land of Edom, God sent snakes to bite them. The cure for the snakebites was the creation of a copper serpent for the people who were bitten to look up at to cure them of their snakebites.[1] In the 2nd Book of Kings, it teaches however, that this copper serpent had become an idolatrous figure. As a result, “He (Hezekiah) removed the high places, shattered the sacred pillars, and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke into pieces the bronze snake that Moses made, for until then the Israelites were burning incense to it. It was called Nehushtan.”[2]

          What is this story all about? Ramban (Nahmanides) teaches that “God did not tell Moses to make a ‘serpent’ but a ‘seraph figure’”-in other words an angelic figure which was represented by a fiery serpent. He points out that the seraph “removes the damage by way of the damager” and that it demonstrates “that it is God who ‘deals death and gives life.’”[3] In other words, the point of the story is not the mythology but that only God can give or take life. Rashsbam expands on this, saying that anyone bitten by the snakes needed to look at the copper seraph, “thereby looking up, towards heaven.”[4] By turning towards God, the sinner would repent and be healed from the snakebite.

          The point of this story is that rather than complaining about the harshness of their journey through the desert, even though it was long and arduous, Israel needed to be reminded to maintain its faith in God. The serpent, just like in the example of Pharaoh’s court, is a reminder about who truly has power, and that Israel must always turn its eyes heavenward to be focused on the Divine. May this Shabbat remind us to do just that, to turn our eyes upward, finding gratitude, godliness, and positivity in everything we encounter rather than complaints, evil speech, and negativity.


[1] Numbers 21:9

[2] 2 Kings 18:4

[3] Ramban on Numbers 21:9. He quotes 1 Samuel 2:6 at the end of his comment.

[4] Rashbam on Numbers 21:8

Looking Up

          When the Children of Israel complained, after not being able to cross through the land of Edom, God senet snakes to bite them. The cure for the snakebites was the creation of a copper serpent for the people who were bitten to look up at to cure them of their snakebites.[1] In the 2nd Book of Kings, it teaches however, that this copper serpent had become an idolatrous figure. As a result, “He (Hezekiah) removed the high places, shattered the sacred pillars, and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke into pieces the bronze snake that Moses made, for until then the Israelites were burning incense to it. It was called Nehushtan.”[2]

          What is this story all about? Ramban (Nahmanides) teaches that “God did not tell Moses to make a ‘serpent’ but a ‘seraph figure’”-in other words an angelic figure which was represented by a fiery serpent. He points out that the seraph “removes the damage by way of the damager” and that it demonstrates “that it is God who ‘deals death and gives life.’”[3] In other words, the point of the story is not the mythology but that only God can give or take life. Rashsbam expands on this, saying that anyone bitten by the snakes needed to look at the copper seraph, “thereby looking up, towards heaven.”[4] By turning towards God, the sinner would repent and be healed from the snakebite.

          The point of this story is that rather than complaining about the harshness of their journey through the desert, even though it was long and arduous, Israel needed to be reminded to maintain its faith in God. The serpent, just like in the example of Pharaoh’s court, is a reminder about who truly has power, and that Israel must always turn its eyes heavenward to be focused on the Divine. May this Shabbat remind us to do just that, to turn our eyes upward, finding gratitude, godliness, and positivity in everything we encounter rather than complaints, evil speech, and negativity.


[1] Numbers 21:9

[2] 2 Kings 18:4

[3] Ramban on Numbers 21:9. He quotes 1 Samuel 2:6 at the end of his comment.

[4] Rashbam on Numbers 21:8

Looking Up

          When the Children of Israel complained, after not being able to cross through the land of Edom, God senet snakes to bite them. The cure for the snakebites was the creation of a copper serpent for the people who were bitten to look up at to cure them of their snakebites.[1] In the 2nd Book of Kings, it teaches however, that this copper serpent had become an idolatrous figure. As a result, “He (Hezekiah) removed the high places, shattered the sacred pillars, and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke into pieces the bronze snake that Moses made, for until then the Israelites were burning incense to it. It was called Nehushtan.”[2]

          What is this story all about? Ramban (Nahmanides) teaches that “God did not tell Moses to make a ‘serpent’ but a ‘seraph figure’”-in other words an angelic figure which was represented by a fiery serpent. He points out that the seraph “removes the damage by way of the damager” and that it demonstrates “that it is God who ‘deals death and gives life.’”[3] In other words, the point of the story is not the mythology but that only God can give or take life. Rashsbam expands on this, saying that anyone bitten by the snakes needed to look at the copper seraph, “thereby looking up, towards heaven.”[4] By turning towards God, the sinner would repent and be healed from the snakebite.

          The point of this story is that rather than complaining about the harshness of their journey through the desert, even though it was long and arduous, Israel needed to be reminded to maintain its faith in God. The serpent, just like in the example of Pharaoh’s court, is a reminder about who truly has power, and that Israel must always turn its eyes heavenward to be focused on the Divine. May this Shabbat remind us to do just that, to turn our eyes upward, finding gratitude, godliness, and positivity in everything we encounter rather than complaints, evil speech, and negativity.


[1] Numbers 21:9

[2] 2 Kings 18:4

[3] Ramban on Numbers 21:9. He quotes 1 Samuel 2:6 at the end of his comment.

[4] Rashbam on Numbers 21:8

When One Person Sins

          What type of God do we have? Is it one “who revisits the sins of the fathers onto the children and the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation”[1] or is it one who asserts “Parents are not to be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their parents; each will die for his/her own sin.”[2] God at the time of Korach is more similar to the latter rather than the former. When Korach sins, God says “Stand back from the community that I may annihilate them in an instant!”[3] Moses replied, “When one man sins shall you be wrathful with the whole community?”[4] God takes Moses’ side, only punishing those directly involved in the rebellion.

          At times people feel collective punishment is the most effective deterrent for crime. For example, Israel blows up the homes of terrorists as a deterrent against terrorism. On the other hand, as a democratic people, we believe in innocent until proven guilty and that only those who have committed crimes should be punished. Which approach is correct? Like most things, it depends on the situation at hand. If one’s actions could lead to others taking the torch unless a severe punishment is meted out, then perhaps collective punishment makes sense. On the other hand, if one acted independently of others, they need to be punished but not at the expense of others. It’s like the school troublemaker to whom the teacher responds that the entire class must stay in during recess.

          We are not like God and do not know who has sinned and who has not. Therefore, we can only punish those who we know have done wrong and leave the others to God. As Parshat Nitzavim teaches, “Those things which are hidden (we leave) to God, but those things which are revealed are to us and our children (to handle) forever.”[5] Let us learn from Moses to stand up for those who are innocent while handling those who are guilty of wrongdoing.


[1] Exodus 34:7

[2] Deuteronomy 24:16

[3] Numbers 16:21

[4] Numbers 16:22

[5] Deuteronomy 29:28

The Enemy of My Enemy Is My Friend

As a student of History, I was always fascinated by the United States’ alliance with “Uncle Joe” Stalin against Hitler. Talk about strange bedfellows: a man who murdered twenty million of his own people, sent millions more to the gulags and professed a totalitarian system of government antithetical to western beliefs. Why form an alliance with Stalin? Simply because we faced a greater enemy (may his name be obliterated) who we needed to defeat.

I view the recent Israeli government coalition in this light. Three individuals who have little to nothing in common: Naftali Bennett of the far-right Yamina party, Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid, and Mansoor Abbas of the Israeli Arab party Raam join together with five other parties in a coalition. A man who has said “I’ve killed lots of Arabs in my life and there’s no problem with that” is set to become Prime Minister in the first coalition to have an Israeli Arab party. Here’s a picture of a smiling Bennett next to Mansour Abbas.

May be an image of ‎5 people, including Ami Cohen and ‎text that says '‎لاعلا ي نواف النباري‎'‎‎

What gives? Simply, the desire to oust Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, the longest serving Israeli Prime Minister ever. This is an example of where the enemy of my enemy is my friend. The hatred that one-time allies Bennett and Lieberman appear to have for Netanyahu, as well as strategic thinking on Bennett’s part, is what has led to this. 

‘Under the terms of the agreement, Bennett will be Prime Minister for the first two years with Lapid serving the next two. Only in Israel can one whose party was in 5th place, a mere 7 seats out of 120, become Prime Minister. However, the two have mutual control, as anything that Bennett wants to sign Lapid will be able to veto.  I just hope the government lasts long enough for Lapid to get his chance at being Prime Minister. We saw what happened with the Gantz-Netanyahu government last year which lasted a matter of mere months.

Strange bedfellows Bennett, Lapid and Abbas are striving to fell a common enemy. By June 14 we will know if they are able to do so or if Bibi, the ultimate survivor, can find a way out of this one as well.