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    Seeing the serpent – Chukkat

    The Brazen Serpent, from the 1890 Holman Bible

    When the Israelites grumbled, they were bitten by serpents (Num. 21).

    What happened next? God told Moses to make a brass serpent and place it on a pole. If anybody was bitten by a serpent, they were to look at the brass serpent and then they would live.

    Rashi questions this notion and suggests that if someone suffered they should turn their gaze upward to God and subdue their hearts to their Father in heaven, and this would cure them.

    It seems clear that if anyone had sinned the result would be suffering, and only if they appealed to God would they be forgiven and purified.

    However, this leaves unanswered the question of the purpose of the brass serpent. Ramban thinks the idea is psychological: if one were suffering, the healing would come from the cause of the suffering. “Healing,” said Ramban, “is effected by the very cause of the suffering itself”.

    Maybe the lesson is that suffering comes from looking away from God, and recovery comes from restoring one’s trust in the Divine power.

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