I am not certain if I shared one of my great fears with the congregation–having my blood being drawn. The mere sight of someone getting blood taken makes me queasy and I recoil in utter fear that I’m next. I have gone to such great lengths in my lifetime to avoid having my blood drawn that I have actually locked doctors out of an exam room and forbade temple staff from including pictures of blood drives on the digital signs just in case I get a glimpse of someone’s extended arm with a needle in it. Just writing this drash is causing me to cover my inner elbows. I know that I am not alone in this fear. Fear also played a huge role in the journey of the Israelites during this week’s parasha, Chukat.
In this week’s parasha we read about the famous red heifer, the deaths of Miriam and Aaron, and God punishing the Israelites for their disloyalty by sending “burning snakes” to bite them. I want to focus on the burning snakes. In what seems to be a more regular occurrence in the later books of the Torah, the Israelites are complaining. They don’t have enough food. They don’t have enough water. Why did they ever leave Egypt? So, God does something we have become accustomed to– punishes the people for their transgressions.
And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why did you make us leave Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread and no water, and we have come to loathe this miserable food.” The Eternal sent seraph serpents against the people. They bit the people and many of the Israelites dies. The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned by speaking against the Eternal and against you. Intercede with the Eternal to take away the serpents from us!” And Moses interceded for the people. Then the Eternal One said to Moses, “Make a seraph figure and mount it on a standard. And anyone bitten who then looks at it shall recover.” Moses made the copper serpent and mounted it on a standard; and when bitten by a serpent, anyone who looked at the copper serpent would recover. [Numbers 21:5-9]
In a commentary from BimBam, Jewish researcher Malki Rose makes a fascinating connection between the serpents and the evil inclination we sometimes have. The evil inclination, she comments, leads us “down the wrong road” by instilling thoughts of fear and doubts in our hearts. “Sometimes we are on a road on a journey to great things, but sometimes if we don’t see immediate results that we can quantify we start to doubt ourselves. We get scared and that little voice in our head says maybe we are doing this all wrong.” This leads you to give in and try something easier. Rose believes that the copper serpent was a fear removing tactic. Therapists have identified that one of the best ways to tackle phobias is to learn to look at the phobia and question what you fear about it. This is an incredibly valuable lesson we can all learn. Everyone encounters obstacles that seem too insurmountable and the voice in our head tells us maybe we should just give up. We need to be prepared to tell those voices, our fear, “Not today!” We need to look at that which we fear and be healed.
I leave you on one final note. The symbol for medical healing is the coiled snake. Maybe it’s about time I look at the snake and let my blood be drawn.