It’s no secret my great fear is having my blood drawn. The mere sight of someone getting blood taken makes me queasy and I recoil in utter panic. Just writing this drash is causing me to cover my inner elbows. I know that I am not alone in this fear. I also know that having my blood drawn in the very near future is probably going to be a necessity in the world of COVID-19. COVID has filled our world not just with illness but anxiety and fear. We are nervous about doing our normal day to day activities. Fear also played a huge role in the journey of the Israelites during this week’s parsha, Chukat.
In this week’s parsha 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 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 and 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 died. 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 for Bim Bam, 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 and try something easier. Rose believes that the copper serpent was a fear removing tactic. Therapists have identified one of the best ways to tackle phobias is to learn to look at it and question what you fear about it. This is an incredibly valuable lesson we can all learn. Everyone encounters obstacles that seem too insurmountable. 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 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 for the better of humanity.