Looking upward and following G-d’s guidance


Chapter five of Pirkei Avot tells a poignant tale: “With ten tests our forefathers tested Hashem in the desert, as is stated … ‘they tested Me these ten times, and did not listen to My voice’.”

In his Commentary on the Torah on this pasuk, Rashi notes that two of the ten challenges against Hashem concerned the manna that He provided for 40 years. One of these instances appears in this week’s parasha, Chukat, which the people demanded of Moshe, “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.”

Hashem responded by sending “venomous snakes against the people, and they bit the people, and many of the people died.” Realizing their fundamental error, the people immediately reached out to Moshe, begging him to intervene on their behalf. Hashem then agreed to end the plague of the poisonous snakes and then:

Hashem said to Moshe, “Make yourself a serpent and put it on a pole, and all who are bitten will look at it and live.”

Then “Moshe made a copper snake and put it on a pole, and whenever a snake bit a man, he would gaze upon the copper snake and live.”

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A well-known mishnah in Talmud Bavli (Rosh Hashanah 29a) presents the classic question regarding Hashem’s solution to end the plague of the snakes and contextualizes it by noting its parallels to our victory over Amalek as found in Parashat Beshalach:

And it came to pass, when Moshe held up his hand, that Israel prevailed; and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed. (Shemot 17:11).

Thus, “It may be asked: ‘Did the hands of Moshe make war when he raised them or break war when he lowered them?’ Rather, the verse comes to tell you that as long as the Jewish people turned their eyes upward and subjected their hearts to their Father in Heaven, they prevailed, but if not, they fell. Similarly, you can say: The verse states: ‘Make for yourself a fiery serpent and set it upon a pole; and it shall come to pass, that everyone that is bitten, when he sees it, he shall live’.” (Bamidbar 21:8).

The questions presented in this Mishnah have the one answer: Salvation from trial and tribulation has but one source, Avinu she’b’Shamayim. If we raise our eyes, and turn our hearts and minds to Hashem, we will achieve the outcome for which we long. This essential principle of emunah is reminiscent of one of my favorite chapters from Sefer Tehillim:

A song for ascents. I shall raise my eyes to the mountains, from where will my help come? My help is from Hashem, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not allow your foot to falter; Your Guardian will not slumber.

Behold the Guardian of Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.

Hashem is your Guardian; Hashem is your shadow; [He is] by your right hand. By day, the sun will not smite you, nor will the moon at night. Hashem will guard you from all evil; He will guard your soul. Hashem will guard your going out and your coming in from now and to eternity.” (121)

May these powerful words of Dovid HaMelech be our guide as we strive to sanctify the Almighty in our lives. V’chane yihi ratzon.