Posts Tagged 'Snake'

Needing as a Blessing: Connecting,Covid-19, and Metzorah

In the beginning of Genesis, we read of the curses that God meted out to Adam, Eve, and the snake upon their violating the prohibition against eating from the Tree of Knowledge. Adam needs to work the land to get food. Eve will have pain in childbirth. The snake received the different punishment. There we read, “and the dust of the earth you shall eat all the days of your life.”( Genesis 3:14 ) The Hassidic master Rav Simcha Bunim of Peshischa asked why this punishment at all. Now the snake, by virtue of this curse, would be able to subside on dirt. This being the case, the snake would never have to work to obtain sustenance, as dirt is everywhere! This seems like more of a reward than a punishment.

Juxtaposed the snake, when a person is having difficulty sustaining themselves and will turn to God for help. While people have to endure hardship in order to achieve certain goals, they can turn to God to ask for assistance. Rav Simcha Bunim argues that God wants us to ask for help when we need it. The process of asking for help itself helps us to develop a bond between us and God. One should feel that he or she is asking a friend, someone who is close, caring, and willing to help. God wants a close bond to exist between us. In this way prayer is a way of creating and strengthening this bond.

Ironically, the snake is fortunate in that it has all of his needs provided for. It has nothing to ask of God and nothing for which to request God’s assistance. The curse for the snake is no reason to develop a relationship with God.

Woman finds giant snake - YouTube

I was thinking about this when reading Metzorah, this week’s Torah reading. Here we learn about a ton of maladies. Fear of COVID-19 has sparked a vigilance for various symptoms. Before this we have never been so attuned to all of the ailments, impurities, fevers and rashes in our lives. Spending so much time stuck at home has made us much more aware of what is and not coming into the house. Strangely Metzorah is more relevant then ever. There we read:

When you enter the land of Canaan that I give you as a possession, and I inflict an eruptive plague upon a house in the land you possess, the owner of the house shall come and tell the priest, saying, “Something like a plague has appeared upon my house.” (Leviticus 14:35)

There is an interesting way in which we need to go to a priest to explore how to make meaning of the plague. There is an assumption that there must be meaning behind the plague and we cannot claim to  know what it is. Therefore we say that there is “something like a plague has shown itself to me”, without certainty (see Rashi there). We must seek connection with another person to make meaning out of this event.

We see that this plague mandates that people reach out to make a connection with a priest. In the spirit of the Rav Simcha Bunim’s lesson on the curse of the snake being its disconnection from God, the blessing of Metzorah is the connection to people. Needing is a good thing. It is the foundation for growth and connection.

Covid-19 and all of its variants has been horrible. We recently passed 6 million deaths due to this disease. But in light of this Torah portion, we see that another curse of Covid-19 is the compliancy and comfort we have developed for social isolation. Like Rav Simcha Bunim, Brené Brown, my Vulnerability Rebbe, writes:

Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.

The question for us as we emerge from Covid-19 is if we will allow ourselves to express need, be vulnerable, and reach out to make human connections. That will surely be a blessing.


Rewriting Bites

In Chukkat, this week’s Torah portion, we learn that the nation of Israel was being killed by a plague of Snakes. The came to Moses to beg for the snakes to be taken away. There we read:

8 And the Lord said to Moses: ‘Make a  fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole; and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he see it, shall live.’ 9 And Moses made a nachash nechoshet– bronze snake, and set it upon the pole; and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he looked unto the serpent of bronze, he lived. (Numbers 21:8- 9)

What is going on here with this this bronze snake? What is this magic?

In the Mishna in Rosh Hashanah 29a, we learn that it was not magic that saved them from the venom of the snakes.  The Mishna asserts that it was not the bronze snake that healed the Israelites, but rather their looking up and seeing the snake and submitting themselves to God that saved them.  The snake was just the inspiration. The Mishna explains that it was not magic and the reason the object was set high on a pole. But it still the Mishna does not explain why a snake.  Understandably, they asked  Moses to intercede and to get  God  to “take away the serpents”, the snakes were killing them. Why is it that  the cure came in the same form as the poison?

The exercise is not to remove the snakes that are killing the people, but rather to have them see the snakes in a new way. The Lubavitcher Rebbe used to say that the essential meaning of a word in the Bible comes from its first use. Where did we meet the nachash first? We first meet the snake in the Garden of Eden when it tempted Eve to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. So while they might succumb and die as animals in the desert Moses was asking the people of Israel to see their creative divinity and be inspires beyond the limits of their animal beings. When we ate of the Tree of Knowledge humanity tasted the fruit of having to determine right and wrong for ourselves. We became mortal but also moral creatures. It would not have been enough to remove the snakes, they needed to rewrite their own story. They needed to return to Eden and see how the story would end this time around. In the moment of being inspired by God they return to the Garden. For a moment they are immortal and the venom of the snakes have no consequence.

Many times I have reflected on if choices I have made when I was younger. I believe that everything happens for a reason and with the duration of time we have the chance to reconnect and recommit ourselves. We always have a choice how to experience life.  ( See Victor Frankl here) Can you have a Gan Eden without the Nachash? There needs to be some real work in this process. It is tempting to imagine getting the results without the sting of the bite, but it cannot be so easy. The snake needs to be the cure.  There is going to be some discomfort, but we can rewrite our stories. And when we rewrite these stories, it is never “what if” but what next.  We all need to keep our heads up and keep our eyes on the prize of trying to get back to being the best people we can be.

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