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Vol. 19 No. 38
Nechama Bracha bas Eliezer z"l
The Copper Snake
" … G-d said to Moshe 'Make for yourself a serpent (Saraf) and place it on a pole, and it shall be that whoever has been bitten shall see it and he will live'. So Moshe made a copper snake (N'chash nechoshes) and placed it on a pole. And it was that when a snake bit a man and he looked at the copper snake, he lived" (21:8).
Moshe understood that that Hashem wanted him to make a snake, only He deliberately avoided calling it by its real name (Nachash) because the Nachash (in Gan Eden) was the initial cause of sin. So He called it by its descriptive name 'Saraf', since it is a poisonous creature that burns.
And by adding the word "for you", rather than simply saying 'Make a serpent', G-d was saying that although, thanks to Moshe's prayer, He had forgiven the people for their verbal attack against Him, He had not forgiven them for their attack against Moshe. For that part of their sin, Moshe would have to make the snake, to demonstrate how serious a view G-d took of those who speak against His prophets. This is comparable to what Chazal say that 'Whoever breaks the fence (that the Chachamim make to safeguard the Torah) will be bitten by a snake' (even where someone who transgresses the Torah-law itself is subject to a lesser punishment). Likewise they said that 'The words of the Chachamim require reinforcement more than those of the Torah itself'.
Interestingly, the Riva explains Moshe's switch from "Saraf" to "Nachash" in the exact opposite way. According to him, G-d sent a plague consisting of snakes and serpents - snakes because of their attack against Him, serpents because of their attack against Moshe. The people then asked Moshe to Daven to G-d to remove the snakes - not the serpents, which Moshe could be Mochel, and did not need to Daven. G-d responded to Moshe's Tefilah to put up a serpent (to atone for their sin against Moshe) and a snake (for their sin against Him). To which Moshe replied that He would put up a snake - the serpent was not necessary, since he had already forgiven them for what they had done to him.
Discussing the phenomenon of being saved by looking at the copper snake, R. Bachye (following in the footsteps of the Ramban), writes that this defies the laws of nature. He explains when a person is bitten by a creature, then merely looking at a picture of the creature that bit him places his life in grave danger. And in this case Moshe deliberately made the copper snake of a reddish-colour copper, to resemble the poisonous snakes that bit them.
Similarly, the Pasuk in Yeshayah (38:21) tells us how Chizkiyahu ha'Melech was cured from his boils, by smearing dried figs on the location of the boils, despite the fact that even healthy flesh starts to smell when it is rubbed with dried figs. And a further example of what falls under the category of 'a miracle within a miracle' is cited in Parshas Beshalach, where the Torah informs us that Moshe made bitter water sweet by placing bitter wood into it.
In any event, it is clear that the last that thing that Yisrael should have been shown to cure them from snakebite was an image of the poisonous snakes that had just bitten them. Yet that is precisely what G-d commanded Moshe to do. To teach the people that it is not the snake that kills but sin (as Chazal have said in the Mishnah in Rosh Hashanah and in other places). And so, when they do Teshuvah and return to G-d, they are cured.
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(Adapted from the Ba'al ha'Turim)
Four Kinds of Vessels
"And every open (posu'ach) vessel whose lid is not sealed to it is Tamei" (19:15).
The Ba'al ha'Turim cites three other Pesukim that contain the same word: 1. "My roots will be open to water" (Iyov, 29:19).
2. "Their throat is an open grave" (Tehilim 5:10).
3. "Their quiver is like an open grave" (Yirmiyah, 5:16).
This hints at Chazal, who say that there are four measurements regarding earthenware vessels. If an earthenware vessel has a hole that is large enough to allow water to seep in, it is no longer eligible to sanctify the Mei Chatas (of the Parah Adumah) - with reference to the current Pasuk.
It is still considered a vessel however, regarding seeds, which are subject to Tum'ah if they grow inside it - until it obtains a hole the size of a 'Luf' (a plant similar to an onion), at which point the earthenware vessel is no longer considered a vessel in this regard, and the seeds that grow in it are considered joined to the ground, and therefore not subject to Tum'ah (This is hinted in the Pasuk in Iyov).
It is still considered a vessel with regard to olives, since it is still able to hold them - until it has a hole through which olives will fall, at which point it is no longer considered a vessel at all. (And this is hinted in the Pasuk in Tehilim [Since the food passes through the throat, and the measure that constitutes most areas of eating is the size of an olive]).
It retains its identity and status of a vessel however, if one decides to store pomegranates in it, as long as it does not contract a hole the size of a pomegranate, at which point it loses its status completely, and is no longer subject to Tum'ah at all. (And this is hinted in the Pasuk in Yirmiyah, since people tend to throw a vessel with a hole that size into the trash-heap (Ashpah).
"And G-d said to Moshe 'Don't be afraid of him …" (21:34).
It was not necessary to warn Moshe not to be afraid of Sichon, Rashi points out, because it was not Og's strength that worried Moshe, but his merits. Og had informed Avraham of Lot's capture. Consequently, when Avraham succeeded in recapturing his nephew, Og was considered as having been instrumental in saving him.
But surely, asks the Da'as Zekeinim mi'Ba'alei Tosfos, Og's intention was not for Lot to be recaptured, but for Avraham to be killed (in battle)? So how can that be considered a merit?
No matter, they explain; the fact that he was instrumental in saving Lot could stand him in good stead, and Moshe had good reason to be afraid.
And the author cites a precedent for this line of thought, when the Gemara in Sanhedrin (105b) explains Eglon, King of Mo'av, had a granddaughter by the name of Rus, on the merit of the forty-two Korbanos that his ancestor Balak offered up to G-d - even though his intentions were purely evil - to curse Yisrael (G-d's children).
Sichon & Og
According to a popular opinion cited in the Gemara in Nidah (61a), Og escaped the Great Flood by hanging on to No'ach's boat. The Gemara there also concludes that Sichon and Og were brothers.
But how can that be? asks the Da'as Zekeinim mi'Ba'alei Tosfos. Og's escape is clearly hinted in the Torah in the words "ach No'ach (only No'ach)" (in the Pasuk 'and only No'ach remained'), which has the same Gematriyah as "Og" as the author, (citing R. Yehudah ha'Chasid) explained in Parshas No'ach. No such hint exists with regard to Sichon!
So where was Sichon at the time of the great flood?
Citing R. Yechiel b'R Yosef, he answers with the following scenario: Og was born before the Flood, and his mother, who was pregnant with Sichon from one of the the 'b'nei ha'Elohim, went just before the Flood and married one of No'ach's sons. Sichon was subsequently born in the boat during the year of the Flood.
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' … Moshe sent Kalev and Pinchas to spy out Machbar (Ya'zer) and they conquered its suburbs … ' (21:32).
'When Moshe saw Og, he trembled and shook before him. And he said "Is this the wicked Og who mocked Avraham and Sarah, our ancestors, saying 'You are like trees that are planted beside springs of water, but which do not produce fruit!' " And that is why Hakadosh-Baruch-Hu waited to show him the generations that descended from them, and he would see from their children the large numbers of hosts into whose hands he would be delivered. So G-d said to Moshe '"Do not fear him … " ' (21:34).
' … when the wicked Og saw the Camp of Yisrael - the size of six Parsah (twenty-four Mil), he said "I will not fight this nation using conventional warfare, lest they do to me what they did to Sichon!" So he went and uprooted a mountain that measured six Parsah, which he held on his head in order to throw it down on them. In a flash, G-d ordered a swarm of ants to eat a hole in the base of the mountain which engulfed his head. He tried to lift it up, but he could not, because his molars and his teeth (suddenly) extended from his mouth in both directions (to grip the mountain and hold it firmly in place).
Meanwhile, Moshe took a bolt that measured ten Amos; he jumped ten Amos into the air and struck Og on his ankle. And Og dropped dead in front of the Camp of Yisrael … " (21:35).
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