In this week’s Sedra Klal-Yisroel once again complains to Moshe about not having anything to eat and drink. Hashem punishes Klal-Yisroel by sending ‘fiery serpents’ to bite them and kill them. Klal-Yisroel realizes that they sinned and beseech Moshe Rabeinu to daven to Hashem to stop the serpent (Nochosh).
Hashem commands Moshe Rabeinu to make a copper serpent and to place it on a high pole. Whoever had been bitten and now looked at the copper snake survived and was somehow healed. The Gemorah asks (Rosh Hashanah, & see Rashi here): could it be that the copper Nochosh of Moshe Rabeinu contained a healing power of a sort (the implication is that such an idea would be Avoda Zara)? The Gemorah answers that of course not, rather that since this serpent was placed on a high pedestal in order to look at it one would need to look up at it. By looking upwards [at the Nochosh] one would be reminded of Hashem above and this would cause them to think about Hashem – thinking about Hashem would then allow for Divine intervention.
There is a second Chazal that praises Shlomo Hamelech for getting rid of the Nochosh. The reason Shlomo Hamelech was praised for this was because the Nochosh’s healing powers had contributed to turning it into some sort of Avoda Zara.
There seems to be an obvious contradiction between these two Gemoros. In the first Gemorah it would appear Chazal are telling us the Nochosh had no intrinsic powers, whereas the second Gemorah would seem to indicate that the Nochosh indeed did have inherent healing powers. Did the Nochosh have some sort of power, or not? If the only power the Nochosh had was that of reminding people of Hashem’s Omnipotence, why would Shlomo Hamelech have felt it necessary to get rid of it?
It would appear both from the Pesukim here and from Shlomo Hamelech’s acts that the Nochosh actually had some sort of healing powers. Chazal insist though that it didn’t, that the only power was the fact that it reminded us of Malchus Shamayim.
In life there are many things that can and are channeled for good purposes. Over time these items develop into very strong tools of good. The more something is used the more strength and the more powers it develops.
The Gemorah actually asks more than just if the snake had healing powers. It asks: did the Nochosh have killing powers? While this question of it having powers to kill could be explained in regards to the Nochosh Hanechoshes, it can also be explained as referring to the Nochosh that Hashem sent to kill Am-Yisroel. When Klal-Yisroel looked at the copper snake they not only remembered that Hashem had the power to heal them, but they also remembered that Hashem was the one punishing them.
Moshe Rabeinu’s copper nochosh fulfilled an important role in reminding us of Hashem’s Omnipotence, but after a while the strengths that it accumulated began to be abused. The abuse didn’t change the nature or character of the power it had accumulated, but it made that power no longer justified. What Shlomo Hamelech needed to get rid of was the unjustified power that was being turned straight into idolatry.
The good always accumulates power. It is our job though to make sure that the power of the good doesn’t become corrupted.
A very warm Good Shabbos, Rabbi Y. Dov Krakowski