The Hebrews in this parsha make a bad choice: again, they challenge Moses and Aaron saying that they should have stayed in Egypt. This isn't exactly new. Every parsha in the book of Bamidbar involves Hebrews bitching. And like all the other parsha, G_d gets pissed off and decides to go on a killing rampage.
But instead of bringing down a global flood or a plague, G_d does some freaky, psychedelic shit: he sends down gigantic snakes on fire.
Seriously? Seriously! Snakes on fire. Sounds like a bad 70's rock band.
This is a really interesting choice. Remember that Moses' first encounter with G_d is with a burning bush. And humanity's first sin against G_d involved a snake.
G_d, if anything, has a sick sense of humor.
By sending down these venomous snakes-a-flame, G_d is making two comments: first, I am your Lord, so shut up and keep walking. Second, that their Earthly wisdom has gotten them in trouble before. If it weren't for their know-it-all bullshit, they might be hanging out in Wonderland instead of a desert in the Middle East.
In Kabbalah, Judaism's acid-dropping, stoner cousin, we learn that G_d's behavior has a judgemental side and a merciful side. Moses pleads to G_d's merciful side and G_d throws the Hebrews a rope, as usual.
G_d commands the Hebrews to build an idol of the snake and stare at it. Weird since idolatry is a huge sin in Judaism. But as I mentioned before, G_d has a sick sense of humor. By making the Hebrews stare at this bronze idol, he's basically saying, "I help you people out, I take you out of slavery, and all you can do is whine and complain? Well, here you go: here's a nice, bronze idol for you. You want to be like everyone else? You're too tired of being chosen...being special...being different. Fine. Here's your idol. Go be a pagan for all I care."
By staring at the idol, all those that were sick are healed. It's not because the idol did anything, but it's because they had a chance to see, first hand, what their real options were. They could go back to Egypt and be pagan slaves to statues, or they could have a real G_d to believe in. By confronting their fear and seeing it in this context, life in the desert wouldn't seem so bad. And their hearts, which were poisoned by the promise of the snake, the tempter, the voice of dissent, were healed.
If you consider yourself Punk Torah, you know that life ain't easy. You're going to have a hard time fitting into the Jewish and Indie Rock worlds at the same time. You'll want to turn away from one of them. I've seen that many times: ultra-religious people go secular and punk-as-balls dudes going Chasid and burning their Black Sabbath records. It's comforting to not be challenged. It's nice to fit in. But remember, like the Hebrews in the desert, you are special. And even when you feel like a bunch of snakes are biting you on the ass, G_d is always there to make up for it.
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