The Jews spoke badly about G-d and Moshe: Why did they take us out of Egypt, to die in the desert? There is no bread, no water, and our soul is repulsed by the disgusting bread (the Mannah). G-d sent in the people poisonous snakes, and they bit the people and and many Jews died. And the nation came to speak to Moshe, and they said, we sinned, because we spoke about G-d and about you. Pray to G-d, and He will remove the snakes from upon us. And Moshe prayed for the nation. And G-d told Moshe, Make for yourself a serpent, put it on high, and all that are bitten will see it and live. And Moshe made a copper snake; he put it on high, and if a snake bit a person, he would gaze at the copper snake and live.
When Moshe made the snake, he said: I will make a copper snake, so that all the Jews will see it and remember what the First Snake did, and what happened to him, and they will do Teshuva. (Midrash Aggadah)
Why did Moshe make the snake out of copper? And what is the connection from the Jews complaining about the Mannah to the sin of Snake? And what was the connection to how Snake was punished? Also, we know that the Nachash is called the Nachash Hakadmoni, the primordial snake, the first snake. Why?
The fourth of the 13 principles of faith, is the belief that G-d was the first, and He will be the last. Nothing existed before G-d. He is not limited by nature or the four elements. The four elements exist each one with its own, specific characteristics, and all of nature exists, because that is G-d’s Will. One must believe each of the 13 Principles in order to have a portion in Olam Haba. Why is G-d being first before the elements so important?
The Midrash tells us something amazing. A Rasha, in his lifetime, is called dead. A Rasha is someone who does not make a blessing. He sees the sun coming up, and does not bless G-d over it יוצר המאורות. He sees the sun set, and he does not bless over it המעריב ערבים. He eats and drinks and does not bless. (Tanchuma Vzot Habracha 7) Why is someone who does not make a blessing called a Rasha? And why is his life not a life?
The Rasha believes that the world has a nature that is independent of G-d. The sun has to rise and set. Food has to exist. G-d did not choose this, so, I do not have to bless Him for it. When a person lives in a world where he feels that nature was not chosen by G-d, a world that he feels is ruled by nature, he is not conscious of having received anything from G-d. There is no life, where there is no choice. I just happen to be here, and the sun just happens to rise and set, and food just happens to be in the supermarket.
What a Chutzpa! There is no bigger chutzpa, no greater audacity, than when someone does something for you, and you show them that you do not care for them or about them. There is no bigger audacity toward G-d, than showing him that you do not care that He cared and is caring for you. Not caring about his Torah and Mitzvoth is much worse than not keeping the Torah and Mitzvoth. This is why Moshe made the snake from copper because copper is iconic to audacity and brazenness. (See Rashi Shemot 27) Snake had the Chutzpa to convince Chava that if she would eat from the fruit, she would become G-dlike and independent. How so?
The Nachash Hakadmoni, the Snake, was saying to Chava, there was matter, before G-d; G-d was not first. Nature was first, and just as G-d was able to form the nature that existed prior to Him, if you would eat from this fruit, you will be G-dlike. G-d is afraid that if you eat from this tree, you will not need Him anymore, for you will be limitless, like Him. This forbidden fruit is independent of G-d’s control. Chava believed that if she would not need G-d anymore, if she was independent from Him, she could serve Him better. G-d therefore punished Snake that its food shall be dirt. There is no shortage of dirt, and that was precisely the punishment. This way, Snake will never have to worry for parnassah, and never have to speak to G-d. This was the sin of the Jews. They did not want the Mannah, because they did not want to be dependent on G-d. The Jews complained about the Mannah, because they did not want a miracle-bread. They wanted nature, normal food. G-d said, you do not want My miracles? You do not want a connection with Me? You want to manage on your own, you want to live a “natural life”? You think that nature is not miracles, nature is not Me? I will stop the miracles of protection in the desert. Now, deal with the poisonous snakes! Deal with nature!
This is why Moshe was to put the snake on high. The snake represents the bad and the impurity in the world. We tend to think that the bad and holiness have two, independent sources. We tend to believe that bad and holy are two unrelated entities, and that each has a nature of its own. But when Moshe lifted the Snake on high, and we looked upwards to the Snake and we saw Heaven behind it, we realized that even the snake, even the bad, pain, sickness, are all messengers and messages are from Above. Once we recognize that the bad is from Heaven, once we get the message, we justify the purpose for which the bad was created, and G-d takes the bad away.
The source of the first sin of mankind is the source of all our sins. All sin is rooted in imagination, in a lie. Adam and Chava sinned, because they both believed Snake that they would be like G-d, and not dependent on Him. How was Snake able to persuade them? With the power of imagination that – heaven forbid – the sin will give you such a good time in life, you won’t even need G-d nor will you ever have to deal with Him! הנחש השיאני ואוכל . This means that Snake convinced me, persuaded me, אטעייני. Not only did that not happen, Adam and Chava became mortal, driven away from G-d, needing to work and toil to survive… and deal with mosquitos! The antithesis of being G-dly! This imagination, that I am not dependent on G-d, nor will I have to deal with Him, is the zuhama that the Snake put into Chava and all humanity. It is the root of all haughtiness, and we all live a lifelong battle fighting it.
People forget G-d, because they are busy running after happiness and success, as if once they reach those goals, they will reach eternal bliss, and they will then be able to manage without G-d. “If I take care of my finances first, my retirement, marrying off the kids, then, I will be able to focus on my relationship with G-d”. When I will have financial independence, I will have the headspace to serve Him.
It is so interesting. When people reach that happiness or success that they gave up so much to achieve, they feel that they need much more of it to be happy again! It was just a mirage! It was just an imagination! You have a million, you want two. You have two, you want four. As long as you do not have the million, you want it. Once you have it, you realize that happiness is not defined by the amount you have in your bank account. Everyone on the planet is running after their version of success and happiness, something that is just an imagination.
Imagination can be your greatest weakness and can be your greatest asset. The greatest men of our nation used imagination to become who they became. They would imagine Gan Eden, they would imagine G-d talking to them when they would learn His Torah, and His Presence above their heads, as they learn. They would imagine that their Shacharit has the power of Abraham. Mincha has the power of Yitzhak. Arvit has the power of Yaakov. And reciting Tehillim has the power of King David.
The Yetzer Hara, the Snake, knows the power of imagination, so he uses it against us. He makes me think that I can live a life independent of G-d. You want to fight your Yetzer Hara? Imagine what the Torah tells us to imagine! Imagine the inevitable future, the reactions to your actions. Imagine the loss of Gan Eden and relationship with G-d for not doing His Mitzvah, and the great reward and relationship for keeping His Mitzvoth! Imagine the punishment for sin, and the great reward for refraining from sin! Imagine a video camera watching your every action and thought, a microphone recording your every word, and an undeletable memory card that has on it everything you have ever said or done! (Avot 2;1)