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The Serpent - HaNachash -  הַנָּחָשׁ

By Rabbi Dr. Hillel ben David (Greg Killian)

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In this study I would like to understand why Chazal teach that there is a significant connection between the serpent (nachash)[1] in Gan Eden and the Mashiach. On the face of it, this seems so contradictory and outrageous[2] that it boggles the mind. Never the less, if Chazal tell us this, then we know it is true and our understanding needs to be corrected.

 

The first use of a word in the Torah is the place where that ‘thing’ was created and, as such, teaches us the ‘meaning’ of that word and that thing. The first use of the word the serpent, HaNachash, is found in:

 

Bereshit (Genesis) 3:1 Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which HaShem G-d had made. And he said unto the woman: 'Yea, hath G-d said: Ye shall not eat of any tree of the garden?'

 

One serpent that stands out historically is the first one, THE serpent, the one that convinced Chava to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, against G-d’s will. Thanks to his ruse and advice, Mankind was sent into the longest exile to date, the one that won’t conclude until Mashiach ends it. Let’s look at this serpent first, then let’s examine his ‘cousins’ that are found elsewhere in the Tanach.

 

The Serpent Was a Beast of the Field

 

Although we tend to imagine the "Serpent" as a "serpent", we should keep in mind that the creature who seduced Eve assumed its lowly, legless, slithering form only as a result of its sin.[3] At the point at which the Serpent presents himself and his seductive arguments to Eve, this "proto-serpent" had far more in common with Adam and Eve than we might care to imagine.[4] Perhaps this walking, talking Serpent is best described as a soul-less humanoid. Because he, too, was created in the image of the Almighty, the Serpent possessed great capabilities of speech and reasoning, but he uses these gifts as weapons of destruction in order to satisfy his own desire.

 

Until the serpent committed the crime of persuading the Adam and Chava to eat from the forbidden fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, in the Garden of Eden, he walked about on two feet like man.[5] As punishment for bringing man low, he was condemned to crawl upon his belly and to be in eternal mortal conflict with man.

 

The Targum Pseudo-Jonathan adds to Genesis 3 the removal of the serpent’s feet. Note the addition by the Meturgeman: The Lord G-d “said to the serpent, ‘Because you did this, cursed are you. . . Upon your belly you shall go about, and your feet shall be cut off”.[6] According to R. Simeon b. Lakish, in Midrash Rabbah, Ecclesiastes, when G-d had cursed the serpent,[7] “the ministering angels descended and cut off its hands and legs, and its cry went from one end of the world to the other.”[8]

 

Biblical scholars have assumed the Nachash, נחש, is a reptile.204 Everyone can defend such a translation by simply citing a lexicon. But the narrative is definitive in ascertaining the meaning of the Nachash.

 

R. Hoshaya the Elder said that Genesis 1:25 And G-d made the beast of the earth… This means the serpent.[9]

 

Bereshit (Genesis) 1:25 And G-d made the beast of the earth after its kind, and the cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the ground after its kind; and G-d saw that it was good.

 

Genesis 3 begins with the words that the Nachash (נחש) was the cleverest “beast of the field that the Lord G-d had made”. The Nachash is thus one of the beasts of the field, not one of the cattle or reptiles.

 

Bereshit (Genesis) 3:14-15 And HaShem G-d said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou [art] cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life:[10] And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel (eikev - עקב).[11]

 

Thus we understand that a serpent is now a reptile, but when it was created it was a beast of the field, according to a simple reading of the text.

 

Now, the Torah tells us about man crushing the serpent’s head and the serpent biting man’s heel. This something that the Peshat makes clear. But a look at the sod level reveals something much deeper.

 

Midrash HaNe’elam Rav Yose asked: On the view that the serpent is man's Evil Inclination, how can one explain this verse?

 

He answered: It teaches that the only way to destroy the serpent is to crush him with the head; and who is the head? — The head of the Yeshiva; [that is, only with Torah can the Evil Inclination, personified by the serpent, be crushed.] Conversely, the 'serpent' can slay a man only through the heel, when one transgresses and tramples G-d's commandments under his heel. That is the meaning of the verse: 'and you will bite his heel', the Evil Inclination slays man by inducing him to trample the commandments.

 

Gematria

 

The serpent, from Gan Eden, has a direct connection to the Mashiach. We can see this in the gematria for the two Hebrew words for serpent and Mashiach.[12]

 

The gematria of:

 

Messiah - Mashiach - משׁיח” (40+300+10+8) = 358

 

and

 

“Serpent - Nachash - נָּחָשׁ” (50+300+8) = 358

 

The gematria equivalence relation can give deeper insight into the spiritual connection between the words whose gematria is the same. The use of gematria can expand our awareness of the relatedness of different ideas or concepts as they are spelled out in Hebrew. Gematria can help us understand meanings which are hidden. 

 

The gematria for serpent and Mashiach are the same since they represent two opposite sides of the same coin.[13] The serpent, from Gan Eden, caused us to go into exile and Mashiach will come to take us out of exile for good. Whereas the snake imparted impurity to mankind, Mashiach will usher in the period that conquers it.

 

Just as the evil snake represents the epitome of evil, so does the positive snake represent the epitome of good. The Mashiach[14] himself is referred to in the Zohar[15] as “the holy snake”. This association is alluded to by the numerical equivalence of the Hebrew words Mashiach (358) and nachash, “serpent.” The Zohar further states that the Mashiach, the holy snake, will kill the evil snake by overcoming the fear of insanity, thereby overcoming insanity itself, and filling human consciousness solely with the knowledge of G-d. His reward will be to marry the Divine princess, the “congregation of Israel,” to unite with the point of origin of the souls of Israel, thus bringing redemption to the world.[16]

 

If this association seems strange, then it is worth noting that the Nazarean Codicil explicitly relates Mashiach to HaNachash when it compares the incident of:

 

Bamidbar (Numbers) 21:5-9 And the people spoke against G-d, and against Moses: 'Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, and there is no water; and our soul loatheth this light bread.' 6 And HaShem sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died. 7 And the people came to Moses, and said: 'We have sinned, because we have spoken against HaShem, and against thee; pray unto HaShem, that He take away the serpents from us.' And Moses prayed for the people. 8 And HaShem said unto Moses: 'Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole; and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he seeth it, shall live.' 9 And Moses made a serpent of brass, 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 brass, he lived.

 

Now compare the above incident with Mashiach in:

 

Yochanan (John) 3:14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:

 

Thus the sod level writer makes an explicitly connection between the brass serpent and the Mashiach.

 

As an aside, Yosef HaTzadiq called himself a nachash. I believe that this was an allusion to his role as a picture of Mashiach ben Yosef. He used this term in:

 

Bereshit (Genesis) 44:15 is there a diviner (nachash) who can divine as I?

 

Middle letter

 

If we want to connect to the Torah, then we need to connect with Vayikra (Leviticus) 11:42. In this verse we can connect with Mashiach and with HaShem by NOT connecting with the serpent! This pasuk is the place of connection. The Talmud comes to teach us about several “middles”:

 

Kiddushin 30a The early [scholars] were called Soferim[17] because they used to count all the letters of the Torah.[18] Thus, they said, the waw in gahon[19] marks half the letters of the Torah; darosh darash,[20] half the words; we-hithggalah,[21] half the verses. The boar out of the wood [mi-ya’ar] doth ravage it:[22] the ‘ayin of ya’ar marks half of the Psalms.[23] But he, being full of compassion, forgiveth their iniquity,[24] half of the verses.

 

As an aside, gachon is a peculiar word which uniquely suggests the middle of the body. Gachon is only used twice in all of the Torah. Once, here in Leviticus, and yet only one other time aside from that, and that’s in:

 

Bereshit (Genesis) 3:14 And HaShem God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly (gachon) shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life: 15  And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.

 

So far we have Rashi telling us that the serpent, in Vayikra 11:42, is like the serpent of Bereshit 3.

 

The midrash on Song of Songs makes much of the fact that Vayikra (Leviticus) is the central book of the Torah. It is “centered” in the Torah.

 

The middle letter[25] of the Torah[26] is in the book of Vayikra, Leviticus, in the middle of the halachic laws of kosher animals! In the beginning of chapter 11 of the section of Shemini, it is written:

 

Vayikra (Leviticus) 11:1ff HaShem spoke to Moshe and to Aaron, saying to them. Speak to the Children of Israel, saying: These are the creatures that you may eat from among all the animals that are upon the earth. Everything among the animals that has a split hoof… that one you may eat of.

 

Forty-one verses later it is stated,

 

Vayikra (Leviticus) 11:42 Whatsoever goeth upon the belly, and whatsoever goeth upon [all] four, or whatsoever hath more feet among all creeping things that creep upon the earth, them ye shall not eat; for they [are] an abomination.

 

Note that the subject of this pasuk is to “not eat”. Please recall that eating is a form of connecting. Thus we understand that we are not to connect with the evil serpent.

 

Rashi tells us a bit about this word “gachon”:

 

that goes on its belly: This is the snake (Torat Kohanim[27] 11:163). The word גָּחוֹן denotes “bending low” [and it is used to describe the snake] because it moves while bent, a prostrated posture, prostrated on its belly.

 

Rashi says that the reptile referred to is the serpent, the nachash, the type of creature which enticed Adam and Chava to eat from the forbidden fruit. In Midrashic literature this creature is often equated with the evil inclination.

 

Why is this creature given the distinction of being placed in the exact center of the Torah? The following thoughts came to mind.

 

First, there have been (non-Jewish) beliefs which viewed evil as being something outside HaShem’s direct sphere of influence or management. Judaism, on the other hand, views evil as being one of the many tools that HaShem uses to manage His world. Evil is the servant of HaShem and this is reflected by positioning this servant in the exact center of the Torah.

 

Second, Chazal[28] teach that a person can not escape evil by merely avoiding physicality. We must deal with evil, not run away from it.

 

HaShem gave us a powerful weapon against the powers of evil. This weapon is also a shield and an antidote. It is the Torah, itself.

 

Sukkah 52b The school of R. Ishmael taught, If this repulsive wretch[29] meets thee, drag him to the Beth Hamidrash. If he is of stone, he will dissolve, if of iron he will shiver into fragments. ‘If he is of stone he will dissolve’, for it is written, Ho, every one that thirsteth come ye to the water[30] and it is written, The waters wear the stones.[31] ‘If he is of iron, he will shiver into fragments’, for it is written, Is not my word like as fire? Saith the Lord, and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?[32]

 

Perhaps this advice for mankind is reflected here, where we find the nachash completely surrounded by the Torah.

 

The word in Hebrew for “belly” is gachonגחון, spelled gimal, chet, vav, and nun. “Everything that crawls on its belly” is referring to a serpent. It is this vav (ו) of gachon that is the middle letter of the Torah. We have journeyed to the center of the world and landed in the belly of a serpent![33]

 

The u “vav” in the word “gachon”, belly, must be raised because it is the middle central letter of the Torah. It is one of the eleven majuscules in the Torah.

 … על־ארבע הולך / וכל על־גחון לולך כל

 

If you look into the Sefer Torah, the actual scroll of the Torah written by a scribe, you will see that this middle vav stands out from all the other letters and words because it is written larger than the other letters. Its elongated form is not due to a scribal embellishment. Rather, the Torah scroll must have this elongated vav in order for it to be halachically kosher to be read in the synagogue.

 

Wise as Serpents

 

Serpents were understood, by the Nazarean Codicil, to be wise:

 

Matityahu (Matthew) 10:16 Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.

 

So also is a Hakham, a Rabbi, a “wise one”.

 

Abot 2:10 They [each] said three things. R. Eliezer says, “Let the respect owing to your fellow be as precious to you as the respect owing to you yourself. “And don’t be easy to anger. “And repent one day before you die. “And warm yourself by the fire of the sages (Hakhamim), but be careful of their coals, so you don’t get burned. “For their bite is the bite of a fox, and their sting is the sting of a scorpion, and their hiss is like the hiss of a snake. “And everything they say is like fiery coals.”[34]

 

Pole Serpent

 

Serpents can heal[35] or kill with their poison. The caduceus shows the serpent on the pole, as we see in the Torah, which was used for healing. The Hakham should exude confidence that he knows what he is doing because this often provides the cure by itself. We need to be wise and as persuasive as serpents.

 

The pole serpent[36] is mentioned in:

 

Bamidbar (Numbers) 21:5–9 And the people spoke against G-d, and against Moses: 'Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, and there is no water; and our soul loatheth this light bread.' 6 And HaShem sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died. 7 And the people came to Moses, and said: 'We have sinned, because we have spoken against HaShem, and against thee; pray unto HaShem, that He take away the serpents from us.' And Moses prayed for the people. 8 And HaShem said unto Moses: 'Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole; and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he seeth it, shall live.' 9 And Moses made a serpent of brass, 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 brass, he lived.

 

Targum Pseudo Jonathan puts v.6 with an interesting connotation that explicitly tells us why a serpent was used to heal:

 

And the bath-kol fell from the high heaven, and thus spoke: Come, all men, and see all the benefits which I have done to the people whom I brought up free out of Mitzrayim. I made manna come down for them from heaven, yet now turn they and murmur against Me. Yet, behold, the serpent, whom, in the days of the beginning of the world, I doomed to have dust for his food, has not murmured against me: but My people are murmuring about their food. Now will the serpents who have not complained of their food come and bite the people who complain. Therefore did the Word of HaShem send the basilisk serpents, and they bit the people, and a great multitude of the people of Israel died.

 

Then Rashi provides us the reason why the people were bitten by serpents for this particular sin. The punishment was mida keneged mida, measure for measure for their sin:

 

and they bit the people Let the serpent, which was smitten for speaking evil [to Eve] come and punish those who spread slander [about the manna]. Let the serpent, for which all types of food taste the same, come and punish those ingrates, for whom one thing [the manna] changes into various tastes.[37]

 

Yochanan (John) 3:14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man[38] be lifted up:

 

What does “the fiery serpent set upon a pole” represent according to Numbers 21:8? It represents the healing power of HaShem. This serpent represents the Bne Israel, who must work towards their own healing. We are the body of Mashiach, we are the ones on the pole.

 

At the end of Parashat Chukat,[39] the Torah tells us once again of the rebellious behavior of Klal Israel during their travels through the wilderness. The pasuk relates, “And the people spoke against HaShem and against Moshe”,[40] complaining that they were tired of the manna and of the lack of water in the desert. The Torah tells us that HaShem got angry and sent as punishment a horde of poisonous serpents, “ha-nechashim ha-serafim”,  to bite the complainers. Many Jews died. The survivors came to beg Moshe Rabbenu for forgiveness and beseeched him to pray to HaShem to get rid of the serpents. Moshe did so, and HaShem told him to make an image of a “saraf,” a serpent, and to place it on top of a high pole. Any Jew who got bitten was to look at the image of the serpent on top of the pole and would survive. The Torah tells us that Moshe then fashioned a “nechash nechoshet,” a brass[41] serpent, and placed it atop a pole, and the rest of the Jews were saved.[42]

 

The distinction between the word nachash, serpent, and the word seraf, serpent, is worth a second look. When HaShem punished Klal Israel, He unleashed “hanechashim haserafim.” The Torah uses both terms, HaShem unleashed serpents that behaved like serpents. Then, when HaShem told Moshe how to stem the plague, He commanded him to create a saraf, but Moshe created a nachash instead. Why? What is the difference between these two terms? And why does the Torah use both in this story? Furthermore, why did Moshe make the nachash out of copper when HaShem did not instruct him to do so, and why is that detail important enough for the Torah to mention?

 

In the English language the word serpent is a synonym for serpent. In lashon ha-kodesh also, the words nachash and saraf are more or less synonymous. Nonetheless, being different words they still convey somewhat different meanings. The word nachash has at its root nichush, as in the command “lo tinachashu”,[43] the prohibition of magic acts and fortune telling, seemingly supernatural pursuits. Likewise, a serpent can kill a large human or even a tremendous beast with a tiny dose of poison, a seemingly supernatural faculty. This is an important connection. Those who believe they have supernatural powers no longer feel compelled to rely on HaShem for their needs. This is why the Torah considers magic and fortune telling to be forms of idolatry.

 

The term nachash represents the challenge of maintaining faith in HaShem, the challenge of adherence to His commandments. It is not a coincidence that the very first individual to challenge HaShem’s commandments was the nachash ha-kadmoni in Gan Eden. His behavior was classic nachash.

 

The word saraf, on the other hand, emphasizes the method through which the serpent kills. Serefah means burning in lashon ha-kodesh. The saraf injects a tiny dose of venom which burns its way throughout the body of the victim, eventually killing him. The venom is like a small spark that can spread to become a large conflagration. The word saraf is used by Chazal[44] to refer to the punishment of one who rejects the commandments and direction of the Hakhamim. This hints to the insidiousness of transgressing the Hakhamim. Once one lights a spark by violating one rabbinic principle, one is liable to create an entire conflagration by continuing to violate other rabbinic rules and guidelines. Once someone loses respect for the Hakhamim, the poison can spread throughout his body. Hence Chazal refer to the retribution against such an individual in terms of the saraf.

 

With this background, we can understand what was happening in this parasha. When Klal Israel rebelled, they committed two sins, one against HaShem and one against Moshe Rabbenu, who represents the Hakhamim. Thus, HaShem sent hanechashim haserafim to kill them, demonstrating that they deserved two punishments, the nachash, for rebelling against HaShem, and the saraf, for rebelling against the Hakhamim, i.e., Moshe.

 

When Klal Israel came to Moshe Rabbenu to repent and beg forgiveness, HaShem agreed to forgive Klal Israel for the violation of His own honor, but insisted that Moshe Rabbenu’s honor be upheld by a public display of the image of the saraf. Moshe Rabbenu, on the other hand, was quick to forgive the violation of his honor, but was very concerned about the honor of HaShem. Therefore, he created a nachash rather than a saraf, to focus Klal Israel on that violation.

 

Ibn Ezra asks why the brass[45] snake had to be placed on a pole. His answer is: “to be high so that all could see it.”

 

Did the copper serpent kill or make alive? No! What it indicates is that when the Israelites, in gazing at the serpent, turned their thoughts on high and subjected their hearts to their father in heaven, they were healed; otherwise they perished.[46]

 

Ibn Ezra also points out that many Israelites erred and treated the brazen serpent like a divine object, worshipping it like a G-d. Because the Jews preserved it as an object of veneration, it was eventually destroyed by King Hezekiah.[47] The sages highly praised him for this act.[48]

 

Livayatan

 

There is another serpent that will become a feast for the Jewish people[49] who will dwell in a succah made from its skin.[50] The Navi writes about this giant:

 

Yeshayahu (Isaiah) 27:1 On that day, the Lord shall visit with His hard and great and strong sword on Livayatan the barlike serpent,[51] and upon Livayatan the crooked serpent, and He shall slay the dragon that is in the sea.

 

Rashi provides some insights on the above pasuk:

 

1 on livayatan the barlike serpent (AKA Pole Serpent) Jonathan renders: On the king who aggrandized himself like Pharaoh the first king, and upon a king who was as haughty as Sennacherib the second king. בָּרִיחַ is an expression of ‘straight’ like a bar, since he is the first. (The matter of simplicity is related to oneness. Since Pharaoh was the first great king, he is referred to as ‘the barlike serpent,’ a straight, penetrating serpent, that does not coil.)

 

crooked An expression of ‘double,’ since he is the second one. (I.e. the bend in the serpent indicates duality, thus the number two.) And I say that these are three important nations: Egypt, Assyria, and Edom. He, therefore, stated concerning these as he said at the end of the section (v. 13), “And those lost in the land of Assyria shall come, as well as those lost in the land of Egypt,” and since the nations are likened to serpents that bite.

 

Livayatan the barlike serpent – That is Egypt.

 

Livayatan the crooked serpent - That is Assyria.

 

Dragon that is in the sea:  This is Esau. (The Roman Church, which includes all the Christian churches. Things like communion, trinity, etc. have the dogmas created by the Catholic church.)

 

To Rashi’s list, I would add one more:

 

The Revelation serpent is the Dragon that is in the sea.

 

There is a lot more to this Livayatan. Enough to deserve its own study.

 

Ten Curses

 

The serpent was damned with ten curses:[52]

 

1. The first curse was that angels descended and cut off his hands and feet. He screamed so loudly that it could be heard from one end of the world to the other. This was because he brought death to the world. When a person commits murder, it is because he is being dragged after his passions. The serpent was therefore punished in that he would have to drag himself on his belly.

 

2. Until this time the serpent did not eat regular food like other animals, but was nourished by spiritual "food." The second curse was that he should now eat the dust of the earth. Even if he were to eat the tastiest things in the world, he would taste only dust. He also cannot be satisfied unless he eats dust.

One should not think he can make do with any kind of dust that he finds. If this were the case, it would be a blessing; he would not have to struggle for food. The only dust that can nourish the serpent is that which comes from great depths, and he must dig down to reach it.

 

3. Before this, the serpent was very important; he was considered the king of all the animals. The third curse was that he be cursed by all the animals. [The word MiKall, which we have translated as "above all," is literally, "from all." This verse can thus be read, "Cursed are you from all the animals." (Tr.)]

 

4. The fourth curse was that the serpent would constantly be leprous. The white dots on his body are leprous spots. This was punishment because he slandered [G-d].

 

In general, leprosy is a punishment for slander and malicious speech.[53] The punishment fits the crime, since malicious speech causes people to become separated from each other. The punishment is leprosy, where the person must also be separated from all men.[54]

 

5. The fifth curse was that the snake must shed his skin every seven years. He must find two very smooth stones, where he can squeeze between them, pulling off his skin. This produces excruciating pain.[55]

 

Besides this, the serpent must also remain skinless until he can grow a new hide. This punishment also fits the crime, because Adam was created with a beautiful shining skin.[56] This skin shone like our fingernails do today.[57]

 

For this reason, we gaze at our fingernails during Havdalah. All during the Shabbat the person has been like a king. He wore his best clothing, ate good food, and drank good wine. It is therefore very easy for him to feel self-important and to discuss weekday things on the Shabbat. Gazing at his fingernails, he should realize how much harm the sins [of pride and excessive speech] can bring, and repent.[58]

 

6. The sixth curse was that there would be great hatred between the woman and the serpent. [The Talmud teaches that the serpent actually had intercourse with the woman, so she said that he "seduced" her.] When a man and woman sin with each other, they end up hating each other. A good example is found in the case of Amnon and Tamar[59] This hatred exists even today. People have an inborn loathing for snakes, whenever a snake is seen, people smash its head.

 

7. The seventh curse was that a human can smash a snake's head, but if it wants to retaliate, it can only bite a person's heel.

 

G-d told Adam that if his children keep the Torah, they do not have to worry about the serpent. It is not the serpent that kills, but sin. If they do not keep the mitzvot, authority is given to the serpent to bite them.[60]

 

Here too, the punishment fits the crime. The serpent bites people on the heel because they are not careful with the mitzvot; they tread on them with their heels.[61]

 

8. The eighth curse was that poison exists inside his mouth. This actually burns the snake's mouth.

 

9. The ninth curse is death. Since the serpent was the cause of death, he was the first to experience it.

 

10. In the ultimate future, when the Mashiach comes, all will be healed, great and small. In the case of the serpent, however, G-d said, "Dust shall you eat, all the days of your life". This is an allusion that he will remain this way even in the Messianic Age.[62]

 

It may seem that the fact that the serpent lost the power of speech should also be counted among these curses, since this was the worst of them all. But actually, since "dust is his bread",[63] the serpent's tongue became gross, and he lost the power of speech.[64]

 

 

* * *

 

This study was written by

Rabbi Dr. Hillel ben David (Greg Killian).

Comments may be submitted to:

 

Rabbi Dr. Greg Killian

4544 Highline Drive SE

Olympia, WA 98501

 

Internet address:  gkilli@aol.com

Web page:  http://www.betemunah.org/

 

(360) 918-2905

 

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[1] Nachash stems from the root that means “shining whisperer”, “shining enchanter.” In Shemot (Exodus) 7:9-15 the nachash is parallel to the tanin, the sea creature of Bereshit (Genesis) 1:21 and also related to the Livayatan of Yeshayahu 27:1.

[2] No serpent, no animal of any kind, is called Satan, or Beelzebub, or Devil, in the Torah.

[3] The serpent was cursed that it would need to crawl on its belly, Bereshit (Genesis) 3:14. Rashi infers that it had legs which were amputated. The higher the position the greater is the fall, and this applies to the serpent, who not only was the chief of all animals, but walked upright like man, and when it fell it sank into the reptile species. - Bereshit Rabbah pg 54

[4] See Yalkut Shimoni Yeshayahu chapter 65 remez 509, where G-d is cited as saying to the serpent, “I created you to stand on two feet like man…but you wanted to kill him in order to marry Eve. See Bereshit Rabbah 19:1: NOW THE SERPENT WAS MORE SUBTLE THAN ANY BEAST OF THE FIELD. R. Hoshaya the Elder said: He stood out distinguished [erect] like a reed, and he had feet. R. Jeremiah b. Eleazar said: He was an unbeliever.

[5] Pirkei Rabbi Eliezer; Zohar 1:35

[6] It was taught in R. Meir’s name : According to the greatness of the serpent so was his downfall : because he was More subtle than all, he was More cursed than all – Bereshit Rabbah Genesis 14.

[7] Bereshit (Genesis) 3:14

[8] The same interpretative expansion of Genesis 3:14 appears in Midrash Bereshit Rabbah 19:1.

[9] Bereshit Rabbah 7:5

[10] All the days of your life, i.e. as long as the species of serpents will remain on earth (Radak). Including the days of the Messiah. This curse will never be removed. Even in Messianic times [when ‘the wolf and the lamb shall eat together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox’] ‘the serpent’s food shall be dust’ [Isaiah 65:25] (Malbim).

[11] In this heel generation we are susceptible to being bitten by the serpent. We are the generation that is most at risk from the serpent. There is a danger of “you shall bruise the heel.” In the final generations of the exile the Jewish nation resembles Adam HaRishon, and the culmination of the exile is his heel. The danger exists that the serpent will bite Adam’s heel.

[12] Ramchal - Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (1707 in Padua – 16 May 1746 in Acre (26 Iyar 5506)), also known by the Hebrew acronym RaMCHaL (or RaMHaL, רמח”ל), was a prominent Italian Jewish rabbi, kabbalist, and philosopher.

[13] At times, the equivalence denotes that the two sides of the equality are like arch-enemies or arch-rivals. The positive and holy side of the equality is responsible and has the power to rectify the negative side.

[14] Mashiach ben David

[15] Zohar Vaera, Tikkun 21-9: When the evil Snake will be removed from the world, the Holy snake, which is the Vav and Zeir Anpin, will rule.

[16] By Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh

[17] Rashi quotes, and the families of scribes — Soferim — which dwelt at Jabez; I Chron. II, 55. The term is generally applied to the band of Scholars from the Babylonian exile, who propagated the knowledge of the Torah and interpreted it.

[18] To safeguard the correctness of the text. Soferim is taken in the original sense of its root safar, ‘to count’.

[19] Whatsoever goeth upon the belly — Leviticus 11:42.

[20] Leviticus 10:16: And Moses diligently enquired after — darosh darash — the goat of the sin-offering.

[21] Leviticus 13:33: we-hithggalah, then he shall be shaven. [In M.T. the words ‘he placed on him’ (Lev. VIII, 8) is given as the middle verse.]

[22] Psalm 80:14.

[23] It is not stated whether letters or words are meant: S. Strashun observes that he counted the words, and found that the first half exceeds the second by nearly 2,000; hence the reference is to letters, and there is such a reading too.

[24] Psalm 78:38.

[25] The letter vav of the word gachon represents the midpoint of the letters of the Torah scroll. While most of the letters of the Torah are written in the standard script, he says, there are certain letters that are different. Some are written in an unusual fashion, while others are bigger or smaller than the standard letters of the Torah. If one were to count all the small and large letters in a standard Torah scroll, one would find that there are 16 or 17 of these letters (depending on whether we count the truncated vav in Numbers 25:12.) Of these, the ninth, i.e., the middle one, is the vav of gachon. In other words, the Talmud was not referring to the vav of gachon as the middle of all the letters of the Torah scroll; rather, it was referring to it as the middle of all the unusually large and small letters in the Torah scroll.

[26] The middle letter of the book of Psalms is: Tehillim (Psalms) 80:14: The boar out of the forest doth ravage it, that which moveth in the field feedeth on it. -  . The suspended vav has had all kinds of meanings attached to it by the Rabbinical writers: the seventy years of the Babylonian captivity, the hanging of the Messiah on a tree; or, according to the Talmud, the middle letter of the Psalms, as similarly a large letter denotes the middle letter of the Pentateuch.

[27] “The Teaching of the Priests,” the old Rabbinic name for Leviticus

[28] Our Sages

[29] The Evil Inclination.

[30] Isaiah 55:1; sc. the Torah.

[31] Job 14:19.

[32] Jer. 23:29. [This can also be rendered: ‘like the hammer which the (granite) rock (against which it is struck) breaketh; the Evil Inclination being compared to an iron hammer and the Beth Hamidrash to a granite rock, v. Totafot].

[33] Rabbi Joel David Bakst

[34] Neusner, J. (1988). The Mishnah : A new translation (677). New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

[35] Snake anti-venom is made from the venom of the snake.

[36] See also Yeshayahu (Isaiah) 27: where Livayatan is also called a pole serpent.

[37] Midrash Tanchuma Chukkath 19, Num. Rabbah 19:22

[38] It must be clearly understood that this pasuk is connecting Mashiach ben Yoseph to the serpent, not Mashiach ben David.

[39] Bamidbar (Numbers) 21:5–9

[40] Bamidbar (Numbers) 21:5

[41] “If I make it of gold [zahaf or of silver [kessef], these words do not correspond to the other [viz., nachash, meaning serpent]. Hence, I will make it of nechoshet [brass] since this word corresponds to the other, viz., nahash nehoshet—a. serpent of brass [i.e., a play on words].” [Gen. Rabbah 31:8]

[42] This section is Excerpted from Dr. Mandell Ganchow Coming of Age: An Anthology of Divrei Torah for Bar and Bat Mitzvah.

[43] Vayikra (Leviticus) 19:26

[44] Pirkei Avot 2:10

[45] It is worth noting in: Daniel 2:31-35 “Thou, O king, sawest, and behold a great image. This image, which was mighty, and whose brightness was surpassing, stood before thee; and the appearance thereof was terrible. As for that image, its head (Nebuchadnezzar) was of fine gold, its breast and its arms (Medea & Persia) of silver, its belly and its thighs (Greek Empire) of brass (NACHASH), its legs of iron (Aram, Edom-Rome), its feet part of iron (Aram-Edom-Rome-Christianity) and part of clay (Ishmael-Islam).” Thus we see the serpent in the brass legs of this terrible image.

[46] Rosh Hashanah 3:8

[47] Melachim bet (2 Kings) 18:4

[48] Pesachim 4:9, 56a: Berachot 10b; Avodah Zarah 44a

[49] Bava Batra 75a

[50] In the Machzor this is found in the farewell to the succah.

[51] Iyov (Job) 27:13 also speaks of this pole serpent.

[52] Bereshit Rabbah; Tikunei Zohar, p. 95

[53] Lashon HaRa

[54] commentary on Metzorah, MeAm Loez Commentaries.

[55] Bereshit Rabbah. Cf. Tikunei Zohar 92b; Zohar, Sh’lach

[56] Targum Yonatan; Pirkei Rabbi Eliezer

[57] Rabbi Moshe] Alshich, [Torat Moshe, Venice, 1601] p. 17) [By causing Adam to sin, the snake made him lose this beautiful skin.]

[58] Zohar, VaYachel

[59] 2 Shmuel (Samuel) 13:15

[60] Tikunei Zohar, p. 10

[61] Targum Yonatan

[62] Zohar Chadash 18b) The same is true of anyone who speaks maliciously. He will never be healed unless he repents completely. (Targum Yonatan; Bachya; Zohar, Sh’lach

[63] Yeshayahu (Isaiah) 65:25

[64] Toledot Yitzchak