Did You Know?

By Rabbi Fabian Werbin

A snake is an animal that is usually associated to the words poison, bite, fear, death.
In the Bible the first impression that we have is that the serpent is not the best company you can get.  We read “Now the serpent was craftier than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made.” (Genesis 3:1)

We all know the story of the serpent with Eve and Adam and the end of it and therefore we tend to think poorly of the serpent.

Not everybody think equal and surprisingly we find the medicine has chosen the serpent as a symbol of healing.  How’s that’s possible?

Have you ever seen the following symbol? — I am sure you did.  Actually if you pass through Roanoke Memorial Hospital you’ll be able to see it.

Where does it come from?
The Greeks believed the shedding of skin and renewal is emphasized as symbolizing rejuvenation and they worshiped their god of the medicine; Asclepius who had a snake on his hand.
I think that’s probably not the origin of the symbol.  There’s a story in the book of Numbers that may be the missing piece in this symbolism.

We read in Numbers 21: 4-9:
“They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against G-d and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!” Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. The LORD said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.”

“So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.”

This special bronze snake received a name, Nehushtan and it is very likely that it became an idol among the Israelites. Hezekiah the king removed it from the Temple and destroyed it, he probably didn’t like his people offering and worshiping to the miraculous snake that cured and healed and was created by Moses.