After the mistake with the rock and the stick, Moshe and Aharon find out they’re not going into the Promised Land. Yet, we find a fascinating thing happening right after that. Moshe should now want nothing further to do with helping the Jews move closer to going to Israel. But great people do the right thing every time. Moshe, even though he won’t go to Israel, moves forward in helping plan and move the Jews one step closer to getting into Israel. He isn’t jealous of those who will make it where he won’t — he will even help them get there.
Moshe sends a message to the King of Edom, reciting the history of the Jewish nation and how they are asking permission now to cross through the land of Edom to get into Israel. The Kind of Edom says – don’t come trooping through our lands because we will kill you, if you do.
The Jews are told by Hashem to turn and not have the final show-down with Edom – that is reserved for the time of Moshiach.
Now comes Aharon’s death. Aharon is told to go with his son and Moshe to Har HaHar. There, Aharon hands over the garments and power of Kehuna to his son Elazar. There is a Jewish concept of Mesorah that a rebbe should leave this world having handed over leadership responsibly to the next in line so that the Jews are not left without leadership,
The Clouds of Glory which enveloped the Jews was in the merit of Aharon and now they no longer have the clouds of glory. Verse 29 (Va’yeroo – either they saw or they feared – that Aharon was dead – some commentators said they saw and some say they feared because of the taking away of the clouds).
The Jews “ALL” mourn Aharon for 30 days. Why was it universal and so long that they mourned Aharon? He promoted peace. He was forever trying to make peace between folks and so he became beloved by many. He also used love to bring folks back to the right way. Rather than rebuke them, he would befriend them…and they felt they had to better themselves to maintain the friendship with him.
Chapter 21: Our enemies wait until they think we are vulnerable and they pounce. The Can’anee nation heard there were no more protective clouds over the Jews and they attack…and lose.
Now, the Jews become depressed –they have to go a longer way to travel since Hashem told them not to go through Edom. How was it possible that they now, after all this, so close to Israel, go through the same horrible complaining? The Baal HaTurim explains they understood quite well that if they are not allowed to fight Edom now, there will be long stretches of horrible interactions in Jewish history to come with these wicked Edomites. This realization led them to a sense of depression, which got them complaining, and then got them punished. The word for depression is Atzuv which is the same root of the word atzavim (idols) — we tend to do wrong things when we have a sense of despair, when we get to low points in our life, when we think things are hopeless or too hard. And when we are at that low point, we even stab those who did good for us and complain about the gifts in our lives. That is what happened here – once depressed and low, the Jews curse out the Manna! The great gift of Manna, even that they can’t appreciate when they are depressed.
The punishment they get is instant. Hashem sends poisonous snakes to bite random Jews who die. The snake tastes all food the same – whatever the snake eats has one taste only. That is the punishment for the Jews who speak against a food which had the taste of whatever the person eating wanted it to taste like.
The Jews actually this time admit to their wrongdoing and ask for forgiveness. Moshe davens for them. When a person asks us for forgiveness, we should forgive.
The antidote for the danger: G-d tells Moshe to create a snake figurine and put it on a tall pole – and anyone who gets bitten had to look up and see the snake on the pole and that would heal him.
First thing to note in this verse [Chapter 21: verse 8] is that the word for the pole is the word Nes which also means a miracle and could mean a banner. Because the purpose of a miracle is to create a banner, so to speak, that points to G-d. The word Nisayon, test – is from the same root word of Nes – because a test pushes us to our limits and shows off our commitment to G-d, just as if we would wave a banner over our heads. To hear an amazing lecture on this, you can go here:
Now to Rashi on this verse: “Ve’chee nachash may’mis oh mi’chayeh? Ehluh b’zman she’hayoo Yisroel mistaklim k’lapay ma’alah oo’meshabdim es leebam la’aveehem she’bashamayim hu’yoo misrapim…” Translation: “Does a [sculpted] snake give life or death? No. It was that the entire time the Jews looked upwards and bent their hearts to their Father in Heaven, they were healed.”
The point of anything we do is to create a bond between us and G-d. When we end up in a bad place in life, anything we do to “look upward” and reconnect to G-d is what will make sure we are saved.
May our banners of successfully weathering our ordeals wave gaily above our heads….bringing our spectators to lift their eyes, too, heavenward!