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“Snakes, Why Did It Have To Be Snakes?”

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JewishTreats.org

Ophidiophobia is the fear of snakes. This is one of the most common phobias, and, in fact, it is so common and apparently instinctual that scientists have even taken to studying why this fear appears to be an almost natural part of human psychology (“Scared of Snakes…”, “Fear of Snakes”).

While not addressing the origin of ophidiophobia, the Torah established humanity’s antagonistic relationship with snakes from the earliest days of creation. In the Garden of Eden, after the serpent lured Eve to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, God punished the snake by saying: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15).

The Talmud is filled with discussions on poisonous snakes: where they might lurk, what one should do with a snake on Shabbat, remedies for snake bites, etc. God even used poisonous serpents as a punishment for the Israelites in the wilderness when they rebelled (Numbers 21:6).

But the scriptural references to the snake also hint at the possibility of redemption for the snake. In Numbers 21, God instructs Moses to make “a serpent of brass, and set it high upon a pole” (21:9). Anyone who looked at it was cured. It is a strange incident that is perhaps clarified by the following Talmudic statement: “Come and see how the way of God is not like the way of man. The way of man is that when he is angry with someone, he tries to ruin his life. But the way of God is not so. He cursed the snake; yet when it ascends to the roof, its food is near it, and when it descends to the ground, its food is near it [as the snake eats small animals that crawl on all surfaces]” (Yoma 75a).

The snake provides a profound lesson that even when a situation seems bad, God provides a cure, and that quite often there are blessings to be found amidst what seems like a curse.

Title note: Indiana Jones (Raiders of the Lost Ark – 1981)

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

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