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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Shmot

The Snake’s Tongue

Rabbi Yossef Carmel23 Tevet 5767
3823
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When Hashem was convincing Moshe to go to Egypt to take Bnei Yisrael out, one of Moshe’s arguments was that Bnei Yisrael would not believe him. As a sign, Hashem told Moshe to throw down his staff, which then turned into a snake (Shemot 4:3). In addition to being an impressive sign, Rashi notes that this was a symbolic rebuke. Hashem was saying that Moshe had "grabbed on to the craft of the snake," by speaking lashon hara.

We know that the snake instigated to sin, but when did he tell lashon hara? It was his claim that the reason Hashem forbade eating from the tree of knowledge was that He knew that man would be like Him, kav’yachol. But still, one thinks of talking about G-d inappropriately as heresy rather than lashon hara. How is Moshe talking about Bnei Yisrael parallel to the snake’s words of heresy?

In essence, the snake said that there is nothing innately different about Hashem, but that He is like people and has self-interests like them. In this way, Moshe said something parallel about Bnei Yisrael. Although most nations would be skeptical about being extricated from Egypt’s grip, a Divinely chosen nation would believe that the promise of redemption Hashem gave to their forefathers would be fulfilled. This special type of lashon hara doubted that Bnei Yisrael was unique in this regard, implying that all nations are the same.

This idea of denying a special Divine essence may also shed light on another use of the root for snake, nachash. In many places in the Torah, nachash refers to a form of witchcraft that predicts the future (see Bereishit 44:15; Bamidbar 23:23). This is based on the assumption that everything is predictable if one taps into the forces. It denies the Divine input into the process.

Our outlook on the snake’s worldview also sheds light on another statement of Chazal about the snake. Rashi (to Bamidbar 21:6) says that snakes were chosen to punish Bnei Yisrael for criticizing the manna to show the absurdity of complaining about a food that turned into whatever taste one wanted. The snake brings that message home because everything tastes the same to it. According to our thesis, this is particularly significant. Whether physically or spiritually, the snake’s mouth declares there is no difference between this and that. The tongue that said that G-d is the same as people was punished with the curse that all foods will taste identically like earth (see Bereishit 3:14).

When Hashem hinted to Moshe the shortcoming he had displayed, Moshe ran away from the snake (Shemot 4:3). It perhaps was particularly frightful to think that the staff that he had been holding continuously had been a snake, with the spiritual implications we have alluded to. Hashem reassured Moshe that the flaw was not innate, but a misunderstanding, and that he could grab the snake and return it to a staff.

Let us all be successful in recognizing the potential "snake in our hands" and keep it from showing its ugly head.

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