Chukat, Siman 19 חקת, י״ט
1 א

וַיִּסְעוּ מֵהֹר הָהָר וְגוֹ' וַתִּקְצַר נֶפֶשׁ הָעָם בַּדֶּרֶךְ. וַהֲלֹא כְּתִיב: וְרוּחֲךָ הַטּוֹבָה נָתַתָּ לְהַשְׂכִּילָם (נחמיה ט, כ). אֶלָּא אוֹתָן שַׁיָּרוֹת שֶׁיָּצְאוּ מִמִּצְרַיִם שֶׁנִּגְזְרָה עֲלֵיהֶם מִיתָה, לֹא הָיוּ רוֹאִים בַּמִּדְבָּר נַחַת רוּחַ וְלֹא רוּחַ טוֹבָה. וְכֵן הוּא אוֹמֵר, וּבְנֵיכֶם יִהְיוּ רוֹעִים בַּמִּדְבָּר וְגוֹ' (במדבר יד, לג), זֶה הוּא עַם שֶׁקָּצְרָה נַפְשָׁם בַּדֶּרֶךְ. וַיְדַבֵּר הָעָם בֵּאלֹהִים וּבְמֹשֶׁה, הִשְׁווּ עֶבֶד לְקוֹנוֹ. וְנַפְשֵׁנוּ קָצָה בַּלֶּחֶם הַקְּלוֹקֵל, שֶׁלֹּא הָיָה יָכֹל אוֹתוֹ הַדּוֹר לִטְעֹם מִן פֵּרוֹת הָאָרֶץ כְּלוּם. אָמַר רַבִּי עֲקִיבָא, כְּשֶׁהָיוּ מְגַלִּין לָהֶם הַתַּגָּרִים הַסַּל הַבָּא מִפֵּרוֹת הָאָרֶץ, הָיוּ מֵתִים, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: אִם יִרְאֶה אִישׁ בָּאֲנָשִׁים הָאֵלֶּה הַדּוֹר הָרַע הַזֶּה אֶת הָאָרֶץ הַטּוֹבָה (דברים א, לה), כָּל טוּב הַבָּא מֵחֲמַת הָאָרֶץ. לְכָךְ נִתְקַצֵּר נֶפֶשׁ הָעָם בַּדֶּרֶךְ. הֵם שֶׁרִנְּנוּ, וְנַפְשֵׁנוּ קָצָה. וַיִּשְׁלַח ה' בָּעָם אֶת הַנְּחָשִׁים הַשְּׂרָפִים. מָה רָאָה לִיפָּרַע מֵהֶן בִּנְחָשִׁים. אֶלָּא נָחָשׁ הוּא פָּתַח בְּלָשׁוֹן הָרַע תְּחִלָּה, וְנִתְקַלֵּל, וְלֹא לָמְדוּ מִמֶּנּוּ וַיְדַבְּרוּ לָשׁוֹן הָרַע עַל הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא. יָבֹא נָחָשׁ מִי שֶׁהִתְחִיל בְּלָשׁוֹן הָרַע תְּחִלָּה וְנִתְקַלֵּל, וְיִפָּרַע מִמְּסַפְּרֵי לָשׁוֹן הָרַע, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: וּפוֹרֵץ גָּדֵר יִשָּׁכֶנּוּ נָחָשׁ. דָּבָר אַחֵר, לָמָּה נִפְרַע מֵהֶם בִּנְחָשִׁים. הַנָּחָשׁ, אֲפִלּוּ אוֹכֵל כָּל מַעֲדַנִּים שֶׁבָּעוֹלָם, נֶהְפָּכִין בְּפִיו לֶעָפָר, דִּכְתִיב: וְנָחָשׁ עָפָר לַחְמוֹ (ישעיה סה, כה). וְאֵלּוּ אוֹכְלִין אֶת הַמָּן שֶׁנֶּהְפַּךְ לָהֶם לְמַטְעַמִּים הַרְבֵּה, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: וַיִּתֵּן לָהֶם שְׁאֵלָתָם (תהלים קו, טו), וְתַאֲוָתָם יָבִיא לָהֶם (שם עח, כט). וְאוֹמֵר: זֶה אַרְבָּעִים שָׁנָה ה' אֱלֹהֶיךָ עִמָּךְ לֹא חָסַרְתָּ דָּבָר (דברים ב, ז). יָבֹא נָחָשׁ שֶׁאוֹכֵל מִינִין הַרְבֵּה וּבְפִיו טַעַם אֶחָד, וְיִפָּרַע מֵאוֹכְלֵי מִין אֶחָד וְטוֹעֲמִים מִינִין הַרְבֵּה. אֶת הַנְּחָשִׁים הַשְּׂרָפִים, שֶׁשּׂוֹרְפִין אֶת הַנֶּפֶשׁ. רַבִּי יוּדָן אוֹמֵר, הַנְּחָשִׁים שֶׁהָיָה הֶעָנָן שׂוֹרֵף אוֹתָן וְעוֹשֶׂה אוֹתָן גָּדֵר לַמַּחֲנֶה לְהוֹדִיעָם נִסִּים שֶׁעָשָׂה לָהֶם הַמָּקוֹם, אוֹתָן גִּירָה בָּהֶן. וַיָּבֹא הָעָם אֶל מֹשֶׁה וְיֹאמְרוּ חָטָאנוּ כִּי דִּבַּרְנוּ בַּה' וּבָךְ, יָדַעְנוּ שֶׁדִּבַּרְנוּ בְּמֹשֶׁה. וְנִשְׁתַּטְּחוּ לְפָנָיו וְאָמְרוּ לוֹ: הִתְפַּלֵּל אֶל ה' וְיָסֵר מֵעָלֵינוּ אֶת הַנָּחָשׁ. רַבִּי אוֹמֵר, נָחָשׁ יְחִידִי הָיָה, לְהוֹדִיעֲךָ עַנְוְתָנוּתוֹ שֶׁל מֹשֶׁה, שֶׁלֹּא נִשְׁתַּהָה לְבַקֵּשׁ עֲלֵיהֶם רַחֲמִים, וּלְהוֹדִיעְךָ כֹּחַ הַתְּשׁוּבָה, כֵּיוָן שֶׁאָמְרוּ חָטָאנוּ, מִיָּד נִתְרַצָּה לָהֶם, שֶׁאֵין הַמּוֹחֵל נַעֲשָׂה לָהֶם אַכְזָרִי. וְכֵן הוּא אוֹמֵר, וַיִּתְפַּלֵּל אַבְרָהָם אֶל הָאֱלֹהִים וַיְרַפֵּא הָאֱלֹהִים אֶת אֲבִימֶלֶךְ וְאֶת אִשְׁתּוֹ (בראשית כ, יז). וְכֵן הוּא אוֹמֵר, וַה' שָׁב אֶת שְׁבוּת אִיּוֹב בְּהִתְפַּלְּלוֹ בְּעַד רֵעֵהוּ (איוב מב, י). וּמִנַּיִן שֶׁאִם סָרַח אָדָם לַחֲבֵרוֹ וְאוֹמֵר לוֹ חָטָאתִי שֶׁאִם אֵינוֹ מוֹחֵל לוֹ נִקְרָא חוֹטֵא, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: גַּם אֲנֹכִי חָלִילָה לִי מֵחֲטֹא לַה' מֵחֲדֹל לְהִתְפַּלֵּל בַּעַדְכֶם (ש״‎א יב, כג). אֵימָתַי, כְּשֶׁבָּאוּ לוֹ וְאָמְרוּ חָטָאנוּ, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: וַיֹּאמֶר הָעָם אֶל שְׁמוּאֵל חָטָאנוּ כִּי עָבַרְנוּ וְגוֹ' (שם פסוק יט). וְהֵשִׁיב, חָלִילָה לִי מֵחֲטֹא. וַיֹּאמֶר ה' אֶל מֹשֶׁה עֲשֵׂה לְךָ שָׂרָף וְהָיָה כָּל הַנָּשׁוּךְ. לֹא נְשׁוּךְ נָחָשׁ בִּלְבַד, אֶלָּא כָּל הַנָּשׁוּךְ, אֲפִלּוּ נָשׁוּךְ מִפֶּתֶן וְעַקְרָב וְחַיָּה רָעָה וְכֶלֶב. וַיַּעַשׂ מֹשֶׁה נְחַשׁ נְחֹשֶׁת וַיְשִׂימֵהוּ עַל הַנֵּס, זְרָקוֹ לָאֲוִיר וְעָמַד. וַיִּסְעוּ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וַיַּחֲנוּ בְּאוֹבוֹת, שֶׁנַּעֲשׂוּ אוֹיְבִים לַמָּקוֹם. וַיַּחֲנוּ בְּעִיֵּי הָעֲבָרִים, שֶׁהָיוּ מְלֵאִים עֶבְרָה. וַיַּחֲנוּ בְּנַחַל זָרֶד, שֶׁלֹּא הָיָה הַנַּחַל אֶלָּא מָלֵא זֶרֶת וְלֹא יָכְלוּ לְעָבְרוֹ. וּשְׁלֹשִׁים וּשְׁמֹנֶה שָׁנָה נִשְׁתַּהוּ לְעָבְרוֹ, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: עַתָּה קוּמוּ וְעִבְרוּ לָכֶם אֶת נַחַל זָרֶד, וְהַיָּמִים אֲשֶׁר הָלַכְנוּ מִקָּדֵשׁ בַּרְנֵעַ וְגוֹ' (דברים ב, יג-יד). מִשָּׁם נָסְעוּ וַיַּחֲנוּ מַעֲבַר אַרְנוֹן, שֶׁנִּתְרַצָּה לָהֶם הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא.

(Numb. 21:4:) “Then they journeyed from Mount Hor by way of the Reed Sea in order to go around the Land of Edom, but the people grew restive on the journey.” But is it not written (of that era in Neh. 9:20), “And You gave Your good spirit to enlighten them?” It is simply that those remnants of Israel which had come out of Egypt over whom death had been decreed, saw neither a peaceful nor agreeable spirit in the desert.122Numb. R. 19:21. Thus it says (in Numb. 14:33), “And your children shall roam in the wilderness....” This was (according to Numb. 21:4) the people who grew restive on the journey. (Numb. 21:5:) “And the people spoke against God and against Moses.” They equated the slave and his Master. (Numb. 21:5:) “Our soul loathes this miserable food,” for that generation was unable to taste any of the fruits of the land at all. R. Aqiva said, “When merchants [even] uncovered a basket with some fruits of the land for them, they died.” It is so stated (in Deut. 1:35), “Not one of these men, this evil generation, shall see the good land,” [i.e.,] any good that comes because of the land. That is why the people grew restive on the journey. These are the ones that grumbled (in Numb. 21:5), “Our soul loathes.” (Numb. 21:6:) “Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people.” Why did the Holy One, blessed be He, see fit to exact retribution from them through serpents?123Numb. R. 19:22. It is simply that the snake started [the use of] slanderous language at the beginning and was cursed; yet they did not learn from it and spoke slanderous language against the Holy One, blessed be He. [The Holy One, blessed be He, said,] “Let the serpent, which was the first [to use] slanderous language, come and exact retribution from those who [still] speak slanderous language.” This is what is written (in Eccl. 10:8), “the one who breaks through a barrier124In general “to break through a barrier” means “to say,” but here the reference may denote more specifically the barrier of one’s teeth, through which slander must pass. will have a snake bite him.” Another interpretation of why retribution was exacted from them through serpents: Even if the serpent eats all the luxury foods of the world, for him they are turned to dust in his mouth. Thus it is stated (in Is. 65:25), “but the serpent's food shall be dust.” Now these people ate the manna, as stated (in Ps. 106:15), “So He gave them what they asked for,” and (in Ps. 78:29), “He gave them their desire.” It also says (in Deut. 2:7), “these forty years the Lord your God has been with you; you have lacked nothing.”125I.e., no luxury foods. Let a serpent that eats many species and has [but] one taste in his mouth come and exact the retribution from those who eat one species and taste many species. (Numb. 21:6:) “Fiery serpents (serafim).” [They are called serafim] because they burn (sorefim) the soul. R. Judan says, “[God] sent out the [same] serpents that the cloud of glory would burn and make into a fence for the camp to let them know the miracles that the Omnipresent had done for them.” (Numb. 21:7:) “Then the people came unto Moses and said, ‘We have sinned, since we spoke against the Lord and you.’” [They] knew that they had spoken against Moses, so they fell prostrate before him and said (ibid., cont.), “pray unto the Lord to remove the serpent126The use of the singular here may be suggesting to midrashic interpreter that this was the same serpent that sinned in the Garden of Eden. See the parallel in Numb. R. 19:23. from us.” Rabbi says, “There was one serpent.” [(Ibid., cont.:) “And he prayed.” The passage serves] to make Moses' humility known to you, in that he did not hesitate to seek mercy for them. And [it is also] to make the power of repentance known to you. As soon as they said, “We have sinned,” he was immediately reconciled to them. [The passage serves] to teach you that the one who forgives should not be cruel. And so too does it say (in Gen. 20:17), “Abraham then prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech and his wife.” And so does it say (in Job 42:10), “The Lord restored Job’s fortunes when he prayed on behalf of his friends.” And where is it shown that if one has sinned against his companion and says to him, “I have sinned,” without [the companion] forgiving him, that [the unforgiving one] is called a sinner? Where it is stated (in I Sam. 12:23), “As for me also, far be it for me to sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray on your behalf.” When? When they came and said to him, “We have sinned,” [as stated] (in I Sam. 12:10), “and [they] said, ‘We have sinned […].’” And he answered, “Far be it from me to sin.” (Numb. 21:8), “And the Lord said unto Moses, ‘Make a fiery serpent, [and put it on a pole]; then it shall come to pass that, when anyone bitten [looks at it, he shall live],” not only one bitten by a serpent, but anyone bitten, even one bitten by an adder, by a scorpion, a wild beast, or a dog. (Numb. 21:9:) “So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it up by a miracle.”127Nes. The usual rendering would read: AND SET IT UP ON A POLE (nes). However, since nes can also mean “miracle,” the midrash is understanding it in the latter sense. He tossed it into the air and it remained there. (Numb. 21:10:) “Then the Children of Israel journeyed on and camped in Oboth (Ovot, rt: 'wb),” because they had become enemies (oyevim, rt: 'yb) to the Omnipresent.128Numb. R. 19:24. (Numb. 21:11:) “And they camped at Iye-Abarim ('avarim, rt.: 'br),” because they were full of transgressions ('averot, rt.: 'br). (Numb. 21:12:) “And they camped in the Wadi Zered,” because the wadi was [only] about a full span (zeret) [in width]; but they were unable to cross it for thirty-eight years. Thus it is stated (in Deut. 2:13-14), “Now then arise and cross the Wadi Zered…. And the time that we traveled from Kadesh-Barnea until we crossed the Wadi Zered was thirty-eight years.”(Numb. 21:13:) “From there they journeyed and camped on the other side of (m'br) the Arnon (rt.: rnn),” because the Omnipresent was reconciled to them.129The argument seems to depend on the following: M‘BR is close to M‘BRH, which means, “away from transgression” or, with different voweling, “away from wrath”; while the root, RNN, means “sing” or “rejoice.”