In Bemidbar 21, How come Gd cured the Israelites snake bites with the nehushtan? Why cure them that way? Why not just send the snakes away (as the people had asked)?

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    Hello and welcome to Mi Yodeya. Could you edit into the question a reference to (or quote of) the passage(s) you're referring to? Feb 18, 2013 at 21:41
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    Please clarify in the question where you think God did so. Without at least minimal context, no one can know what you're asking about. I'll be more than glad to reopen the question thereafter.
    – msh210
    Feb 18, 2013 at 21:41
  • @msh210 Nechushtan is the copper snake on the staff from parshat Chukkat. Clean up comments when you get here.
    – Double AA
    Feb 18, 2013 at 23:07
  • @msh210 Did you see the above? If yes, at least edit out the request to clean up, even if you don't want to delete the rest
    – Double AA
    Feb 19, 2013 at 5:57

1 Answer 1


The reason that Moses was told to effect a cure is that people had already been bitten, and simply sending the snakes away would have been insufficient to stem the rate at which people were dying. But if you look closely at the language in 21:7, what the people were really asking Moses for was forgiveness (cf: Rashi and Or haChayim on that verse). As Or haChayim points out, forgiveness has to come before the effects of that forgiveness can come, which is why Moses needs to build a serpent for people to look at before the rest of the snakes can be taken away.

As for how the bronze serpent provided a cure, you might be interested to look at Ramban, whose interpretation is reminiscent of 19th century homeopathy (!), or consider the following passage from the Mishna:

כיוצא בדבר אתה אומר עשה לך שרף ושים אתו על נס והיה כל הנשוך וראה אתו וחי. וכי נחש ממית או נחש מחיה? אלא בזמן שישראל מסתכלין כלפי מעלה ומשעבדין את לבם לאביהם שבשמים היו מתרפאים ואם לאו היו נמוקים

Similarly [to the example brought in the first half of the mishna], "Make a fiery [serpent] and place it upon a standard so that all who are bitten may look at it and live" (Numbers 21:8). Can a [bronze] serpent kill or bring to life? Rather, whenever Israel looked upwards and humbled their hearts to their father in heaven they were healed, and if not their condition worsened.

  • Mishna, Rosh haShana 3:8
  • in terms of homeopathy and ramban, it is actually the opposite: that it would have harmed, rather than helped. see here: parsha.blogspot.com/2008/09/… Feb 19, 2013 at 0:56
  • Sorry - I wasn't meaning to imply that this is a technique that Ramban is endorsing, but that his interpretation is similar. He refers, for example, to the manner in which Torah allows one to heal poison with more of that same poison (תסיר הנזק במזיק ותרפא החולי במחליא), and while he notes that the way of medicine is contrary, his remarks concerning just how contrary it is are also reminiscent: that one who was bitten by a rabid dog might see puppies in his urine, or that one bitten by a snake might get worse just by seeing a snake's blood.
    – Shimon bM
    Feb 19, 2013 at 1:02

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