A brief summary of the weekly Torah portion of “Chukat,” Part 7: Then again, the nation starts to complain about being taken from Egypt. In return, the Creator sends snakes that kill many, and then the nation asks Moses to pray for the affliction to be removed. Moses prays for them and receives instructions on how to remedy the situation with the help from a “serpent of brass.”
Throughout the entire spiritual path, a person becomes confused with multiple questions and doesn’t know what to do. He bends under this load, eliciting the appearance of “poisonous snakes,” desires for pleasure instilled into the very foundation of creation. However, by seemingly creating a “serpent of brass” a person can help himself. He begins to understand and feel that everything he perceives is not really alive, but is in fact a “statue.”
If the snakes come from the outside, they appear to be a manifestation of the Upper Force. When a person tries to create them on his own, it becomes clear to him that they have nothing to do with the Upper Force, but rather they are a product of his own imagination, and that they come to him as a silly obstacle on this path. That is why as soon as Moses crafted a serpent of brass, the problem was resolved and the people of Israel no longer had this trouble.
This is one of the ways that the Torah uses to explain to us how to defend and correct ourselves. The “brass serpent” is an extremely interesting method for taking over our “evil desires” (our egoism). We build our own opposition to enable us to acknowledge that it is only an illusion. You can tell the difference since you are the one who builds the “idol.” Call it “occupational therapy” if you want. This is how a person rids himself of the problem by evoking a “serpent” from within. It goes without saying that all these actions are internal.
A comment I received: On the one hand, it says, “Don’t make an idol,” but in this situation, it is the Creator who orders Moses to make an idol.
My Answer: This is correct. Sometimes we need to behave like we do with our children. To stop their fears, we deliberately force them to do what they are afraid of: “Let’s get closer to this dog and you’ll see that it won’t hurt you.”
You look at images and think that they are sent to you by the Creator and that a “snake” is a manifestation of the Upper Force which controls you. But the Creator says: “No, do the same thing and you’ll see that it is you who imagines it; you draw the picture of this snake. In fact, there is nothing there; it only seems like there is to you.
If you make an “idol,” you will see that it is empty, that these "poisonous snakes" that come and frighten you contain nothing except for what you put into them yourself. You created them, not the Upper Force. Build them and you’ll see that it is true. A “serpent of brass” is a cure that allows us to treat our egoistic desires correctly.
From the Evening Zohar Lesson 6/14/10