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Not too hot, not too cold - we should serve G-d just right

5:5 Snakes and Scorpions

5:5 Snakes and Scorpions

Not too hot, not too cold - we should serve G-d just right

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"Ten miracles were done for our forefathers in the Temple...never did a snake or scorpion do harm in Jerusalem…" (Avot 5:5)

Although this was true of all of Jerusalem, the author of the Mishna counts this as one of the ten miracles that took place in the Temple. The reason: this miracle took place so that the joy of the Festivals - which was connected to the offering of sacrifices in the Temple - would not be marred. When a person's fear of G‑d is complete, there is no possibility of being attracted to…
worldly things…

The pilgrimage to Jerusalem and to the Temple was accompanied by great joy - i.e. the verse "You shall rejoice in your Festivals". Our Sages explain that partaking of the meat of the Peace offerings played an essential part in this joy. Had the participants been harmed by snakes and scorpions, their joy would have been severely dampened, and to prevent that happening, this miracle took place.

The miracle was not that here were no scorpions and snakes in Jerusalem at all. On the contrary, they continued to occupy their usual habitats, and even harmed animals. However, they did no harm to the Jewish people.

1. In order to prevent wild animals from harming people, the sentries around the city merely had to close the gates in the wall surrounding Jerusalem. Similarly, people could protect themselves against harmful flying creatures by closing their windows.

2. To prevent snakes and scorpions from existing in Jerusalem required a great miracle. However, the Holy One, blessed is He, does not do miracles for nothing. In order to avoid affecting the joy of the Festivals it was sufficient to cause a miracle that snakes and scorpions would do no harm, even though they continued to exist.

Snakes and scorpions in the soul:

The letters of the word "Jerusalem", in Hebrew, "Yerushalayim", allude to "consummate fear (of G‑d)" - in Hebrew, "Yira Shlema". The poison of a snake tends to cause high fever, while the poison of a scorpion causes a person's temperature to drop so that he feels very cold. Jerusalem binds and unites all of the Jewish people…

"Never did a snake or scorpion do harm in Jerusalem" - when a person's fear of G‑d is complete, there is no possibility of being attracted to and ignited by worldly things (a snake's poison), nor cooled down in spiritual matters (a scorpion's poison).

On the verse, "Jerusalem! Built as a city where everyone gathers together" (Psalms 122:3), our Sages comment that Jerusalem binds and unites all of the Jewish people, whereas regarding a snake the verse states, "I will make hatred between you and the woman" (Gen. 3:15) - suggesting that a snake symbolizes the idea of dissension and hatred.

"Never did a snake or scorpion do harm in Jerusalem" - in Jerusalem which unites the Jewish people, there was no place for raging conflicts symbolized by the hot poison of the snake, nor for separation between man and man which comes about through coldness and aloofness, symbolized by the cold poison of the scorpion.

[Adapted from Sicha Chukat-Balak 5736; Biurim l'Pirkei Avos, p. 145-147, selected from the anthology by Eliyahu Touger, "Pirkei Avos in the Light of Chassidus"]

Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory
Rabbi Eliyahu Touger is a noted author and translator, widely published for his works on Chassidut and Maimonides.
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