Life and light are often paired together. We seek life, and we seek light. Yet sometimes we seem to hit a patch of darkness. The darkness may be outside, or it may also be inside. What happens then? We try to illuminate the darkness, to change dark to light. The new light is very beautiful, stronger than ever.

An incident in the Torah reading of Chukat (Numbers 19:1–22:1) expresses this idea, when looked at through the lens of the teachings of the sages. In itself, the incident is mysterious and supernatural, but it does not take long to describe.

The Jewish people—traveling through the desert towards the Promised Land, and now close to the end of their journey—began complaining, speaking against G‑d and against Moses. The result was that they were beset by poisonous snakes which attacked them, and many died. The people came to Moses and apologized for their complaints: “We were wrong to speak against G‑d and against you.” In order to heal them, G‑d told Moses to make a copper serpent and put it up on a pole. Anyone bitten by a snake would look up at the copper serpent and be healed.1

The Torah, with its laws and its stories, teaches us about the possibilities in our inner lives. Complaining against G‑d and Moses means entering a dark and negative realm. There are different ways this might happen in our lives today, such as giving in to the wrong kind of temptation. This might even lead to us seemingly being trapped in a very negative situation, feeling that we are “stuck,” unable to break free. Really this means we are trapped in our own inner darkness, the opposite of life and of light.

Darkness of this kind comes from the serpent, the force of evil and spiritual darkness described in the book of Genesis, which is also the source of death. Are we defenseless against this force?

No. The power of repentance reaches to the infinity of G‑d, beyond the darkness, with the power to change dark to light, death to life. The Jews in the desert regretted what they had said, and they were given the opportunity to reach to G‑d with the full power of repentance. The sages tell us that the purpose of setting up a copper serpent on a pole was a cue to the Jewish people to lift their eyes and their hearts heavenwards, reaching to G‑d, knowing that G‑d is infinitely beyond the serpent, the force of evil and death.2 From G‑d comes infinite goodness and life.

By reaching to G‑d in this way, they were able to draw life and light into their own selves, bringing them healing, and also into the world as a whole.

The account of the mysterious incident in the Torah is teaching us that we too can do the same. There may be patches of darkness in our lives and in the world around us. Through renewed connection to G‑d, by each of us individually and by the Jewish people as a whole, these can be transformed. We can bring about a world of goodness, of light and of life.3

Imparting this message to our generation was the life’s work of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson. The Rebbe believed that the luminous teachings of the Torah have boundless power to transform our own lives and, ultimately, the lives of all humanity. May his memory be a blessing.