Bits of Torah Truths, Parashat Chukat, פרשת חקת, Is there a Requirement of the Law?
In Parashat Chukat there is a lot that is going on, we learn of (i) The law to deal with uncleanness, (ii) Moshe and Aaron are unfaithful to the Lord bringing water to the people, (iii) Miriam and Aaron die, (iv) Snakes bite the people due to their unfaithfulness, and (v) War with the locals (king Sihon and Og). This week’s Torah portion opens saying the following, א וַיְדַבֵּר יְהֹוָה אֶל-מֹשֶׁה וְאֶל-אַהֲרֹן לֵאמֹר: ב זֹאת חֻקַּת הַתּוֹרָה אֲשֶׁר-צִוָּה יְהוָֹה לֵאמֹר דַּבֵּר | אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְֹרָאֵל וְיִקְחוּ אֵלֶיךָ פָרָה אֲדֻמָּה תְּמִימָה אֲשֶׁר אֵין-בָּהּ מוּם אֲשֶׁר לֹא-עָלָה עָלֶיהָ עֹל: 19:1 The LORD said to Moses and Aaron: 19:2 “This is a requirement of the law that the LORD has commanded: Tell the Israelites to bring you a red heifer without defect or blemish and that has never been under a yoke. (NIV) Note here the Hebrew text states זֹאת חֻקַּת הַתּוֹרָה “this is a statute of the Torah.” Here the English translators write Moshe says this is “a requirement of the law that God has commanded.” This suggests the word חֻקַּת may be translated as a requirement of God. The way this is written in the English translation, does this present a theological difficulty based upon what we have been taught for centuries in the Church that we are not obligated to obey God’s Law? Note the requirement of our country’s laws, how one must obey in order to live at peace with others. The Apostle Paul wrote the following to the Romans saying, Romans 8:1 Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 8:2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 8:3 For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, 8:4 so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 8:5 For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. (NASB 1Οὐδὲν ἄρα νῦν κατάκριμα τοῖς ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ: 2ὁ γὰρ νόμος τοῦ πνεύματος τῆς ζωῆς ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ ἠλευθέρωσέν σε ἀπὸ τοῦ νόμου τῆς ἁμαρτίας καὶ τοῦ θανάτου. 3τὸ γὰρ ἀδύνατον τοῦ νόμου, ἐν ᾧ ἠσθένει διὰ τῆς σαρκός, ὁ θεὸς τὸν ἑαυτοῦ υἱὸν πέμψας ἐν ὁμοιώματι σαρκὸς ἁμαρτίας καὶ περὶ ἁμαρτίας κατέκρινεν τὴν ἁμαρτίαν ἐν τῇ σαρκί, 4ἵνα τὸ δικαίωμα τοῦ νόμου πληρωθῇ ἐν ἡμῖν τοῖς μὴ κατὰ σάρκα περιπατοῦσιν ἀλλὰ κατὰ πνεῦμα. 5οἱ γὰρ κατὰ σάρκα ὄντες τὰ τῆς σαρκὸς φρονοῦσιν, οἱ δὲ κατὰ πνεῦμα τὰ τοῦ πνεύματος.) The NASB translates “dikaioma” δικαίωμα as the “requirement of the Law.” Here Paul speaks of satisfying the requirements of the Torah and of being set free from the law of sin and death. These statements are very practical and tremendously important. What does Paul mean in Romans 8:4 when he says the aim of the Messiah’s death is “that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit?” Are we to believe this to mean as modern theologies teach Christ fulfilled the law for us when he obeyed it perfectly and died as the perfect sacrifice on our behalf, and so we do not have to? If we examine what Paul writes very carefully, Paul says the righteous requirement of the law is being “fulfilled in us,” not “for us” or “on our behalf,” which Paul could have said very clearly if that had been what he meant. Paul is writing that this “fulfillment” is something happening IN US, and not something that is happening to us or for us by someone else (Romans 5:19 or 2 Corinthians 5:21). Paul focuses specifically here about our lives, a reference to our living for the Lord as the way of fulfilling the righteous requirement of the Torah by walking in the Spirit. The difficulty for Christians today is found in the theology that teaches the misconception that the requirement of the Law was meant for man to earn his position and place in the covenant (earning his salvation, i.e. Dispensationalism) as opposed to having a life mixed with faith. The theologies that teach man earned his place in the covenant of God is a misrepresentation of the requirement of the Torah as is being spoken of here in this week’s Torah portion. So if this is the case, the question then is “How do we fulfill the requirement of the law as being spoken of by Paul?” The arguments brought against this interpretation is that our obedience in this life is imperfect, how can my imperfect obedience be said to fulfill God’s law which is holy and just and good. Does the Scriptures say “pretty good will do?” Has this been the argument that has led to the teachings today that the Torah is bad as opposed to what we read in the Scriptures as being holy, righteous, and true (Tehillim / Psalms 119, Romans 7). Let’s discuss these things a little further in this week’s Torah portion.
This week we are looking at Bamidbar / Numbers 19:1-12.
Bamidbar / Numbers 19:1-12
19:1 Then the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, 19:2 ‘This is the statute of the law which the Lord has commanded, saying, ‘Speak to the sons of Israel that they bring you an unblemished red heifer in which is no defect and on which a yoke has never been placed. 19:3 ‘You shall give it to Eleazar the priest, and it shall be brought outside the camp and be slaughtered in his presence. 19:4 ‘Next Eleazar the priest shall take some of its blood with his finger and sprinkle some of its blood toward the front of the tent of meeting seven times. 19:5 ‘Then the heifer shall be burned in his sight; its hide and its flesh and its blood, with its refuse, shall be burned. 19:6 ‘The priest shall take cedar wood and hyssop and scarlet material and cast it into the midst of the burning heifer. 19:7 ‘The priest shall then wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and afterward come into the camp, but the priest shall be unclean until evening. 19:8 ‘The one who burns it shall also wash his clothes in water and bathe his body in water, and shall be unclean until evening. 19:9 ‘Now a man who is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer and deposit them outside the camp in a clean place, and the congregation of the sons of Israel shall keep it as water to remove impurity; it is purification from sin. 19:10 ‘The one who gathers the ashes of the heifer shall wash his clothes and be unclean until evening; and it shall be a perpetual statute to the sons of Israel and to the alien who sojourns among them. 19:11 ‘The one who touches the corpse of any person shall be unclean for seven days. 19:12 ‘That one shall purify himself from uncleanness with the water on the third day and on the seventh day, and then he will be clean; but if he does not purify himself on the third day and on the seventh day, he will not be clean. (NASB)
א וַיְדַבֵּר יְהֹוָה אֶל-מֹשֶׁה וְאֶל-אַהֲרֹן לֵאמֹר: ב זֹאת חֻקַּת הַתּוֹרָה אֲשֶׁר-צִוָּה יְהוָֹה לֵאמֹר דַּבֵּר | אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְֹרָאֵל וְיִקְחוּ אֵלֶיךָ פָרָה אֲדֻמָּה תְּמִימָה אֲשֶׁר אֵין-בָּהּ מוּם אֲשֶׁר לֹא-עָלָה עָלֶיהָ עֹל: ג וּנְתַתֶּם אֹתָהּ אֶל-אֶלְעָזָר הַכֹּהֵן וְהוֹצִיא אֹתָהּ אֶל-מִחוּץ לַמַּחֲנֶה וְשָׁחַט אֹתָהּ לְפָנָיו: ד וְלָקַח אֶלְעָזָר הַכֹּהֵן מִדָּמָהּ בְּאֶצְבָּעוֹ וְהִזָּה אֶל-נֹכַח פְּנֵי אֹהֶל-מוֹעֵד מִדָּמָהּ שֶׁבַע פְּעָמִים: ה וְשָֹרַף אֶת-הַפָּרָה לְעֵינָיו אֶת-עֹרָהּ וְאֶת-בְּשָֹרָהּ וְאֶת-דָּמָהּ עַל-פִּרְשָׁהּ יִשְֹרֹף: ו וְלָקַח הַכֹּהֵן עֵץ אֶרֶז וְאֵזוֹב וּשְׁנִי תוֹלָעַת וְהִשְׁלִיךְ אֶל-תּוֹךְ שְֹרֵפַת הַפָּרָה: ז וְכִבֶּס בְּגָדָיו הַכֹּהֵן וְרָחַץ בְּשָֹרוֹ בַּמַּיִם וְאַחַר יָבֹא אֶל-הַמַּחֲנֶה וְטָמֵא הַכֹּהֵן עַד-הָעָרֶב: ח וְהַשֹּׂרֵף אֹתָהּ יְכַבֵּס בְּגָדָיו בַּמַּיִם וְרָחַץ בְּשָֹרוֹ בַּמָּיִם וְטָמֵא עַד-הָעָרֶב: ט וְאָסַף | אִישׁ טָהוֹר אֵת אֵפֶר הַפָּרָה וְהִנִּיחַ מִחוּץ לַמַּחֲנֶה בְּמָקוֹם טָהוֹר וְהָיְתָה לַעֲדַת בְּנֵי-יִשְֹרָאֵל לְמִשְׁמֶרֶת לְמֵי נִדָּה חַטָּאת הִוא: י וְכִבֶּס הָאֹסֵף אֶת-אֵפֶר הַפָּרָה אֶת-בְּגָדָיו וְטָמֵא עַד-הָעָרֶב וְהָיְתָה לִבְנֵי יִשְֹרָאֵל וְלַגֵּר הַגָּר בְּתוֹכָם לְחֻקַּת עוֹלָם: יא הַנֹּגֵעַ בְּמֵת לְכָל-נֶפֶשׁ אָדָם וְטָמֵא שִׁבְעַת יָמִים: יב הוּא יִתְחַטָּא-בוֹ בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁי וּבַיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי יִטְהָר וְאִם-לֹא יִתְחַטָּא בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁי וּבַיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי לֹא יִטְהָר:
Bamidbar / Numbers 21:4-9
21:4 Then they set out from Mount Hor by the way of the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the people became impatient because of the journey. 21:5 The people spoke against God and Moses, ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this miserable food.’ 21:6 The Lord sent fiery serpents among the people and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. 21:7 So the people came to Moses and said, ‘We have sinned, because we have spoken against the Lord and you; intercede with the Lord, that He may remove the serpents from us.’ And Moses interceded for the people. 21:8 Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he will live.’ 21:9 And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived. (NASB)
ד וַיִּסְעוּ מֵהֹר הָהָר דֶּרֶךְ יַם-סוּף לִסְבֹּב אֶת-אֶרֶץ אֱדוֹם וַתִּקְצַר נֶפֶשׁ-הָעָם בַּדָּרֶךְ: ה וַיְדַבֵּר הָעָם בֵּאלֹהִים וּבְמֹשֶׁה לָמָה הֶעֱלִיתֻנוּ מִמִּצְרַיִם לָמוּת בַּמִּדְבָּר כִּי אֵין לֶחֶם וְאֵין מַיִם וְנַפְשֵׁנוּ קָצָה בַּלֶּחֶם הַקְּלֹקֵל: ו וַיְשַׁלַּח יְהוָֹה בָּעָם אֵת הַנְּחָשִׁים הַשְּׂרָפִים וַיְנַשְּׁכוּ אֶת-הָעָם וַיָּמָת עַם-רָב מִיִּשְֹרָאֵל: ז וַיָּבֹא הָעָם אֶל-מֹשֶׁה וַיֹּאמְרוּ חָטָאנוּ כִּי-דִבַּרְנוּ בַיהוָֹה וָבָךְ הִתְפַּלֵּל אֶל-יְהֹוָה וְיָסֵר מֵעָלֵינוּ אֶת-הַנָּחָשׁ וַיִּתְפַּלֵּל מֹשֶׁה בְּעַד הָעָם: ח וַיֹּאמֶר יְהֹוָה אֶל-מֹשֶׁה עֲשֵֹה לְךָ שָֹרָף וְשִֹים אֹתוֹ עַל-נֵס וְהָיָה כָּל-הַנָּשׁוּךְ וְרָאָה אֹתוֹ וָחָי:
The way the Torah portion for this week is organized teaches us something in regards to the relationship of the Torah for our lives today. Parashat Chukat may be summarized in the following way:
- The requirement of the law to deal with uncleanness.
- Moshe and Aaron are unfaithful to the Lord bringing water to the people.
- Miriam and Aaron die.
- Snakes bite the people due to their unfaithfulness.
- War with the locals (Sihon and Og).
This week’s Torah portion states, זֹאת חֻקַּת הַתּוֹרָה “this is a statute of the Torah.” Here the English translators write Moshe saying there is “a requirement of the law that God has commanded.” This suggests the word חֻקַּת may be translated as a requirement of God. Consider what the Torah provides for us. The Torah provides for us lessons to be learned about life, that are described in our portion as being effective for cleansing from sins. What the Torah provides for us is the context of Teshuvah, turning from sin and the importance of turning towards the ways of God. Those who have little understanding on the matter claim the Torah calls for extreme measures for the repentant sinner. The point of the Torah commands however are that we are to strive for balance in our lives, to seek the Lord and His righteous ways, while yet relying upon the Lord for His mercy in our imperfection. This is how we are to strive to fulfill the requirement of the Torah, and how it is being fulfilled “in us” walking in the Spirit, according to the Apostle Paul, regardless that we walk imperfectly. This is not about promoting the idea of “pretty good will do.” The Lord never places a condition on us to be absolutely perfect in every way in order to maintain our salvation. The Torah speaks of maintaining our faith in the Lord and His Salvation, that is connected to our having the motivation to continue on in the faith through Teshuvah (repentance), and to seek the righteousness of God by choosing to walk in the footsteps of His Messiah.
In regards to the requirements of the Torah, the rabbis have the following to say concerning Bamidbar / Numbers 19:2.
Sforno on Bamidbar / Numbers 19:2 Part 1
When the Torah in Numbers 8,7 had spoken of the need to sprinkle the waters of “chatat” on the Levites in order to purify them before they would begin their function newly assigned to them, our sages (Yuma 16) had already referred to the procedure as a chukkah, a statute, adding that these kinds of statute must not be questioned and probed as they are in the nature of a decree issued by G’d. The wise King Solomon, when mentioning that he had striven to unravel the wisdom in this legislation admitted that he had failed, that it was beyond him. (Kohelet 7,23). The thing which is most baffling in the red heifer legislation is that most who is ritually pure becomes ritually contaminated by direct contact with it, although the whole purpose of the red heifer, its ash, etc., is to purify the people who had been ritually contaminated prior to being sprinkled with spring water containing its ashes.
However, when we examine the entire commandment in detail we find that some of the people concerned with that red heifer from the moment it has been burned after having been slaughtered become ritually contaminated, i.e. the person burning its carcass, the person collecting its ashes, as well as the ones throwing the cedar wood as well as the one using the hyssop and crimson thread. into its burnt ashes. The same applies to all those either touching the remains or carrying them.
By contrast, the person performing the sprinkling with the mixture of the ash and water as well as the one sanctifying the location where the red heifer is to be burned and the one lighting the fire prior to burning the slaughtered red heifer are not contaminated by their activities.
One of the principal conditions concerning the red heifer is the requirement that it must not even have 2 hairs that are white or black. The symbolism of the colour red is supplied by the prophet Isaiah 1,18 who writes that even if your sins are as red as certain type or wool dyed red they can become white as snow under certain conditions of remorse.
Our sages considered this line so important that they used to tie a red string to the entrance of the Sanctuary when the scapegoat was thrown down on the Day of Atonement. This string would turn white as proof that the people’s sins had been forgiven. When this happened the people would rejoice for the remainder of that day, whereas when it failed to turn white they would be greatly saddened. (Yuma 67)
We must remember that seeing that in the words of Solomon (Proverbs 30,5) אמרת ה’ צרופה, “everything G’d has said is absolutely pure, refined,” He has no doubt kept in mind that all extremes are looked upon with disfavor so that His legislation must represent what Maimonides called the “golden mean.” Solomon himself described any perversion as something deserving total failure. (compare Proverbs 28,18).
Sforno speaks of the command on the waters of Chatat for the cleansing from uncleanness. He speaks of choosing to follow God’s ways and parallels this to attempting to rectify something that has become bent out of shape. He then describes what happens when a man attempts to bend what was bent in the opposite direction in order to straighten (make right what went wrong). This interestingly enough will not restore a bent object to its previous condition due to the stress and strain on the material (i.e. think of physical properties of a piece of metal). This is what happens in our lives too, when we sin, the stress and strain of sin changes us fundamentally on the inside. Sforno says the procedure in the Torah is meant to completely reverse what was done in order to straighten out what went wrong. The point is the Torah command of the waters of Chatat, the ash of the red heifer was effective in the context of ritual impurity only when the ritual impurity was caused by direct or indirect contact with a dead person’s body. Any other kind of ritual contamination, such as blood of menstruation, dead creeping things, and a number of other causes leading to ritual defilements are not treated by the procedure described here. The Torah is trying to teach us something in regards to sin and death The purification ritual, these waters are described as a mixture composed of two extremes, the residue of pure water and the ashes of death. Sforno states merging these two extremes (symbolically) is the way of regaining the path known as the “golden mean.” This is what it means to strive for balance in our lives by seeking the Lord and His righteous ways in the Torah in the midst of our imperfections. This combination teaches us that this “golden mean” is a description of our imperfect lives that are balanced in faith and repentance, that is coupled to our striving to walk in God’s ways of righteousness, holiness, and truth. Note how these things are met with our reliance upon the mercy of God (His grace). Sforno states the Lord God considers טהרה, ritual purity, as spelled out in the Torah’s description of the function of the Day of Atonement, מכל חטאתיכם לפני ה’ תטהרו “you will become purified from all your sins before (against) the Lord,” (Vayikra / Leviticus 16:30). There are many aspects to this command which yields valuable lessons for our lives as God’s people. The most important point is that we are imperfect creatures and need to daily seek the mercy of God! We are called to walk in the service of the Lord according to His word as we look forward to being with the Lord God of Israel and His Messiah in the world to come. Our obedience to the Torah is preparation for this future expectation.
Because of the anti-Torah theologies of today, the condition of the people of God is riddled with divorce, teenage pregnancy and illicit drug usage, etc which mirrors those of secular society. For example, the anti-Torah theologies have led to problems in the teaching and understanding of Scripture in relation to the issue of homosexuality “still being sin.” No longer are homosexuals staying away from Christianity. Rather, they are challenging Christianity’s hypocrisy regarding the “Law of God,” using the Christian argument that the Law is done away with, and that we are now under the “law of love.” These problems are symptoms of a much greater problem, that the Christian church is not built upon the rock of Torah coupled with the Messiah, rather it is built upon the shifting sands of anti-Torah doctrines (see Matthew 7:24-27) that stand in opposition to Yeshua teachings to listen and obey the Torah. The question is did Yeshua Consider a Relationship to Torah to be Important? The modern theologies today would say, “No, we are saved by faith alone, so all of this ‘Torah is for believers’ stuff is not important.” I have had family say this very thing. This brings out an important point about the Gospel message. According to the Apostolic Writings, the Gospel Message is much broader than one may realize due to the modern theologies today. If we examine Paul’s teachings in his epistles, note the number of topics Paul speaks and teaches upon. In Romans 1:8-15, Paul says of the Romans their faith in Yeshua is known throughout the world. He then states that he hopes to go to Rome and preach to them the Gospel Message. The question is however, based upon modern theologies, if they have faith that Yeshua is the Messiah, they have been taught the Gospel Message. What is Paul talking about when he says that he is eager to preach to them the Gospel Message? To teach it again? This is the Gospel message, Paul believes the Gospel Message is related to how to live for the Lord, how to live with one another, our relationships with those who are around us, including those of our enemies, and how these things are related to our relationship with God. The Torah teaches us these things are all connected to our relationship with the Lord. The point is that there is a problem in the modern church’s definition of “faith.” The modern Christian definition of “faith” is not the same as that of the Jewish Messiah and His first century Jewish contemporaries and the Jewish writers of the Apostolic Writings. The Christian definition is concerned with what you believe, whereas in Judaism, the focus is on a relationship that is grounded in trust and obedience to the Torah. The book of James stresses this point particularly in James 2:19, where he states that “believing” in God is meaningless if one divorces faith from a trusting relationship that is grounded in the works of the Torah. Yeshua clearly states this view according to Matthew 5:17-7:28 by establishing two facts, (i) If you think any of the Torah is done away with, you are mistaken. (Matthew 5:17-18) and (ii) If you teach people that they do not have to regard the Torah, you will answer to Him. (Matthew 5:19-20) Yeshua concludes these passages by expanding upon what he is saying, and speaks of a future time when certain people will not be allowed into heaven because they practice lawlessness (anomia, ἀνομία) (Matthew 7:21-23). Note something about the significance of his statements in Matthew 7, at this point when certain people will not be allowed into heaven, does he rebuke these people for “not believing He is the Messiah?” Or, “not having invited Him into their hearts?” Or, “not having said the ‘sinner’s prayer?’” NO! He states they who practice lawlessness (anomia, ἀνομία) will not enter into his kingdom. Ever wonder what Law they have violated in their lawlessness? If we study the context of what Yeshua is speaking of in Matthew 7:21-23, he is expounding upon the Torah. Note that the same Greek word for lawlessness, anomia (ἀνομία), is used in 1 John 3:4, to describe those who commit sin, and in 2 Thessalonians 2:7, to describe the anti-Messiah who is opposed to God’s truth. These people Yeshua is speaking to at a future time in Matthew 7 are not unbelievers (pagans or atheists). He is speaking to those who are in the church and they are shocked when he rebukes them. They claim to be a part of his people calling him Lord. This reveals to us something very dangerous. There is a religion contained within Christianity of a people who “say” they are followers of the Messiah, but claim they no longer have a relationship to the Torah that meets the descriptions of Matthew 7:23. The scary point is that the church theologies meet this description. The idea is that the church itself could be in grievous error regarding God’s Word in regards to what it means to have true faith in the God of Israel. The scarier concept here is the very theology of “the Church” as described as having begun at Pentacost, neglects the fact that the ekklesia is the Kahal of Israel, and is a product of the anti-Torah and anti-God-of-Israel replacement theology of today. This is a serious problem since this is a willful Scripture mistranslation and deception (anti-Torah theologies) that have been taught for thousands of years. The interesting thing is, in light of all of these things, people will continue in their error and unfaithfulness.
In the narrative for this week’s Torah portion, we read the people continuing in their unfaithfulness and the Lord brought serpents to turn them away from their unfaithfulness. Rashi has the following to say concerning this portion of the Scriptures.
Rashi on Bamidbar / Numbers 21:8 Part 1
על נס. עַל כְּלוּנָס, שֶׁקּוֹרִין פירק”א בְּלַעַז, וְכֵן “וְכַנֵּס עַל הַגִּבְעָה” (ישעיהו ל’), “אָרִים נִסִּי” (שם מ”ט), “שְׂאוּ נֵס” (שם י”ג); וּלְפִי שֶׁהוּא גָּבוׂהַּ לְאוֹת וְלִרְאַיָּה, קוֹרְאוֹ נֵס: על נס means [SET IT] UPON A POLE which is termed perche in O. F. Similar is, (Isaiah 30:17) “And like a polo (banner) upon the hill”; (Isaiah 49:22) “I will lift up my pole (banner)”; (Isaiah 13:3) “Lift up a banner.” Because it is lofty so that it can serve as a sign and as evidence of something it is called נס, something raised on high (cf. Rashi on Exodus 20:17).
Rashi on Bamidbar / Numbers 21:8 Part 2
כל הנשוך. אֲפִלּוּ כֶלֶב אוֹ חֲמוֹר נוֹשְׁכוֹ הָיָה נִזּוֹק וּמִתְנוׂנֶה וְהוֹלֵךְ, אֶלָּא שֶׁנְּשִׁיכַת הַנָּחָשׁ מְמַהֶרֶת לְהָמִית, לָכַךְ נֶאֱמַר כַּאן וְרָאָה אֹתוֹ — רְאִיָּה בְעָלְמָא — וּבִנְשִׁיכַת הַנָּחָשׁ נֶאֱמַר “וְהִבִּיט” — וְהָיָה אִם נָשַׁךְ הַנָּחָשׁ אֶת אִישׁ וְהִבִּיט וְגוֹ’ — שֶׁלֹּא הָיָה מְמַהֵר נֶשֶׁךְ הַנָּחָשׁ לְהִתְרַפְּאוֹת אֶלָּא אִם כֵּן מַבִּיט בּוֹ בְּכַוָּנָה; וְאָמְרוּ רַבּוֹתֵינוּ וְכִי נָחָשׁ מֵמִית אוֹ מְחַיֶּה? אֶלָּא, בַּזְמַן שֶׁהָיוּ יִשְׂרָאֵל מִסְתַּכְּלִין כְּלַפֵּי מַעְלָה וּמְשַׁעְבְּדִין אֶת לִבָּם לַאֲבִיהֶם שֶׁבַּשָּׁמַיִם הָיוּ מִתְרַפְּאִים, וְאִם לַאו הָיוּ נִמּוֹקִים (ראש השנה כ”ט): כל הנשוך ANYONE THAT IS BITTEN — even though a dog or ass had bitten him, he felt the effects of the injury and became enfeebled more and more (cf. Tanchuma); only that the bite of a serpent kills more speedily. On this account it is stated here: וראה אתו, “whoever has been bitten, when he seeth it, [shall live]” — a mere glance sufficed to heal him. But in the case of the serpent’s bite it is stated והביט, and he gazed — “and it came to pass that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he gazed [at the brazen serpent, he lived]”, for the serpent’s bite was not so quick to heal unless he gazed intently (cf. Jerusalem Talmud Rosh Hashanah 3:9). — Our Rabbis said: But could the copper serpent cause death or life?! But the explanation is that when the Israelites in gazing at the serpent looked up on high and subjected their hearts to their Father in Heaven, they were healed, but if they did not do this they waste away (Rosh Hashanah 29a).
Yeshua used these Scriptures in reference to himself being lifted up and all men being drawn to him. Because of our unfaithfulness, the Lord God of Israel brought His Messiah and lifted Him up in a similar way in order to draw men to Himself. Rashi states that when the bronze serpent was lifted up, men were not merely to glance upon the image to be healed. They needed to gaze intently with purpose and faith upon the one being lifted up in order for the serpent bite to be healed. The explanation is through this image the people were to subject their hearts in repentance to their Father in heaven in order to be healed. This is the point and purpose of the Torah in our lives that directs us to the Messiah, the One who was lifted up on our behalf. We are to gaze intently with purpose and faith, and to subject our hearts in repentance to the Father in heaven. The Torah instructs us to subject our hearts and our lives to the Lord God of Israel by walking in the footsteps of Yeshua the Messiah. This includes dying to self, putting to death this sinful body. This is part of our gazing intently upon the Messiah, believing by faith, and orchestrating our lives to fall in line with God’s word as His people. This week’s Torah portion details these things for our lives providing us the context of Teshuvah, turning from sin and turning toward the ways of God. We are called to strive for balance in our lives, to seek the Lord and His righteous ways, while yet relying upon the Lord for His mercy in our imperfection. This is how we are to live, to fulfill the requirement of the Torah, and how it is being fulfilled “in us” according to the Apostle Paul. This is not about promoting the idea of “pretty good will do,” because the Lord never places a condition on us to be absolutely perfect in every way in order to maintain our salvation. Note how this is a foundational teaching of modern theologies which state man was imperfect and so the Lord had to bring His Messiah for the gift of grace thus canceling the Law. The Torah leads us in the way of turning and returning to faith in the God of Israel. We are called to be motivated by love to continue on in the faith through Teshuvah (repentance), and to seek the righteousness of God by choosing to walk in the footsteps of His Messiah. We are motivated by the love of God and His Messiah to live our lives for the Lord and to seek the Lord’s help to do so. This is why Yeshua said “Go and make disciples of all nations.” (Matthew 28:19) We do so according to God’s Word and instruction on how to live for the glory of God.