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D’var Torah: Parashat Chukat

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In this week’s D’var Torah for Chukat, the Chief Rabbi explains why the symbol of the medical profession is taken from our Parasha.

The symbol of the BMA (The British Medical Association), as is the case with many other medical organisations, is a serpent on a staff. The origin of this symbol is in Parashat Chukat.

The Torah tells us how Bnei Yisrael, the Israelites, expressed ingratitude for the Manna that fell miraculously from heaven for them to eat. Hashem responded by sending fiery serpents into the camp. Many were afflicted by the venom of their bites. The nation turned in Teshuvah. They repented and recognised where they had gone wrong. And Moshe appealed to Hashem to save those who needed healing. So Hashem said to Moshe to take one of the serpents, place it high up on a pole and he will see, when those afflicted will look up to the serpent they will be healed. That is exactly what happened.

The Mishna, in Masechet Rosh Hashana, asks the obvious questions. “V’chi Nachash Meimit O’ Nachas Mechayeh? – Does the serpent have the capacity to give life or to take life?”

And the Mishna explains what really happened was that when those people looked upwards to the serpent on the pole, their hearts were being inclined towards heaven. They were really turning to the Almighty Himself. And it was Hashem who saved them through the serpent.

It is a bit like a Mezuzah. We look at our Mezuzas, treasure and cherish our Mezuzas, we touch our Mezuzas, and we kiss our Mezuzas. However, we recognise that it is Hashem who is “Shomer Daltot Yisrael-the Guardian of the doors of Israel.” It is Hashem who is protecting our homes through the Mezuzah.

By remembering that passage in our Parasha and having the image of a serpent on a staff ,we now recognise what a suitable symbol it is that many medical organisations have.

In this way, we appreciate the role of doctors and of all medical staff. They are simply extraordinary men and women, who selflessly devote their lives to caring for us and to help us to have the gift of life. Ultimately, however, we need to recognise that all medical practitioners are the ‘Shlichim’. They are the representatives, the agents, of the Almighty. This is because what the Torah says in Parasha Beshalach, is true. “Ki Ani Hashem Rofecha.” It is Hashem who is the true doctor for us all.

Shabbat Shalom