Rabbi O’s Weekly Parsha: Chukas (Numbers 19:1-22:1)Who Calls the Shots?

There is a belief that the reason why men typically have messier living spaces than women is because men don’t see the same mess that women do. Men and women can look at the same home and the men can conclude that it is messy and the women won’t. A studyconducted almost two years ago debunked that belief. It had subjects, both men and women, look at pictures of tidy homes and of messy homes and rate its messiness. Men and women gave similar scores, thus debunking the “dirt-blind” myth. The researchers then hypothesized that one factor in men having messier homes is that they aren’t held to the same standard as women. The researchers showed these pictures of tidy and messy rooms to participants and told some of them that this was “John’s room” and some that this was “Jennifer’s room.” The participants were more likely to rate the same room as messy if they thought the room belonged to a woman than if they thought it belonged to a man. While the fact women are expected to maintain a clean home more than men in and of itself is interesting and ripe for discussion, in a more general sense, studies like these highlight the fact that sometimes we can look at a phenomenon and attribute one cause to it when we should really be looking at a different cause. 
When our ancestors were weary from their long desert sojourn, they began to lose faith in G-d and started complaining. G-d sent a plague of fiery serpents. After many people died, they admitted their mistake and asked to be forgiven. Here’s what G-d told him.
Make for yourself a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole; and it shall come to pass, that everyone that is bitten, when he sees it, he shall live” (Numbers 21:8).
The Talmud asks, can an inanimate serpent be a source of life or death? “Rather, when the Jewish people turned their eyes upward and subjected their hearts to their Father in Heaven, they were healed, but if not, they perished…
If the whole point was to get the Jewish people to look to the heavens, why did they need a copper snake in the first place? It seems that the copper snake contained medicinal powers and the Almighty wanted them to look to the heavens specifically while engaging in the act of trying to heal themselves. While engaging in the natural world, we tend to be drawn away from looking at the root cause of our health and success. The goal of the copper snake was to teach the Jewish people that the natural order and belief in G-d are not two conflicting ideas but that they work together. 
As society advances,  we discover new things about what makes things work. It could be something as simple as why men are messier than women or something as complex as quantum physics. The more we know, the more we are drawn to the belief that we can explain everything based on science. Does that belief necessarily draw us away from the belief that G-d is the root cause of everything? Not necessarily; with the right outlook, it should lead us to understand the world from the perspective that G-d created a complex world to conquer and discover while simultaneously realizing that He is really calling the shots. 
Good Shabbos
(Sources: Mishna, Rosh HasShana 29a; Sfas Emes, Chukas 5636)

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