I had work for a while.
The women donated mirrors
and I made the basin for the place
where God's presence dwells.
Since then I've tended goats.
What else is there
for a coppersmith to do
in this unsettled wilderness?
I missed the tasks of forging
but no one becomes free
without some sacrifice.
Still, others grumble.
They say Moshe dragged us here
to feed his ego. They bitch
if Moshe and God really cared
we would never have left Egypt.
In response God sent snakes.
Wailing spread across the camp
as limbs blackened and puffed up,
as puncture wounds putrefied.
The families of the bitten
begged Moshe to seek God's help.
As though they hadn't slandered him
to anyone who would listen.
As though their attributions
wouldn't wound him, wouldn't
bruise his human heart.
I don't know how he set that aside
but this morning he instructed me
to go to the men for their bracelets.
I crafted a curling snake
as copper-red as tongues of fire.
Moshe said "mount it on a miracle."
A flagpole was the best I could do.
When the snakebit looked upon it
their wounds disappeared.
How did the snake I myself made
channel healing from the One?
Remembering now, my hands shake.
I want to return to my goats.
This poem arises out of this week's Torah portion, Chukat. The people rebel against Moshe and God, and in response God sends a plague of poisonous snakes. When the people ask Moshe to intercede, God tells Moshe to make a copper snake and that those who look upon it will be healed.
Reading the parsha this year, I find myself wondering about the anonymous smith who made the נְחַ֣שׁ נְחֹ֔שֶׁת / the copper snake. This year I'm also feeling a lot of empathy for Moshe, who both leads and serves a community that repeatedly speaks ill of him and of their journey.
During the class I'm teaching on midrash (we're both reading and discussing classical midrash, and writing midrash of our own), this poem is what I've been working on during our writing time.
The opening stanza references a teaching from Rashi, that the Israelite women donated their copper mirrors in order for them to be hammered into the washbasin and laver for the mishkan, the place where God's presence dwelled within and among the people.