Facing Scorpions and Serpents (Parsha Ekev)

Today’s (7/31/2021) Parsha is Ekev (Deut. 7:12-11:25). In this Parsha we read:

[3] And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live.
[4] Thy raiment waxed not old upon thee, neither did thy foot swell, these forty years.
[5] Thou shalt also consider in thine heart, that, as a man chasteneth his son, so the LORD thy God chasteneth thee.
[6] Therefore thou shalt keep the commandments of the LORD thy God, to walk in his ways, and to fear him.
[7] For the LORD thy God bringeth thee into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths that spring out of valleys and hills;
[8] A land of wheat, and barley, and vines, and fig trees, and pomegranates; a land of oil olive, and honey;
[9] A land wherein thou shalt eat bread without scarceness, thou shalt not lack any thing in it; a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills thou mayest dig brass.
[10] When thou hast eaten and art full, then thou shalt bless the LORD thy God for the good land which he hath given thee.
[11] Beware that thou forget not the LORD thy God, in not keeping his commandments, and his judgments, and his statutes, which I command thee this day:
[12] Lest when thou hast eaten and art full, and hast built goodly houses, and dwelt therein;
[13] And when thy herds and thy flocks multiply, and thy silver and thy gold is multiplied, and all that thou hast is multiplied;
[14] Then thine heart be lifted up, and thou forget the LORD thy God, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage;
[15] Who led thee through that great and terrible wilderness, wherein were fiery serpents, and scorpions, and drought, where there was no water; who brought thee forth water out of the rock of flint;
[16] Who fed thee in the wilderness with manna, which thy fathers knew not, that he might humble thee, and that he might prove thee, to do thee good at thy latter end;
(Deut. 8:3-16 KJV)

In our study on Parsha Mishpatim we learned that the pillar of fire and smoke that led Israel thru the wilderness was the Logos.

In this week’s parsha we learn that when the Logos led Israel “through that great and terrible wilderness, wherein were fiery serpents, and scorpions,” (Deut. 8:15).

Philo of Alexandria gives an excellent allegorical understanding of these scorpions and serpents. he writes:

(84) For Moses speaks to the Israelites of God, “Who led ye then through that great and terrible wilderness, where there were biting serpents, and scorpions, and thirst; where there was no water? who brought forth for thee out of the hard rock a fountain of water? who fed thee with manna in the desert, which thy fathers knew Not?” (Deut. 8:15) Do you not see that not only did the soul, while longing for the passions which prevailed in Egypt, fall under the power of the serpents, but that, also, while it was in the wilderness, it was bitten by pleasure, that affection of varied and serpent-like appearance? And the work of pleasure has received a most appropriate name, for it is called a biting.
(Allegorical Interpretation, II, 84)

(86) Moreover, the soul falls in with a scorpion, that is to say, with dispersion in the wilderness; and the thirst, which is that of the passions,…
(Allegorical Interpretation, II, 86)

The serpents represents pleasure, while the scorpions represent pain and torment. These are the two root emotions from which all other emotions spring:

According to the Hebraic Stoic work “On the Supremacy of Reason” (4Maccabees) “the two most comprehensive types of the emotions are pleasure and pain” (4Macc. 1:20)

Each of these two root emotions is part of a past-present-future, cause and effect process of three emotions each:

21 The emotions of both pleasure and pain have many consequences.
22 Thus desire precedes pleasure and delight follows it.
23 Fear precedes pain and sorrow comes after.
(4 Macc. 1:21-23)

This gives us three “pleasure” emotions: desire, pleasure and delight, and three “pain” emotions “fear, pain and sorrow.”  A seventh emotion is “anger” which is rooted in both pleasure and pain:

Anger, as a man will see if he reflects on this experience, is an emotion embracing pleasure and pain.
(4Macc. 1:24)

This is because we use anger to attempt to transform some kind of pain, into a form of pleasure. It “feels good” to blow off steam.

So the seven basic emotions are desire, pleasure and delight, fear, pain and sorrow and anger.

The manna, like the pillar of fire, represents the Logos by which we overcome dominance from these emotions. Philo writes:

(174) He says also in Deuteronomy, “And he has humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knowest not, neither did thy fathers know, that he might make thee know that man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word which proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man Life.”(Deut. 8:3.) Now this illtreating and humbling of them is a sign of his being propitiated by them, for he is propitiated as to the souls of us who are wicked on the tenth day. For when he strips us of all our pleasant things, we appear to ourselves to be ill-treated, that is in truth to have God propitious to us. (175) And God also causes us hunger, not that which proceeds from virtue, but that which is engendered by passion and vice. And the proof of this is, that he nourishes us with his own word, which is the most universal of all things, for manna being interpreted, means “what?” and “what” is the most universal of all things; for the word of God is over all the world, and is the most ancient, and the most universal of all the things that are created. This word our fathers knew not; I speak not of those who are so in truth, but of those who are grey with age, who say, “Let us give them a guide, and let us turn Back”(Num. 14:1.) unto passion, that is to say, to Egypt. (176) Therefore, let God enjoin the soul, saying to it that, “Man shall not live by bread alone,” speaking in a figure, “but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God,” that is to say, he shall be nourished by the whole word (Logos) of God, and by every portion of it. For the mouth is the symbol of the language, and a word is a portion of it. Accordingly the soul of the more perfect man is nourished by the whole word (Logos); but we must be contented if we are nourished by a portion of it.
(Allegorical Interpretation, III, 86)

So the fragment of the Logos within us, our rational minds, fed and led by the Logos (divine reason) helps us to overcome scorpions (pain) and serpents (pleasure), the two roots of all emotions, in our journey through the wilderness of this world.

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