If you found an object from the 1300s it would be pretty interesting. Still, in Israel, a land full of archeological marvels, 700 years is not a long time.
The Gemara in Chullin (6b) relates that the copper snake that Moshe Rabbeinu was commanded to form lasted over 700 years. The Torah tells us in Parashas Chukas that while in the Wilderness, the Bnei Yisrael complained about the manna and spoke against Hashem and Moshe Rabbeinu. As a punishment, Hashem sent snakes to bite the offenders. Moshe entreated Hashem to have mercy on His nation, whereupon Hashem told Moshe to fashion a snake. Whoever looked at that copper snake was miraculously cured.
Unfortunately, over 700 years later, in the times of Chizkiyahu, people were worshipping the copper snake and treating it as an idol with powers. Chizkiyahu therefore had it destroyed. R’ Yehuda HaNasi raised an interesting question. Assa and Yehoshafat were both righteous kings. They led national campaigns to eradicate idol worship and destroyed any idols that were discovered. Why didn’t they destroy the copper snake? Didn’t they realize that it was a stumbling block and may eventually be used as an idol?
The copper snake served as a reminder of the miracle that Hashem performed. It recalled the time that the multitudes of people bit by the venomous snakes were miraculously healed. They reasoned that the benefit of reminding people of the miracle outweighed the concern of any possible future use of the snake as an idol. The Chassam Sofer opined that this was an erroneous conclusion. Hashem decreed that the righteous kings should make this mistake in order to allow their descendant Chizkiyahu a time to shine.
The Gemara states: “His ancestors left Hezekiah room through which to achieve prominence [lehitgader].” Destroying the snake back then would have been the proper course of action, but Hashem wanted Chizkiyahu to achieve prominence and therefore caused his ancestors to err and thereby leave it for him.
The Chovos HaLevavos warns in Sha’ar Yichud HaMa’aseh against innovations in Judaism. He writes, “Therefore, be careful that your steps not stray from the path of the forefathers and the path of the early ones towards a new path you have devised, and be careful to not rely on your intellect nor to take counsel only with yourself. Do not reason on your own. Do not distrust your forefathers in the tradition they bequeathed to you as to what is good for you. Do not reject their advice in what they taught you because none of the plans you can think of were not previously known and their good and evil consequences were already weighed.”
Yet, from the Gemara in Chullin we see that Chizkiyahu did stray from the path of his fathers. Two righteous ancestors of his decided that the copper snake should not be destroyed and yet he did destroy it. Chizkiyahu respected his ancestors and their decisions but concluded that he was right nevertheless. Indeed, the Gemara records that his ancestors only erred because Hashem decreed it.
Throughout our long Jewish history there are always people who want to introduce innovations — the Mussar movement and the Chassidic movement, for example. The Chovos HaLevavos warns them to tread carefully. Why introduce a new movement that wasn’t previously introduced? However, if a talmid chacham concludes that the new ideas are needed now, he may proceed, as we see from the Gemara in Chullin.
Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow leads a daf yomi chaburah at Eitz Chayim of Dogwood Park in West Hempstead. He can be contacted at ASebrow@gmail.com.