I Heard the Snake Scream: Why We Bow in Shemonah Esrei

Many years ago, my eight-year-old daughter (now the proud mother of seven) asked me, “Daddy, why do we bow down during Shemonah Esrei?”

I thought it was a fair question. I translated it into a slightly more adult query: Why do we bow down uniquely in those four specific places in Shemonah Esrei, and with precisely what attitude do we bow?—Do we bow primarily in submission to God, i.e., with obeisance? Or are we bowing with gratitude, in thanks?

The crossword puzzle of sources that led to my answer is a lot more interesting than you might think at first blush, and I have found that it has changed my davening ever after, three times a day since. I hope it changes yours as well…


The first stop, the location of the first clue in the crossword puzzle, was obvious: Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, Hilchos Tefilah, 113— ‘Laws of the Bowings in the Blessings of Shemonah Esrei.’ Even the first paragraph gave me a little clarity. There I found that we don’t exactly bow ‘in those four specific places.’ Rather, we bow at the beginning and end of the first brachah, Avos, and the beginning and end of the penultimate brachah of Hoda’ah (Modim). So I refined my initial question: what is special about those two brachos?

Moreover, thusly stated, it seemed pretty clear bowing in Modim is a bowing of thanks, thanks for the myriad daily miracles in our lives, big and small, evening, morning, and afternoon. But still unanswered was why we bow in Avos. Are we thanking HaShem for something there as well? If so, what exactly is the object of our gratitude?

A quick look in the Talmudic source for the law in Tractate Brachos 34a (cited by the Be’er Hagolah on the margin of my Mishnah Brurah) confirmed the language and logic of the Shulchan Aruch but gave no other obvious clues.


Back to the Shulchan Aruch, the sixth paragraph caught my eye: When one bows, he should bow quickly, all at once; but when he straightens he should do so gradually, his head first, and his body following—so that it should not appear as if his bowing is burdensome to him.

I’d seen other people do that, and now I knew the source. That sounded intriguing, so I followed that clue in my crossword.

The Be’er Hagolah pointed me to Tractate Brachos 12. The first line of the Gemarah on 12b there gives us a statement seemingly based on a pun. It tells us the manner in which Rav Sheishes bowed in his Shemonah Esrei: when he bowed, he bowed like a chizra but when he straightened up, he straightened like a chivya. Chizra [חִיזְרָאְּ] and chivya [חִיוְיָא] are almost the same word, they’re a matched pun. Chizra means stick and chivya means snake. So, when Rav Sheishes bowed, he bowed like a stick but when he came up he came up like a snake. 

Rashi understands that these are ‘choreography’ instructions. Just as when one throws a stick down it goes down quickly and all in one movement, Rav Sheishes bowed quickly to show that he was pleased and delighted to be in a position of submission before God. But when he straightened he came up slowly—bit by bit—first his head, then the rest of his body, like a snake, to show that he wasn’t in such a hurry to get up from his position of submission.

But that expression “down like a stick and up like a snake” caught my attention because of its oddity. Hmmmm… Down like a stick up like a snake, down like a stick up like a snake… if I had to pick a narrative from Chumash where something went down as a stick and came up as a snake what would that story be?

When you say it that way, it becomes obvious. It’s the story of Aharon’s staff. Aharon’s staff is the one that gets thrown down as a stick, before Paro—but comes up as a snake [Shemos 7:10, quoted below].

But what does that have to do with Shemonah Esrei, and what on earth is Rav Sheishes telling us?


For the next crossword clue, I turned to my Mikra’os Gedolos in Parshas va’Eira, to see what the commentaries had to say regarding Aharon’s staff.

It’s Moshe and Aharon’s second meeting with Paro, and the first one hadn’t gone all that well—Paro had simply given them a lot more work to do, since the request to go serve their God obviously meant that they must have quite a bit of leisure time on their hands!

שמות פרק ז

 ח וַיֹּאמֶר יְ-הֹוָה אֶל-משֶׁה וְאֶל-אַהֲרֹן לֵאמֹר: ט כִּי יְדַבֵּר אֲלֵכֶם פַּרְעֹה לֵאמֹר תְּנוּ לָכֶם מוֹפֵת וְאָמַרְתָּ אֶל-אַהֲרֹן קַח אֶת-מַטְּךָ וְהַשְׁלֵךְ לִפְנֵי-פַרְעֹה יְהִי לְתַנִּין: י וַיָּבֹא משֶׁה וְאַהֲרֹן אֶל- פַּרְעֹה וַיַּעֲשׂוּ-כֵן כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוָּה יְ‑הוָֹה וַיַּשְׁלֵךְ אַהֲרֹן אֶת-מַטֵּהוּ לִפְנֵי פַרְעֹה וְלִפְנֵי עֲבָדָיו וַיְהִי לְתַנִּין: יא וַיִּקְרָא גַּם- פַּרְעֹה לַחֲכָמִים וְלַמְכַשְּׁפִים וַיַּעֲשׂוּ גַם-הֵם חַרְטֻמֵּי מִצְרַיִם בְּלַהֲטֵיהֶם כֵּן: יב וַיַּשְׁלִיכוּ אִישׁ מַטֵּהוּ וַיִּהְיוּ לְתַנִּינִם וַיִּבְלַע מַטֵּה-אַהֲרֹן אֶת-מַטֹּתָם: יג וַיֶּחֱזַק לֵב פַּרְעֹה וְלֹא שָׁמַע אֲלֵהֶם כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר יְ-הוָֹה: 


Was this an effective demonstration as a “mofeis—a miraculous sign” [Shemos 7:9]?

Apparently not. We all know Paro’s response from the Midrash [Shemos Rabba 9:6] [1]. He laughed. Laughed in derision. “What? That old trick? Who do you think you are dealing with? This is Mitzrayim—AKA Kishuf [black magic]-Central! We teach that trick in kindergarten! You expect me to be impressed by that?”

And when you think about it, Paro’s right. It looks like an entry-level stage magician’s cheap conjuring trick—because a stick is very snakelike, and a snake is very sticklike, and all it takes is the right stage prop. It ain’t much of a trick.

Now suppose—just suppose—that Aharon throws down the stick and it turns into a Tyrannosaurus Rex, stomps over to Paro’s chartumim and gobbles them up in two bites. Then he turns around with a mean look in his eye and advances on Paro, chases him into a corner, and opens his mouth wide to flash him a little toothy grin. Then, when Paro looks up, he sees blood dripping out the side of his mouth and a sorcerer’s bone sticking out like a toothpick from in between two razor-sharp canines. Then he sloooowly lowers his face down to Paro’s level so they are eye-to-eye, and then he breathes on him with his foul, fetid, rotten-meat halitosis. Thereupon Paro gulps and involuntarily soils his royal garments and looks helplessly over to Aharon---

I just bet that things would have unfolded slightly differently, hmmmmm?

Now that would be a sign! But a stick to a snake?

Puh-thetic—Can’t HaShem do any better than that?

Paro’s right.

Uhh, not so fast. Perhaps Paro, in his haste, was a little unclear regarding the point of the demonstration. Let’s not make the same error…

Interestingly, Rashi defines a few words for us.

פסוק ט

מופת. אות להודיע שיש צורך (צרוך) במי ששולח אתכם :


פסוק י

לתנין. נחש:


Is Rashi saying that it is not a demonstration of might, but rather some sort of an object lesson, regarding the Sender?

And why does he define a Tannin (Serpent) specifically as a ‘Nachash,’ and why here? I already know what a Tannin is from the fifth day of Breishis, where the word was first used in Chumash!

Curious! But when we look at Targum Yonasan ben Uziel on 7:9, we get a little more direction. Well, at least a juicy lead:


ט אֲרוּם יְמַלֵיל עִמְכוֹן פַּרְעֹה לְמֵימַר הָבוּ לְכוֹן תִּימְהָא וְתֵימַר לְאַהֲרֹן סַב יַת חוּטְרָךְ וּטְלוֹק יָתֵיהּ קֳדָם פַּרְעֹה יְהֵי לְחִיוִי חוּרְמַן אֲרוּם עֲתִידִין כָּל דַיְירֵי אַרְעָא לְמִשְׁמַע קַל צְוָוחַתְהוֹן דְמִצְרַיִם בְּתַבְרוּתִי יַתְהוֹן הֵיכְמָא דִשְׁמָעַן כָל בִּרְיָיתָא יַת קַל צְוָוחַת חִוְיָא כַּד אִיתְעַרְטִיל מִן שֵׁירוּיָא:


“When Paro will speak to you [Moshe] saying ‘show a wonder on your behalf’, you shall tell Aharon ‘Take your staff and throw it before Paro,’ it will be for a serpenty-snake—[as a predictive symbol] that all the inhabitants of the world will hear the voice of Egypt screaming when I smash them—just like all the creations heard the voice of the Nachash [Yonasan’s Aramaic: chivya] screaming when I stripped it [of its limbs] at the beginning!”


However, when we find Targum Yonasan’s source midrash in Breishis Rabba [20:5, cited by the the Peirush Yonasan on Shemos 7:9], we run into a riveting—and quite graphic—midrash, discussed below. That midrash is an agaddic expansion of the punishment that HaShem metes out to the Nachash for his role in instigating the sin of eating from the Eitz HaDa’as—the world’s very first sin, the sin that sets the pattern for every single sin to follow.

But first, notice—the sign of the Nachash was not supposed to be an impressive miracle—it was supposed to remind Paro of a bit of history that didn’t turn out very well for one of the participants. It was a warning, not a demonstration of power: “Better watch it, boy—you could end up looking just as sorry as that poor Nachash, and everybody will hear you screaming just as loudly if you persist in crossing Me!”

But Paro didn’t get it, did he?


So let’s follow Yonasan ben Uziel’s lead for the next clue in the crossword puzzle and go back. Waaay back. To the Beginning…


בראשית פרק ג

יד וַיֹּאמֶר יְ-הֹוָה אֱ-לֹהִים אֶל-הַנָּחָשׁ כִּי עָשִׂיתָ זֹּאת אָרוּר אַתָּה מִכָּל-הַבְּהֵמָה וּמִכֹּל חַיַּת הַשָּׂדֶה עַל-גְּחֹנְךָ תֵלֵךְ וְעָפָר תֹּאכַל כָּל-יְמֵי חַיֶּיךָ: טו וְאֵיבָה אָשִׁית בֵּינְךָ וּבֵין הָאִשָּׁה וּבֵין זַרְעֲךָ וּבֵין זַרְעָהּ הוּא יְשׁוּפְךָ רֹאשׁ וְאַתָּה תְּשׁוּפֶנּוּ עָקֵב:


מדרש רבה בראשית פרשה כ:ה

ה עַל גְּחֹנְךָ תֵלֵךְ [בראשית ג, יד]. בְּשָׁעָה שֶׁאָמַר לוֹ הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא עַל גְּחֹנְךָ תֵלֵךְ, יָרְדוּ מַלְאֲכֵי הַשָּׁרֵת וְקָצְצוּ יָדָיו וְרַגְלָיו, וְהָיָה קוֹלוֹ הוֹלֵךְ מִסּוֹף הָעוֹלָם וְעַד סוֹפוֹ, בָּא נָחָשׁ לְלַמֵּד עַל מַפַּלְתָּהּ שֶׁל מִצְרַיִם וְנִמְצָא לָמֵד מִמֶּנָּה, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר [ירמיה מו, כב] קוֹלָהּ כַּנָּחָשׁ יֵלֵךְ... רַבִּי אָסֵי וְרַבִּי הוֹשַׁעְיָא בְּשֵׁם רַבִּי אַחָא אָמַר לוֹ הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא אֲנִי עֲשִׂיתִיךָ מֶלֶךְ עַל הַבְּהֵמָה וְעַל הַחַיָּה וְאַתָּה לֹא בִּקַּשְׁתָּ, אֲנִי עֲשִׂיתִיךָ שֶׁתְּהֵא מְהַלֵּךְ קוֹמְמִיּוּת כְּאָדָם, וְאַתָּה לֹא בִּקַּשְׁתָּ, עַל גְּחֹנְךָ תֵלֵךְ. אֲנִי עֲשִׂיתִיךָ שֶׁתְּהֵא אוֹכֵל מַאֲכָלוֹת כְּאָדָם, וְאַתָּה לֹא בִּקַּשְׁתָּ, וְעָפָר תֹּאכַל כָּל יְמֵי חַיֶּיךָ, אַתָּה בִּקַּשְׁתָּ לַהֲרֹג אֶת הָאָדָם וְלִשָֹּׂא אֶת חַוָּה, וְאֵיבָה אָשִׁית בֵּינְךָ וּבֵין הָאִשָּׁה, הֱוֵי מַה שֶּׁבִּקֵּשׁ לֹא נִתַּן לוֹ, וּמַה שֶּׁבְּיָדוֹ נִטַּל מִמֶּנּוּ. וְכֵן מָצִינוּ בְּקַיִן וּבְקֹרַח וּבִלְעָם וּבְדוֹאֵג וַאֲחִיתֹפֶל וְגֵיחֲזִי וְאַבְשָׁלוֹם וּבַאֲדוֹנִיָּהוּ וּבְעֻזִּיָּהוּ וּבְהָמָן, מַה שֶׁבִּקְּשׁוּ לֹא נִתַּן לָהֶם, וּמַה שֶּׁבְּיָדָם נִטַּל מֵהֶם.

Breishis Rabbah 20:5

Upon your belly you shall go. At the moment the Holy One Blessed be He said regarding him ‘Upon your belly you shall go,’ the Ministering Angels ]Malachei HaShareis] descended and cut off his hands and feet, and his voice rang out [in agony] from one end of the world to the other. Came the Nachash to teach regarding the [distant future] fall of Egypt—we find to learn out from it as is said in Yirmiahu [36:22], “Her [Egypt’s] voice will go out like the snake’s [in agony, when she will be overrun and conquered by the Babylonian army]”… Rebbe Asi and Rebbe Hoshia say in the name of Rebbe Acha: Said the Holy One, Blessed be He [to the Nachash], “I made you king over the domesticated and wild animals yet you didn’t seek it [i.e., it was freely given to you without your asking]; I made you to be able to walk upright, like Adam, yet you didn’t seek it—therefore [your punishment is] ‘Upon your belly you shall go.’ I made you to be able to eat foods like Adam, yet you didn’t seek it—therefore [your punishment is] ‘And dust shall you eat all of your days.’ What you did seek was to kill the man and to wed Chavah—therefore [your punishment is] ‘And fearful hatred shall I place between you and between the Woman’.”

“That which he sought was not given to him, and that which he already possessed was taken from him. And so too, we find by Cain, Korach, Bilam, Do’eg, Achitofel, Gaichazi, Avshalom, Adoniayahu, Uzziahu, and Haman.”

What are the take-home messages? There are many!

1)    HaShem sends His Malachei HaShareis— His most prestigious malachim, the ones who carry the Kisei HaKavod itself! He sends them to torture this poor ‘snake,’ like thugs, to cut off his hands and feet [Oh, the Nachash had hands, not just four feet like a lizard— I didn’t know that!![2]]— while the Nachash is conscious and screaming bloody murder— and all the rest of Creation is looking on in shocked horror! “OMG, what did that Nachash do to deserve such barbaric treatment?”

2)    HaShem knows how to use anesthesia very well when He wants to—earlier that same day, He put Adam to sleep before operating on him to release Chavah from his side! Yet He specifically keeps the Nachash awake just so he can scream in pain and terror during his ‘surgery!’

3)    HaShem is not just punishing the Nachash—He is also playing for the crowd—to make an example of the Nachash, so all the rest of the bri’ah will hear— and see—the awful consequences of sin!

4)    From each aspect of the Nachash’s punishment we can derive his status before the sin—because each phrase deprives him of some privilege he enjoyed before the cheit!

5)    The pre-cheit Nachash is very human-like indeed: He ruled over all the animals (like Adam), He stood erect (like Adam— remember, he had hands, not paws), he ate fruit, man-food, high up in the trees, because he stood erect, had hands, and could reach it (Like Adam— all the other animals ate grass, not fruit [Breishis 1:29, 9:3]), he finds a man’s mate attractive (like Adam), and of course unlike every other creature, he can speak coherent, meaningful words—like Adam!!

6)    [parenthetically, the Midrash relates him directly to Paro and Mitzrayim, by quoting the posuk from Yirmiyahu— which is how Ben Uziel knows to reference him to the ‘sign of the snake’ in va’Eira!]

So the picture of the Nachash that emerges is that he was very much like Adam. [No wonder Chazal understand him as the yetzer hara—He IS Adam, just the ‘dark side’ of Adam!]

With just one difference. He is second in command over the entire Creation, Vice President. Only Adam himself is greater than him!

And he has a ‘fatal flaw,’ a sinister and revealing personality defect. And what is that defect? Well, whatever it is, it is the same flaw that is shared by every member on that list of ten famous sinners. Let’s see what those ten have in common.

Haman, we know. What does he want? ‘The man whom the king wants to honor? (Li’l ol’ me?) Dress him in the king’s robes, lead him on the king’s horse, place the king’s crown upon his head!’ [Esther 6:6-8]

He wants the king’s job. And nebbuch, he’s only the vice-king!

Korach, we know. “They are all Holy” [Bamidbar 16:3]—He was already a highly privileged Levi—but he wants Aharon’s job!

Cain, we know. He stood to inherit fully one half of the entire world. But he also wants Hevel’s share!

Avshalom and Adoniayahu, we know. They already had very special privilege as Dovid’s children, royal princes both. But they want Dovid’s job [Shemuel II, chap 15; Melachim I, chap 1]!

And so, too, for all 10—even Uzziahu, a righteous king. He was already king, from the tribe of Yehudah. But that wasn’t enough for him— he wanted to be Kohen Gadol as well as king [Divrei HaYamim II, Chap 26]!

Every single person on that list was already granted tremendous privilege and was truly showered with blessing without even asking for it! They should have recognized the goodness which God had given them—yet they didn’t. They wanted more.

They should have been grateful—makirei tov [recognizers of good]. Instead they adopted the opposite attitude—they were ingrates—k’fuyei tov [overturners of good]!

Now back to the Nachash—appointed vice president over the entire bri’ah—without even asking for it. Never even had to run for office!

He could have said, “Wow, You made me vice president. Number Two in all of Creation! Wow! What an honor! I don’t know what I did to deserve it, but just You wait, I’ll show You, You got exactly the right snake for the job! Thank You so much, I won’t let You down!”

But that was not at all what he said. Instead he said, “Wow, You made me vice president. Number Two in all of Creation! Number Two? That’s what You gave me? Who the heck wants to be Number Two? What You gave me was utter garbage—I don’t wanna be Number Two, I wanna be Number One! Ah, I have a plan. I’ll get Adam to sin, get him out of the way, then I’ll take Chavah. Then and only then, I’ll be Number One!”

The Nachash is a Kafui Tov— and that is at the root of all Sin!

Not exactly a trivial distinction!


OK. So that all makes sense. But what does it have to do with bowing in Shemonah Esrei, if that is what Rav Sheishes is telling us?

Well, where in Shemonah Esrei do we bow?

We bow at the beginning and at the end of two very significant brachos—the very first, and the next to the last brachah (why it’s not the very last one is a topic for another time).

Significantly those two brachos are the only ones which clearly refer to something that HaShem has already done for us in the past.

We are bowing to say, “Thank You for what you have [already] given us!”

We are bowing in thanks and showing Hakaras HaTov.

My first brachah in Shemonah Esrei is to be makir tov that I am privileged to approach the King, and particularly to have His ear and attention—Why do I have such privilege? Not because of my own personal merit! Only because I am the seed of Avraham, Yitzchok, and Ya’akov, His beloved. Not everyone has such privilege; I am one of the very lucky elite few. Thank You very much!

In Modim, we are obviously bowing in thanks, thanks for the goodness in every single moment, evening, morning and afternoon. Thank You for everything!

But what about all the stuff that comes in-between in Shemonah Esrei?

So here I am with my shopping list, everything I want that I don’t yet have from God, and I’m going to ask for it in my Shemonah Esrei—that’s why I am saying it, isn’t it? To plead for my unmet needs.

I want understanding, I want forgiveness, I want health, I want wealth, I want salvation, and I want moshiach. I want it all.

But there are two ways to ask.

For instance, in asking for health, I could just do it bluntly—but if I do so, then what am I really saying? “God, in truth You gave me some health. But what You gave me wasn’t really all that good. There’s a lot lacking—My back hurts, I have a hangnail, my stomach aches sometimes, and I limp. And we won’t even mention the big things like my heart condition or my cancer. In fact, the health You gave me was pretty mediocre—so get on the stick and serve me up some decent health, and serve it up now!”

By asking for more, better, I could simply be showing myself to be a kafui tov—regarding all the truly miraculous essential aspects of the well-being I have been blessed with.

Or I can ask differently: “God, in truth You have given me health. And what You have given me already is really, really good. Like we say in the brachah of Asher Yatzar, our essential health is maintained through myriads of complex, truly miraculous interactions with which we are blessed constantly, and of which we are only dimly aware! In fact it is so good it’s like the best meal I’ve had my whole life! It is so good I’d appreciate having some more—could I have seconds? Thirds? Fourths? Mmmmmm. This is unbelievably yummy! Thank You!”

By asking the right way, I can be a makir tov.

Comes Rav Sheishes, and says “God, I have needs. But I am not a kafui tov. I heard the snake scream! I understand very well the message that Paro did not. So for what You have already done for me, I go down like a stick, quickly, in submission and thanks. And I come up slowly, almost painfully, like a snake. Why does a snake come up that way? He has no choice, he can’t get up normally, he has no arms or legs. How did he lose them? He was a kafui tov. He didn’t deserve them. Ribono shel Olam, I am not that snake. I heard him scream, and I learned to be a makir tov. I appreciate all You have done for me, could I please have more?”

In the very manner by which Rav Sheishes bows, he teaches an important lesson.

An important lesson for our children.

An important lesson for all of us.

Train yourself to be a makir tov.

It’s a wonderful foundation for any loving relationship.

And most certainly for your relationship with your Creator, who kaviyachol loves you and blesses you daily with so much more than you could ever deserve.

It’s an attitude that makes you worthy of your station as a Jew, one who has the ear and attention of the King—not only three times a day, but every second of every minute of every hour of every…

Jew. Yehudi. One who acknowledges with Hoda’ah, thanks.

הַפַּ֙עַם֙ אוֹדֶ֣ה אֶת־יְ-הוָ֔ה עַל־כֵּ֛ן קָרְאָ֥ה שְׁמ֖וֹ יְהוּדָ֑ה [Breishis 29:35] 

It is in our titles and our very essence.

And so lastly, I thank you, Dear Reader, for being interested enough to read my humble words.

May all of your Shemonah Esrei’s be fulfilling and fulfilled!

Recorded in honor of the 22nd Yahrtzeit of Imi Morasi, Bede L. Yaffe, Beila d’Raizia bas Baruch haLevi A”H, who may not have known the components of the crossword, but who intuitively knew its solution. Niftirah 5 Shevat, 5758.


[1] וַיִּקְרָא גַּם פַּרְעֹה לַחֲכָמִים וְלַמְכַשְּׁפִים, בְּאוֹתָהּ שָׁעָה הִתְחִיל פַּרְעֹה מְשַׂחֵק עֲלֵיהֶם וּמְקַרְקֵר אַחֲרֵיהֶם כְּתַרְנְגֹלֶת, וְאוֹמֵר לָהֶם, כָּךְ אוֹתוֹתָיו שֶׁל אֱ-לֹהֵיכֶם, בְּנֹהַג שֶׁבָּעוֹלָם בְּנֵי אָדָם מוֹלִיכִין פְּרַקְמַטְיָא לְמָקוֹם שֶׁצְּרִיכִין לָהֶם, כְּלוּם מְבִיאִין מוּרְיָיס לְאַסְפַּמְיָא, דָּגִים לְעַכּוֹ, אֵין אַתֶּם יוֹדְעִין שֶׁכָּל הַכְּשָׁפִים בִּרְשׁוּתִי הֵן, מִיָּד שָׁלַח וְהֵבִיא תִּינוֹקוֹת מִן אִסְכּוֹלִי שֶׁלָּהֶם, וְעָשׂוּ אַף הֵם כָּךְ, וְלֹא עוֹד אֶלָּא קָרָא לְאִשְׁתּוֹ וְעָשְׂתָה כָךְ, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: וַיִּקְרָא גַּם פַּרְעֹה, מַהוּ גַּם, שֶׁאַף לְאִשְׁתּוֹ קָרָא וְעָשְׂתָה כֵן. וַיַּעֲשׂוּ גַּם הֵם חַרְטֻמֵּי מִצְרַיִם, מַהוּ גַּם, אֲפִלּוּ הַתִּינוֹקוֹת שֶׁל אַרְבַּע וְחָמֵשׁ שָׁנִים קָרָא וְעָשׂוּ כֵן.

[2] Note that ‘Yadayim’ in reference to a four-legged animal may in fact refer to fore-paws rather than true human-like hands. Eg, see Mishnah in Chullin 68a:

מתני׳-- בהמה המקשה לילד והוציא העובר את ידו והחזירו מותר באכילה הוציא את ראשו אע"פ שהחזירו הרי זה כילוד

However the second part of the Midrash makes it clear that the Nachash indeed had hands.