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Snakes and Scorpions

Vayeshev (Genesis 37-40 )

by Rabbi Shraga Simmons

Parshat Vayeshev tells of Joseph being thrown by his brothers into a pit. The Torah describes the pit as being "empty and without water."

This raises a question: If the verse says that the pit was empty, why does it also need to tell us there was no water?

The answer is that there is no such thing as a completely empty pit. The laws of physics tell us that something will always permeate a vacuum. So in this case, the "empty pit" had no water, but it did contain other, dangerous elements like snakes and scorpions.

This idea manifests in our own lives as well. The "pit without water" symbolizes a life without Torah, which is often compared to water. There's no such thing as "neutral." Something will always become your god and your guide. The question is: What will it be? Will we proactively fill that space with a good, positive element? Or will we just let some other - perhaps dangerous element - determine our outlook and habits?

With the threat of terror spreading worldwide, I am reminded of the adage from Edmund Burke: "The only thing that evil needs to flourish is for good men to do nothing."

Yes, nature abhors a vacuum… and that law applies to meta-physics as well. So let's fill the space that surrounds us -- with the beautiful overflowing fountain of Torah.

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