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Parshas Vayeishev - Oh Never Mind, It's Nothing.........Really? Nothing?                            25 Kislev 5781

12/11/2020 11:21:10 AM


How often is it that you might tell someone, or they tell you not to worry about something, or not to place special value on something, or  tell you that what you are doing or have done is not a big deal? For example, "You seem very upset." "No, no, it's nothing - I'm OK." "It was so nice of you to take care of the baby all day." "Oh, it was nothing, I enjoyed it." Perhaps another scenario this kind of banter takes place is when someone mumbles under his breath, just loud enough for you to hear some mumbled words, but unable to make out what was said. Then you ask the person, ”What did you say? I could not hear or understand you.” They immediately reply, ”Oh nothing, it was nothing”. Even worse for me is when a person says, “I was talking to myself.” So, I think to myself, “Ah, it was loud enough for me to know that he is talking to himself, but mumbled so that I could hear it?” I have been thinking about these situations for many years and  have come to the following conclusion: There is nothing in the world that is something which is nothing; something is something and nothing is nothing!

If something is not meant for me to hear, then talk to yourself when no one else is around. People should never downplay their words, especially when the words and their message may be significant. Words and speech are a gift given to human beings; we should always be careful not to abuse that gift - or worse - waste it. The lesson of the weight which accompanies how we use our words can be seen directly from the great Chofetz Chaim who was always deliberate in choosing his words. While I have no source for this statement, it has been said over in the name of the Chofetz Chaim  that every person is given a certain number of words to speak in this world, and when this gift of oral language is used up, our time expires.

Another case in point is the notion of how the Torah and even the commentaries such as Rashi and Rambam were precise and exact in their writing. So much so, that an enormous amount of time and effort is expended throughout our learning deciphering why a specific letter or word that seems superfluous, is, in fact, meaningful and essential.. Clearly, the Torah has no ‘extra’ words. To the contrary, the Torah She’bKsav, is written almost cryptically, requiring that the Torah She’B’al Peh to be examined, explaining why and what we each learn from these supposed extra words. One of the foremost examples will be read this week.

The Torah in this week’s Parshas Vayeishev in Bereishis 37:24 "ויקחהו וישליכו אתו הברה, והבור ריק אין בו מים"  “They [the brothers] took him [Yosef] and threw him into the well. The well was empty; there was no water in it.” The word pit in this instance is spelled chaser - missing, or omitting, the letter ‘vav’, and the very next word pit is spelled complete - including the letter ‘vav’. The Vilna Gaon explains the remez/hint regarding the  same word spelled differently. The Gr”a brings Rashi in the Gemara Shabbos 22a to the fact that the pit was empty.  Don’t we know that the pit did not have any water in it? Rashi explains: It did not have water, but it did contain snakes and scorpions. The Ramban points out that the brothers of Yosef did not know there were snakes and scorpions in the pit either. That is why the Torah first writes the word ‘pit’ without the letter ‘vav’ because they thought the pit really was completely empty - no water, no snakes and no scorpions! And then the Torah writes the word ‘pit’, including the  ‘vav’, indicating there was no water in the pit, but it DID contain snakes and scorpions. Thinking about this, it makes sense that the brothers thought it was empty.  Throwing Yosef into a pit full of water would have drowned Yosef. But if they saw there was no water but contained dangerous and lethal animals that also would have killed him. Therefore, we must conclude that they believed the pit to be completely empty. We now know the pit contained venomous creatures which likely would have killed him, but due to Yosef’s righteousness, they stayed away from him and he remained alive.

I would like to share a different angle to this portion. The intention of the Torah is to give us lifelong lessons for all generations. Water is compared to Torah. When the Torah says "אין בו מים, אבל נחשים ועקרבים יש בו"  - “There is no water, but there are snakes and scorpions”, I suggest the words "אין בו מים"  - the situation of no water being there is not the physical manifestation of the water, rather it is the spiritual void of Torah that water represents. The snakes and the scorpions are ‘bad middos’ - unscrupulous character traits.

The jealousy and animosity which the brothers felt towards Yosef was not limited to a physical confrontation. There also existed a religious battle. Yosef felt and observed all the mitzvos, both in Eretz Canaan (Eretz Yisrael) and outside, while the brothers maintained the philosophy that the mitzvos need only be followed in Israel, and now they were outside the Land. A religious battle ensued between them, and this may be highlighted in our verse. They felt there was no need for the Torah at this point, and, adding insult to injury, there could even be a lacking in middos. This may be a radical understanding of the Shivtei Kah, the holy tribes of the Jewish people, and therefore I cannot say it about them. But, when it comes to us, their children in our day and age, it might hold water.

Torah is supreme, and the learning and observance of the Torah is the key and critical element to our collective and individual existence as Jews. The fact that the pit had  no water but did contain evil, means where there is no Torah, the vacuum is filled with middos Raos and the non-fulfillment of mitzvos. Unfortunately, I have witnessed that when Torah is not the primary concern in our life, it has an adverse, ever-deepening negative effect upon ourselves, our spouses, and ultimately our children. We need to study and learn more Torah, whatever area of Torah, allowing Torah to permeate within us, making a positive influence in our lives. Without the Torah, the snakes and scorpions, which are the ills and challenges of our decaying society, will completely destroy us. Unfortunately, we are like the brothers who thought there was no water/Torah, but also did not, or could not see the snakes and scorpions, thereby becoming less observant and less attached to the Jewish people.

Our challenge today, and the fundamental lesson of Yosef and the pit, is that all of us need Torah in our lives, even though we may not see the dangers which are lurking all around. Let the light of the Candle represented by the learning of Torah keep our families above water, clear of the swarming creatures which could ultimately destroy us. The Greeks tried to kill us by enticing us to assimilate, to take on their ways.We fought them off with the guidance of Hashem.  Now,  let us fight off the modern-day Greeks of today and shine forth brightly as Klal Yisrael has done and will continue to do until the lighting of the Menorah in the Bayis Shlishi which should be built speedily in our day, Amen!

Tue, October 19 2021 13 Cheshvan 5782