The next three parshas all have Joseph as the central character in the story. This week we read about Joseph’s famous “coat of many colours” which is given to him by his father Yaacov. The coat creates resentment and jealousy with his brothers and eventually leads to his being sold into slavery. The stage is being set for the journey of the people of Israel to Egypt; to a life of slavery and hardship.
Joseph goes to find his brothers who are tending their sheep in another town. The angry brothers see this as an opportunity to seek retribution for Joseph’s selfish behavior. However, rather than killing Joseph, they decide to throw him into a pit. When Joseph is thrown into the pit by his brothers, the Torah doesn’t just say that the pit is empty, but it repeats itself saying that, “this is a pit in which there is no water”. Rashi asks the obvious question about the verse as to why the Torah would explain that the pit had no water in it. Don’t we already know this? If it is a pit, then by definition it should be empty! Rashi answers that the pit did not have any water in it but it did hold scorpions and snakes.
Rashi’s grandson, the Rashbam, explains that the verse “containing no water”, actually comes to explain to us that the brothers put Joseph into this empty pit (imagine a very large cistern) because they really did not want Joseph to die. Nachmanides, the Ramban, suggests that there were indeed snakes and scorpions in the pit but they were not visible by the brothers. The Ramban says this because he believes that if the brothers had seen how Joseph was miraculously unharmed, they would have realized God’s divine plan. In the response of the Ramban, the phrase he uses to describe the miracle of Joseph not being harmed is “nes gadol “-a great miracle. These are the same words we see on the first two letters of our dreidel!
What might be the connection that we can find between the miracle in the pit and the miracle of Channukah? I read a beautiful idea by Rabbi Baruch Sienna which I would like to share.
“I have always read the Torah’s phrase “there was no water” to mean that Joseph would certainly die. Water is a metaphor for Torah, and across cultures a symbol of birth, life and hope. Not only did Joseph not have food or water, but he also had no family, no support system. Even God’s plan was hidden from him. He had no hope. When we are in a physical or psychological pit, we need hope. That is what the Chanukah story is about. The struggle of the Maccabees against the mighty Syrian oppressors looked hopeless, yet they prevailed. At Chanukah, too, we enter the darkest night s of the year, and we respond by lighting a candle. “(Adapted from Kolel.org)
Another idea about this verse comes from the teachings of Chassidut. “The mind and heart of man are never empty. If there is no life-nourishing “water,” there are “snakes and scorpions in it.
Taken together we understand that not only do we need to have the light of Torah in our dark hours, but we also need to realize that the wellsprings of the Torah are there for us daily. The water that we need to preserve our lives is both physical and spiritual. On Channukah, we are reminded that we need to drink from the waters of Torah to preserve our identity. But we cannot wait for the threats of others to find out who we are, or what we stand for as Jews.