Vol 15.45 Vayeshev 4 - Chanukah                       Spanish French Audio  Video

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“There was no water, yet there were snakes and scorpions in it.” (In the section of Chanukah in the Talmud (Shab. 22a) the reason that the Torah is compared to water in the connection to Chanukah (5737)


 In the explanation of the passage: “And the pit was empty, there was no water in it” We find in the Talmud (in the section of Chanukah): “ R. Kahana also said, R. Nathan b. Minyomi expounded in R. Tanhum's name: Why is it written, and the pit was empty, there was no water in it? From the implication of what is said, 'and the pit was empty', do I not know that there was no water in it; what then is taught by, 'there was no water in it'? There was no water, yet there were snakes and scorpions in it.”

On the simplest level, the reason the Talmud brings the drasha (exegesis) (on “And the pit was empty etc.) in the section of Chanukah is because this drasha was stated by the same author of the previous drasha (“R. Kahana said, R. Nathan b. Minyomi expounded in R. Tanhum's name: If a Hanukkah lamp [is placed above twenty cubits from the ground it is unfit, like sukkah and a cross-beam over the entrance of an alley.]”) But as it has been stated many times, every aspect of Torah is exact, therefore – when the Gemara brings a drasha in a specific section, it is not (just) because of a related aspect (the same author) but rather because the drasha has a topical connection to the section in which it is brought.
Therefore, it is also understood in our case, that there is a relevance in subject matter between the (aforementioned) drasha to Chanukah ; And specifically according to the Shaloh’s statement at the beginning of our Parsha, that the Parshiot Vayeshev, Mikeitz, and Vayigash have a connection to Chanukah – and the passage : “And the pit was empty, there was no water in it” is in Parshot Vayeshev.
2. Chazal state: 'ein mayim ela Torah' (all water is a reference to Torah. (Baba Kama 17a). Therefore it is understood that when the Torah states “water” it is also a reference to “Torah”. And specifically in the passage: “and the pit was empty, there was no water in it” it is explained in the Midrash that it is referring to Torah: “’the pit was empty’ – the pit of Jacob was emptied, ‘there was no water in it’ - there was no words of Torah which are compared to water etc.”
And this is also the inner meaning in Chazal’s statement, “there was no water in it, but there were snakes and scorpions in it.” [And specifically the Midrash brings both explanations – 1) “There was no water in it, but there were snakes and scorpions in it.” and 2) ‘There was no water in it’ - there was no words of Torah which are compared to water etc.” – one subsequent to the other]
When one is in a situation of “there are no words of Torah in it” (‘there was no water in it’) it automatically becomes “snakes and scorpions in it” – and there is no middle ground. Namely, the downside of “there are no words of Torah in it” is not just that one is devoid of Torah (and he can remain “full” with secular things) but rather in his “pit” there will automatically inhabit “snakes and scorpions”, things that are contrary and opposed to holiness.
Similar is the explanation of the Baal Shem Tov on the passage: “and you turn and serve other gods, and worship them.” That when man separates himself from G-d, he immediately worships idols and there is no intermediary
It is therefore understood, why the Torah does not explicitly state that “there were snakes and scorpions in it.” Rather we learn it from (an outcome of) ‘there was no water in it’ because this is something that we do not have to specify - for “snakes and scorpions in it.” is a direct outcome of ‘there was no water in it’.
And therefore the Midrash brings the two explanations in one paragraph: One explanation is dependent and learned from the other explanation. That which “there were snakes and scorpions in it.” is taken directly from ‘there was no water in it -“there are no words of Torah in it”. And from this reason, it caused an aspect contrary to Torah - to the sale of Joseph.
3. Seemingly one could ask: Agreeably, according to the explanation of the Baal Shem Tov on the passage: “and you turn and serve other gods, and worship them.” which speaks concerning the essential between Jews and G-d - it is understood that the more one (“turns”) distances himself from (the connection with) G-d , that it is immediately an aspect of “opposite” – “ and you serve” - “he immediately worships idols (at least idol worship in small measure)
But in our case, which speaks about the lack of Torah (“water”) - what is the force to argue that since there is not Torah there perforce must be a situation of “snakes and scorpions” and opposition to Torah?
Also one must understand: it is known that Joseph’s brothers held that according to law, Josephwassubject to the death penalty (considering that “Joseph was seeking legal pretext to kill them” and therefore had the status of a pursuer (rodef); or for other reasons that are explained in the commentaries) –
Why then does the Midrash state that since they wanted to kill Joseph, ’ the pit of Jacob was emptied, .. there was no words of Torah” (which implies that the brothers (shfatim), G-d forbid, did not reckon withwords of Torah” – at a time when, according to their view were (acting) according to law)?
4. We can understand this by prefacing the reason why Chazal compare Torah to water:
Torah is compared “to many things, to bread, wine and oil etc” each one describing a different aspect and property in Torah. Concerning the aspect of “water” in Torah, Chazal state: “R. Hanina b. Ida said: Why are the words of the Torah likened unto water-as it is written, ‘Ho, everyone that thirsteth, come ye for water’? This is to teach you, just as water flows from a higher level to a lower, so too the words of the Torah endure only with him who is meekminded. (Tan.7a)”. i.e. that “water “is not an example of the essence of Torah but rather of the bittul and humility of man which is imbued by learning Torah.
 Accordingly it is answered why the Midrash states: “the pit of Jacob was emptied..- there were no words of Torah” – because they had Torah and laws of Torah, but they only lacked the “water” of Torah (And the pit was empty, there was no water in it” as will be explained in par. 8). The Bittul (self abnegation) in relation to their greatness – as is understood from the bowing (and Bittul particularly) in the Amidah that the procedure is to “bend knees” at "Blessed"; bow at “are "You"; straighten at "L-rd our G‑d" but “after a king bends his knees, he does not straighten” (he remains bowed until the end of the prayer).
But according to this, the previous question is even stronger: How is it, that if there is only “no water in it” there perforce is “snakes and scorpions in it? –Just because of this alone, that when learning Torah he lacks only the bittul and humility, should he engender a situation of “snakes and scorpions” - an opposition to the concept of Torah?
5. The explanation is: The essence of Torah is that through the (learning) one unites with the Giver of Torah (G-d). And therefore the aspect of bittul and humility is a essential condition: as long as the person considers himself an entity - he remains bound in the limitations of a created being and therefore is not fortuitous to unite with the Giver of Torah who is limitless; Specifically through the student standing in a state of complete bittul, which brings him out of his barriers and boundaries - can he unite with infiniteness of the Giver of Torah (G-d).
Therefore , it is also understood the order of the request "My soul should be as dust to all, open my heart to your Torah” -
At first glance, Torah study (“open my heart to your Torah”) must be with an excitement and understanding and intellect. (Which is applicable when his understanding and, in general, his energy is an entity)- and “My soul should be as dust to allnegates and nullifies his entity- a contradiction to excitement and understanding etc in Torah? –
 Because when can there be “open my heart to your Torah”, when can he be a receptacle to the Torah of Hashem, which is unlimited, specifically when he has previously achieved a complete nullification - (not just bittul, but) “dust to all” which “everyone tramples upon”- Through this bittul he prepares himself to “receive” the Torah of Hashem, and afterwards (comes striving (in Torah)- through man’s struggles with his own strength) takes the Torah of Hashem through his own inner strength- “open my heart to your Torah”.
6. We can thus also understand something puzzling, which we find by Torah study. Namely, that the speech of Torah has an advantage over the understanding of Torah:
The Din (law) is that one who “merely thinks the words of the Torah does not need to make a blessing (blessings of the Torah) because “thought is not like speech”, and “all that one learns through thought alone and it is possible to (vocalize them with) movement of the lips, and he does not vocalize them, has not fulfilled with this learning his obligation of the mitzvah of “you shall learn them”. And more so: the understanding of Torah is connected to speech of Torah. As Chazal state on the passage “For they are life unto those that find them” (, and a healing to all their flesh) - “read not ‘To those that find them’ but ‘To him who utters them with his mouth’. And (Beruriah once discovered a student who was learning in an undertone. Rebuking him she exclaimed: ‘Is it not written: Ordered in all things, and sure  “ If it is ‘ordered’ (not just in your “mouth” but) in your two hundred and forty-eight limbs it will be ‘sure’(protected, retained), otherwise it will not be sure?’
At first glance, when one speaks words of Torah (oral Torah) and doesn’t understand what he is saying, the Psak din (law) is in Shulchan Aruch is that: “It is not considered learning at all”. This means that the aspect of learning (by oral Torah) expresses itself in understanding that which he learns- therefore why is the speech of Torah so important and, so much so, that if its lacking is (not only does he “not have to (make a) blessing (on the Torah learning)” , and ”has not fulfilled his obligation of the mitzvah of learning them”, but also his learning is) “not protected”- even the understanding of the Torah is not protected for him?
7- The explanation is (as above):
The main part of Torah is the connection which we obtain through Torah, with the Giver of Torah; and therefore the learning of Torah must be in a manner of where the understanding and intellect of the topic is (not the way it is from the limited boundary of a created being, but rather) the way it is from G-d’s viewpoint(“His Torah” (G-d’s).
Therefore its understood that the act of bittul is not sufficient (just) as a preface to learning Torah , but the learning itself must be in a manner of bittul; and therefore the learning must be in a manner of ‘utters them with his mouth’ until - “ordered in your two hundred and forty-eight limbs
When a Jew learns Torah just with the power of his intellect, the highest advantage man, he remains in his “existence” (as a man) and cannot absorb the Torah of Hashem- And this is an a fortiori from an elephant going through the eye of a needle”. If an“elephant” which even though limited, nevertheless an “eye of a needle” is smaller than him, yet it is impossible that it can fit through the” eye of the needle,(so much that one is not shown this even in a dream); How much more so is Torah which is connected with Hashem, (the plaything of the King with His essence) the true Infinite (G-d), it (Torah) certainly cannot go in and be grasped by the intellect from a limited and bounded mortal -
And therefore it is “not protected’. It cannot have an existence (retention) by man (the way he’s standing in his boundaries) and as the Talmud expounds there that: “R. Eliezer had a disciple who learned in a low voice. (After three years) he forgot his learning”;
However when one connects the learning with “mouth” and (even lower-) with “his 248 limbs” which are lower than intellect, the, epitome of man. This means that the learning is in a manner where he “descends” from his superiority and includes the rest of his 248 limbs, i,e, he nullifies his existence. Specifically then can “The Torah of Hashem” which is not bounded, be absorbed in a inner manner- his Torah is “protected” (retained).
8. According to this it is well understood the statement of Chazal “There was no water, yet there were snakes and scorpions in it.” (and as above the explanation is that if only “there is no water” immediately there is “snakes and scorpions in it.”) :
Since the main part of Torah is the connection with the Giver of Torah which comes through the nullification from the study, therefore, there is no room for an “intermediary level” ; Either he has bittul to the ‘Giver of the Torah’ and therefore he has intent in his learning to the truth of Torah (which is the desire of the Giver of the Torah); or if there is no, G-d forbid, “water” (the bittul) of Torah, then he lacks relevance to the Giver of Torah (from the a fortiori of “the elephant that goes through the eye of the needle”, as above) and immediately there is (like “turn” (and immediately) “serve other gods”), and is “snakes and scorpions in it.”. Not only does he not have a relevance to Torah (like Chazal state: “It is not found by the arrogant etc”) but he also becomes an antagonist to holiness, as Chazal state” "He and I cannot dwell together in the world” and more “(Every man in whom is haughtiness of spirit is as though) he worships idols;..(R. Johanan himself said: He is as though he had) denied the fundamental principle” (“serve other gods”)
And this is also what the Midrash explains concerning the brothers of Joseph, as above, that: “the pit of Jacob was emptied, ‘there was no water in it’ - there was no words of Torah which are compared to water etc.” They did not lack, G-d forbid (the essential learning of the)Torah (and they held that according to Din, Joseph is subject to the death penalty) They did however lack, according to the greatness of their stature, the aspect of “ water” of Torah- the bittul, and therefore their P’sak Din concerning the punishment of Joseph – was not accurate.
9. The stories of our Parsha, concerning the experiences of Joseph and his brothers is a preface to Golus and going out of Egypt (for the sale of Joseph led to the descent of Yaakov and his sons to Egypt) whose purpose is the aspect of the giving of the Torah
And this is also concerning the aspect of “There was no water, yet there were snakes and scorpions in it.”, which the Torah teaches us in the Parsha, that this relates to the general aspect of Matan Torah; for the concept of “water” of Torah – the bittul which is promulgated by learning in order to connect to the Giver of Torah – was mainly accomplished by Matan Torah.
The difference between the learning of Torah by the forefathers before Matan Torah and the learning of Torah by the children after Matan Torah: Before Matan Torah the learning was “ with one’s own strength” – one understood in Torah as much , as a created being could possibly understand; the innovation of Matan Torah is that “He gave us the Torah” the Torah , the way it is “ His Torah” (G-d’s Torah, the plaything of the King with His essence) was given by G-d to every Jewish person (as is understood also from the Psak Din that every Jew – and every day – one is required to say the blessings on the Torah)
This is also an explanation to the statement of Chazal: “(R. Johanan also said:) At first Moses used to study the Torah and forget it, until it was given to him as a gift(, for it is said, And he gave unto Moses, when he had made an end of communing with him) – which is seemingly puzzling: Also before Matan Torah people learned Torah as Chazal state: “From the times of the forefathers Yeshiva was not separated from them” and it is plain that they did not forget what they learned ( especially since there was no other learning in a manner of “Yeshiva”) – how then is it that specifically after Matan Torah that “Moses used to study the Torah and forget it”?!

But the explanation is: the leaning before Matan Torah was at a level of Torah the way it relates to creation, and therefore it was possible to be absorbed in an inner manner (pnimiyut). However, at Matan Torah, G-d gave Moses “His Torah” the way it is completely higher from creation, which cannot be absorbed by man with his own power. Therefore “Moses used to study the Torah and forget it” (As discussed above (par 7) in the concept of “not protected”) –
“until it was given to him as a gift”: G-d who is omnipotent and can merge infinite and finite, “gave him” His Torah which is unbounded - “And whoever gives, gives with a good eye” – giving it as a present ( which comes – not because he paid its worth) to a limited created being.
And this applies to all Jews, that the Torah of G-d becomes absorbed by him in an inner manner (pnimiyut) (“protected”) because “He gave us his Torah” – because G-d gave it (Torah) as a gift.
[On the other hand, even though the Jewish people “take” the Torah with the strength from the “Giver (of the Torah)” nevertheless there must be Bittul ( of man) in order that the Torah (that he learns) be “protected” ( as above, at length), Because since the intent is that all lofty things come to Jews through their own service (Avodah) (And not in a manner of “bread of shame”) therefore, man must do something on his own part, to make him fitting (in a certain measure) to absorb the G-d’s Torah – and this is though the aspect of Bittul, where through it, he can go “out” of his existence and boundaries, as above]
10. According to all this, it is also understood the connection between the statement of Chazal: “there was no water in it etc” with the topic of Chanukah (which is (also) why the Talmud brings it in the section of Chanukah):
It is known that the reason for the exact wording ( in the prayer “V’Al HaNissim”( And we thank You for the miracles)): “when the wicked Hellenic government rose up against Your people Israel to “make them forget Your Torah etc” that the Greeks wanted that it should be forgotten by Jews ( not the essential wisdom and intellect of Torah, tearing them from learning Torah in general , but) that Torah is – “Your Torah”: The Torah of G-d:
And therefore they defiled “all the oil in the sanctuary” ( and did not destroy the oil) because “oil” is the level of wisdom.
The Greeks agreed that the Jews should retain the “oil” – wisdom and Torah study. But they wanted that the oil be “impure” (Tamei) G-d forbid. It should not be connected with the holiness of Torah, with the Giver of Torah (-“Your Torah”)
And this is one of the reasons why G-d made the miracle that we should find a cruse of pure oil – even though that since “impurity is permitted on a public level: (‘tumah hutrah be-tzibur ‘ - i.e. when a majority of the public is impure), we could have kindled the Menorah with impure oil – because the victory of  Chanukah expresses itself in that it should be (“Your Torah”) – pure oil.
And as spoken above (in the topic of “there was not water in it”) that specifically through the aspect of “water” of torah – the Bittul to the Giver of Torah – is one protected from “snakes and scorpions in it.”
So too is the aspect of Chanukah. Specifically through lighting the Chanukah lights (pure oil) does  - "the feet of the Tarmudai cease from the market" - “Tarmud” has the same letters as rebelling (against Divine goodness)”. As long as the aspect of pure oil is lacking (“Your Torah”), there is a possibility of rebellion ( “moredes”- rebelling) against G-d. (and you turn  - and serve (other gods))
And through lighting the Chanukah lights, “outsideof hishouse by his door”, so much that it illuminates the “outside”,” the feet of the Tarmudai cease”  also “from the market" , completely. One cpmletely destroys the concept of  “rebellion” ( and even the “feet of the Tarmudai” the lowest level) until we illuminate the darkness of Golus and we bring down the complete and true Geulah really soon.
( M’Sichas Shabbat Parshat Vayeshev 5737
Second day of Shavuot 5732)

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