Traveling through the mountains of Judea I am always struck by the stark contrast between the mountainous areas where there are villages and where there are not. The differences can be as sharp as night and day. There are even places where people are living but the land seems barren and there are other places where people are living and the area around it seems to be overflowing with greenery. It is clear who is taking care of the areas around their homes and who is not. But it often seems to expand far beyond what you would have thought.In this week’s segment, Parshat Vayeshev, Jacob asks his son Joseph to look for his brothers who are out tending the sheep. The brothers are not happy with Joseph. Aside from their father obviously favoring him, Joseph has dreams that imply that he thinks himself better than the rest.
Joseph follows his brothers out to Damascus. When his brothers see him coming they decide to put an end to their brother the nuisance. Until they decide how to deal with him the brothers grab him and throw him into a pit. The bible states that the pit was empty and devoid of water (Genesis 37:24).
This text seems extraneous. Why would it tell us that there is no water in the pit, when it is saying that the pit was empty? Rashi, a medieval commentary, quotes the Talmud (Sabbath 22a) explaining that while there was no water in the pit, there were snakes and scorpions there.
I think that this commentary provides an insightful glimpse into the nature of the relationship between man and the land he lives upon. If there is water, then snakes and scorpions will not thrive there. According to tradition the word “water” is a synonym for “Torah.” Torah in Jewish tradition infers not only the study of the bible but in an expansive sense, “Torah” relates to all spiritual pursuits.
The land reacts to water. It blooms and grows. Not only is it physical water that makes things grow, but spiritual water as well. When the people in an area love the land it lives on you can see this with your own eyes. The land thrives. It thrives when we fill the land with not only physical waters but spiritual waters as well.
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