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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Vayeshev

Snakes and Scorpions

Joseph the righteous has for generations served as a symbol and model for the survival of the Jewish people in foreign lands. Just as Joseph retained his moral distinction despite being cut off from his home, so did Jacob’s children and their progeny.
Rabbi Dov Liorkislev 5769
1437
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Joseph the righteous has for generations served as a symbol and model for the survival of the Jewish people in foreign lands. Just as Joseph retained his purity and moral distinction despite being cut off from his home, so have Jacob’s children and their progeny survived and remained loyal to their Jewishness despite their lengthy sojourn among hostile nations.

If we look closely at the story of Joseph we will discover that the Torah develops this idea. And it is no coincidence that this portion is read at Chanukah time; this proximity contains an important lesson.

When the Torah describes the pit into which Joseph was thrown, it says "The well was empty; there was no water in it" (Genesis 37:23). The sages explain, "There was no water in it – but it did contain snakes and scorpions." Outwardly this verse presents a description of reality, but it also contains a great and lofty idea.

"Water," in prophetic literature, is an allusion to the essence of Jewish life – the Torah. And if somebody thinks that it is possible to detach oneself from the Torah and to replace it with some other culture, he is mistaken: If there is no water, there will be snakes and scorpions. If the Jewish people do not fill their hearts with divine content – the only content that provides us with a truly good and happy life – in its place will come "snakes and scorpions," i.e., moral bankruptcy and corruption, all sorts of infirmities, and a loss of the true Israeli nature.

This is what happened in the days of Chanukah. The Hellenists believed that they could exchange the faith of Israel with Greek philosophy; but this, in fact, only led to "snakes and scorpions." Today, too, to our great chagrin, some people would like to blur the identity of our nation so that it resemble other nations. This is a terrible mistake, and we can see the results for ourselves – the rise in violence among teenagers and the collapse of numerous behavioral norms.

This Chanukah, may God help us draw strength and spiritual fortitude from the spirit of the Maccabees who stood up to the Greeks and the Hellenists. May we be strengthened through the Torah, and may we come to realize that only in this manner will we succeed in strengthening the spiritual state of our youth. Let us strive to give a Jewish character to our state and let us elevate the national spirit and fill it with the strength needed to face of all those who rise up against us.

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