Parshat Vayeshev: Genesis 37:1-40:23; Amos 2:6-3:8.

Have you ever known that feeling of gloomy emptiness? A sense that there is nothing good in your life and, therefore, everything is terrible?

In this week’s Torah portion, we read the tragic story of Yosef sold into slavery by his brothers. Before selling him to passing merchants, the brothers had thrown him into a pit at the side of the road. Regarding this pit, the verse says, “The pit was empty; there was no water in it.” 

Rabbi Benny Greenwald
Rabbi Benny Greenwald

The Talmud asks, “Since it says: ‘The pit was empty,’ do I not know that there was no water in it? For what purpose did the Torah write, ‘there was no water in it’? [To inform us that] there was no water in it, but there were snakes and scorpions in it.” When the pit is void of water, it is inevitable that dangerous creatures fill in that vacuum.

The same is true in our lives. The Torah is not just a book of history or stories. Each incident we read, and all its details, provide a clear and powerful message in our daily lives. This verse and the Talmud’s interpretation teach us a life-altering lesson. When our lives lack the life-giving “water,” when we allow ourselves to be empty of Torah, godliness and spirituality, then we can be certain that this void will be filled with “snakes and scorpions.” Negativity will certainly seep in and present a clear and present danger to living a good and fulfilling life. On the other hand, if we seek to drive away the pain and negativity we face, the answer is to find within ourselves a source of light and the darkness will vanish.

Jewish philosophers explain that darkness does not really exist; it is simply the lack of light that gives the perception of dark. Therefore, as the Lubavitcher Rebbe often taught, one small candle has the power to dispel great darkness. 

On Sunday night, we will begin the celebration of Chanukah by kindling the first candle of the menorah. In addition to the menorahs we light in our homes, we also light the menorah publicly to spread the light of Chanukah beyond the reach of our homes.

When we look out to the world or into our souls and find that it is dark, we must recognize that what we face is a void, one that we can fill with positivity. Our job is to increase light. 

May we all have an illuminated Shabbat and happy Chanukah! 

Rabbi Benny Greenwald is the director of the Daniel B. Sobel Friendship House. 

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