Parashat Vayesheb: Snakes and Scorpions
The Torah in Parashat Vayesheb tells of the sale of Yosef, which began with the brothers casting Yosef into a pit. The pit is described by the Torah as, "empty; there was no water in it." Rashi, citing the Gemara, notes the seeming redundancy in this Pasuk. Quite obviously, once we know that the pit was empty, we know that it did not have any water. Why, then, did the Torah find it necessary to emphasize that the pit had no water?
Rashi briefly explains: "It had no water, but it did have snakes and scorpions." Meaning, the pit was not entirely "empty." Although it did not have water, it had dangerous snakes and scorpions that could have killed Yosef.
On a symbolic level, Rashi’s brief comment conveys a vitally important message, namely, there is no such thing as a vacuum. If a pit does not have water, then it becomes filled with snakes and scorpions. If we do not fill our minds with "water" – the symbol of Torah wisdom – then it becomes filled with "snakes and scorpions" – negative and destructive qualities. We need to fill ourselves with Torah, as otherwise we are prone to vices and inappropriate conduct.
This notion is especially manifest in the area of time. If we do not fill our time with meaningful pursuits, then it becomes filled with negative behavior. We do not remain "parve." Either we’re engaged in Torah and Misvot, or we are involved in misconduct. There is no middle ground. Indeed, crime rates tend to rise in the summer. When the youngsters are out of school and left without structure and without worthwhile activities to engage in, they resort to mischief.
The Torah’s description of Yosef’s pit is thus also an accurate description of the human being. We need to fill our lives with Torah and Misvot in order protect ourselves from the "snakes and scorpions" – from the destructive vices that otherwise threaten to overtake us.