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Thought for the Day: Ask Questions First, Give P'shat After

This morning I was thinking about one of my favorite topics: how b'chira chafshis (free will) works with hashgacha pratis (divine providence).  An event in this week's parsha (vayeishev) is at the core of many of the discussions.  The B'nei Yisrael decide that Yosef is chayiv misa but don't want to have his blood on their hands, so they throw Yosef into a pit that is "reik; ein bo mayim" (b'reishis 37:24).  Rashi is m'dayek and explains: water there wasn't, snakes and scorpions there were.  That begs the question: What did they accomplish?  Throwing someone into a pit with venomous snakes and scorpions isn't much different than restraining them to pour poison down their throat, after all.

So I "just happened" to ride up alongside my mobile chavrusa, Baruch Weinberg.  I had just learned the mishna in avos with my son that exhorts judges not to lead the witnesses, so I decided instead of telling him my p'shat, I'd first ask Baruch his ideas on the topic.  Baruch says, "They didn't know there were snakes and scorpions in the pit and letting someone starve is not the same level as outright murder."  "But Rashi says there were snakes and scorpions in there!", I say.  "Right, but it was deeper that 20 amos and the gemara in shabbos puts that together with the halacha that you are not allowed to be chanuka lights higher than 20 amos because people won't see them."  That's the problem/great thing about arguing with Baruch, he has actual facts to back up his opinions.

We then got separated by traffic and so I had to work out the rest by myself.  What do we do about Rashi's (actually, Chazal's) diyuk that the pit had no water but did have snakes and scorpions?  We have to read that pasuk as "They threw him into a bit that had no water (they could check that by throwing a rock down first); they did not know, however, that there were snakes and scorpions."  A narrator's comment in the middle of a story with no indication of change of voice; and a hint, no less?  Actually, the Torah does that all the time.  The previous pasuk , for example, tells us Reuvein's intention in suggesting the pit, and in last week's parsha we find that Rivka's p'tira is revealed by a hint.

Then I arrived at work.  Whew!  Another short ride; where does the time go?


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