In the middle of a lengthy discussion about Chanukah, the Bavli (the beginning of Shabas 22) sticks in this seemingly unrelated passage:

And R. Kahana said: R. Nasan b. Minyome exegeted in the name of R. Tanchum: What is it that's written [Genesis 37:26, about the pit that Joseph's brothers threw him into] "and the pit was empty: it had no water in it"? From the implication of what's said, "and the pit was empty", don't I know that it had no water in it? So what does "it had no water in it" teach? It had no water in it, but it had snakes and scorpions in it.

Why? What's the relevance?

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    The Ben Yoyada (Ben Ish Chai ) has an explanation why it says empty and no water . He explains that the pit was empty when you looked inside it but Reuvein didmt know that there are scorpions and snakes inside the walls of the pit that came out through the holes . He them explains that why is a Bor (fool) called that name since a person empty with Torah has snakes and scorpions that come out (sins) . I would extend this pshat to the yevanim that they are comparable to a bor (pit) they don't have Torah and seem harmless ,but they do have the posion of snakes and scorpions hidden inside.
    – sam
    Commented Dec 3, 2018 at 18:16

1 Answer 1


This immediately follows another statement of R. Kahana's, which also quoted an exegesis of R. Nasan b. Minyome's in the name of R. Tanchum. Quoting another statement from the same people is pretty common in the Bavli.

But there can be a deeper explanation also:

Tora T'mima (ad loc.) shows that the brothers must not have known that the pit had snakes and scorpions (see there for why). Then he notes that this is not surprising, since the term used for putting him into the pit, וישליכוהו, implies a distance of greater than twenty cubits, and one sees e.g. from the rules of Chanukah that people don't properly see that far. In fact, he notes, that rule about vision is the basis for the passage immediately before the one about the pit in Shabas. And that explains why the pit is brought in at that juncture: because the same basis underpins it as the preceding passage.

Meshech Chochma (also ad loc.) cites a midrash that says that Joseph recited the benediction "…who performed a miracle for me here" years later at the site of the pit. This, he says, is because even though his rise to power as viceroy of Egypt was also miraculous, it wasn't a supernatural miracle like being saved from snakes and scorpions, and the benediction is recited only on the latter. Likewise, we recite "… who performed miracles for our ancestors…" only for the Chanukah miracle of the oil, which was supernatural, and not for the miracle of winning the war. The rule that the menorah must be lit where people can easily see it, viz for publicizing the miracle, is related to the benediction, so the passage about Joseph and the pit comes right after that rule.

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