Parashat Chukat contains a mysterious passage that focuses upon a well: “From there to the well, that is the well of which Hashem said to Moshe, Gather the people, and I will give them water. Then Israel sang this song: Ascend, O well, sing to it! A well dug by princes, carved out by nobles of the people, through the lawgiver with their staffs, and from the desert, a gift.” (Bamidbar 21:16-18)
At first glance, it seems that this is an actual well, as Hashem said Moshe, “I will give them water,” an interpretation that Rashi supports. In contrast, Rabbi Chaim ibn Attar offers a strikingly different interpretation, maintaining that the well is not a well at all, instead, it is a metaphor for the Torah.
The Ohr HaChaim’s association of Torah with water is based upon the Talmudic expression, “ain mayim elah Torah (there is no use of the term ‘water’ that does not symbolize Torah).”
Sefer Bereishit 37:24 focuses upon the nature of the pit into which Yosef was thrown by his brothers, and once again, water plays a significant role: “And they took him and cast him into the pit; now the pit was empty there was no water in it.”
Talmud Bavli, Shabbat 22a, explains our pasuk in this manner: “Rav Natan bar Manyumi taught in the name of Rav Tanḥum: What is the meaning of the verse that is written with regard to Joseph: And they took him, and cast him into the pit; and the pit was empty, there was no water in it? By inference from that which is stated: ‘And the pit was empty, don’t I know that there was no water in it?’ Rather, why does the verse say: ‘There was no water in it?’ The verse comes to emphasize and teach that there was no water in it, but there were snakes and scorpions in it.”
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Initially, almost all of Yosef’s brothers sought to kill him, they settled, however, on tossing him into a pit, irrespective as to what dangers may have lurked therein. Their behavior toward Yosef ensured that the pit would be filled with snakes and scorpions, code words, in this instance, for blatant insensitivity and callousness.
Little wonder, then, that “there was no water in it,” for when cold-heartedness reigns supreme, the Torah is pushed aside.
May the time come soon and, in our days, when the prophet Yeshayahu’s words will be realized. For, then, at long last, Hashem will be recognized by the entire world as the Master of the Universe:
“Here is the G-d of my salvation, I shall trust and not fear; for the strength and praise of the Eternal Hashem was my salvation. And you shall draw water with joy from the fountains of the salvation. And you shall say on that day, Thank Hashem, call in His Name, publicize His deeds among the peoples; keep it in remembrance, for His Name is exalted.”