Parashat VaYeishev describes the beginnings of the saga of Yosef. One of the first major events in Yosef’s occurs when his brothers throw him into a pit. The Torah states, “VaYikacheihu VaYashlichu Oto HaBorah VeHaBor Reik Ein Bo Mayim. VaYeishevu Le’echol Lechem,” “And [Yosef’s brothers] seized him and threw him into the pit, and the pit was empty and did not contain any water. And they sat to eat bread” (BeReishit 37:24-25). The Gemara (Shabbat 22a) comments on the redundancy in the Pasuk’s description of the pit and states that the pit was empty of water, but it was full of snakes and scorpions.
At the end of Parashat VaYechi, Yosef’s brothers beg him for forgiveness, but Yosef does not grant it to them. Rather, he tells them that he would not punish them, but Hashem would. An obvious question arises from this: why couldn’t Yosef forgive them? Rav Nachman Kahana suggests that the reason could not be due the actual sale of Yosef to a foreign land because the brothers thought that that was Halachicly the right thing to do. Rather, he explains that at that moment with his brothers, Yosef feels the emotions he experienced when he was in the pit. While he was being tortured among snakes and scorpions, his brothers just sat and ate bread.
An old woman from Poland once went to Rav Kahana and asked him the following question: when she was a little girl, her parents asked the Rav of their Shtetl (small town) if they should go to Eretz Yisrael, and the Rav responded no. Disregarding this advice, they left the next day and were the only ones from their Shtetl who survived the Holocaust. As a result, this woman asked why her Rav said not to go to Eretz Yisrael? All of the people in the Shtetl could have gone to Eretz Yisrael, but instead they were murdered by the Germans!
Another man once came to Rav Kahana and told him the following story: he never had any interest in going to Israel until his wife forced him to go. However, once they arrived in Israel and took a few steps into Land, he was overcome with emotion, and he felt like he never wanted to leave the Land. He asked Rav Kahana what this emotion meant, and the Rav answered him that the Hebrew word for going to Israel is Aliyah. Similarly, when one is called up to the Torah, he receives an Aliyah. However, a man may not just walk up to the Bimah and get an Aliyah; rather, the Gabbai must summon him by name. In the same fashion, one does not just go to Israel; his name is called out in Shamayim. Hashem invites people to his palace according to their Neshamot. Therefore, once someone goes to Israel, his Neshamah awakens and never wants to leave its true home.
With this, Rav Kahana answered the woman from Poland. He said he still could not understand why the Rav would not tell people to go to Israel, but it is obvious, he said, that Hashem wanted her to be in Israel. We, as Jews, must know where our place is; we must know where we are supposed to be. Whether in America or in Israel, we cannot find ourselves in a pit of snakes and scorpions while our enemies just sit and eat bread. But if we are in America, we cannot just sit and eat our bread; we have to help our true home, Israel. We must not ignore the cries of our fellow Jews when they find themselves in a pit. Instead, we must remember the love that we have for our homeland and never ignore it. Hopefully, we will learn from the actions of Yosef’s brothers and unlike they, who were deaf to the cries of their brother, we will respond to our brothers’ cries.