The Pits – VaYeshev 5783

D'var Torah | Genesis

Joseph cast into the pit (Genesis 37:24) is the transition point of the narrative between the original plan of ten of his brothers to kill him and the secret plan of Reuben to rescue him. But in the context of the Bible as a whole, the act of casting a victim into a pit become a future precedent for both punishment and redemption.


Jeremiah the prophet put himself in jeopardy because of his unflinching condemnation of the king and the ruling classes who deluded themselves into thinking that an alliance with Egypt would forestall an imminent Babylonian invasion as punishment for the misdeeds of the inhabitants of Judah. When Zedekiah became king and Jeremiah continued to warn that the kingdom would be given over to the Babylonians, Jeremiah was accused of being a traitor and defector and imprisoned. Even the king’s personal plea could not alter God’s plan, Jeremiah insisted. The king’s advisors advocated executing Jeremiah. Instead, “they took Jeremiah and put him down in the pit…There was no water in the pit…” (Jeremiah 38:6) – a narrative reminiscent of Genesis 37:24. Ultimately, it the king who orders that Jeremiah be raised by ropes of rags from the pit, although he remained in prison until the fall of Jerusalem.


The prophet Zechariah tells a more hopeful story. One of the last of the prophets, Zechariah foretells of the time when, after a period of exile, Judaeans will return. He predicts a reunification of the two kingdoms: the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. And in an eschatological vision he announces a final victory of Israel over her enemies. The peg upon which all this optimism rests is the imagery of the pit. Says the prophet Zechariah (9:11): “You, for your part, have released your prisoners from the dry pit for the sake of the blood of your covenant.” In other words, faithful to the covenant, God will redeem the Israelites from an exile not unlike the pit into which both Joseph and Jeremiah were cast.


Life may sometimes be “the pits.” But ultimately, God will be there to raise us up.


Words to Live By

What lies behind you and what lies ahead of you pales in comparison to what lies inside you.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

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