B”H
TURNING SNAKES AND SCORPIONS INTO FORCES OF REDEMPTION 
JOSEPH THROWN INTO A PIT
At the end of this week’s parsha, Ha’azinu, Moses delivers some of his final words of inspiration to the Jewish people concerning the teachings of the Torah:
“For it is not an empty [raik] thing for you. Rather it is your life! Through this thing you will lengthen your days upon the land of which you are crossing over the Jordan, to take possession.”
The Ba’al Haturim (commentary based on the approach of remez, of finding hints in the Torah to other concepts and insights) identifies one other place in the Torah where the Hebrew word for empty-raikoccursIt is in the narrative of Joseph and his brothers, when they conspired to kill him. His oldest brother, Reuven, interceded on Joseph’s behalf and spared his life by asking the other brothers to throw him into a pit instead of murdering him. Reuven intended to come back later, rescue Joseph and return him to their father.
Alas, when Reuven left, the others took Joseph out of the pit and sold him to Ishmaelites, who brought him to Egypt and sold him as a slave to the Egyptian minister Potiphar. 
This episode led to the relocation of Jacob and his family from Cana’an to Egypt, leading to the period of slavery and then the extraordinary Exodus and revelation of G‑d at Mount Sinai, the two most pivotal events in Jewish history.
 
EMPTY PITS
In describing the pit into which the brothers threw Joseph, the Torah states: “And the pit was empty [raik] it had no water.”
Ba’al Haturim notes that there are only two places in the Torah where this term raik-empty is used. However, it does not attempt to explain the connection between these two occurrences of the word.  We have learned from our Sages that all the occurrences of words or phrases in the Torah are linked and add meaning to each other.
What does Torah’s use of raik in “not being an empty thing for you” have to do with its use to describe the empty pit into which Joseph was thrown?
 
THE WATER METAPHOR
One explanation that comes to mind springs from the way the prophet Isaiah uses water as a metaphor for Torah knowledge. In fact, in the very beginning of this week’s parsha, the Torah compares itself to rain and dew: “Let My teaching drip like rain. Let My words flow like dew.”
Talmudic and Midrashic literature abound with parallels between Torah and water. The first is alluded in the comparison to rain and dew which sustain life. Similarly, Torah is our very source of life; without Torah the Jewish nation could not possibly have survived.
Another parallel suggested by our Sages is that water flows downwards. Likewise, Torah can only be found and truly mastered by those who are humble-spirited.
The Tanya (Chapter 4) takes this parallel deeper and explains that Torah, paradoxically, is both Divine and accessible to the human mind. This is represented with the metaphor of water that flows downward but does not change its essential character; it remains the very same water. Similarly, G‑d, in His infinite kindness, allows the Torah, His wisdom, to descend into our minds, but remain the same Divine wisdom it was before it was introduced into our human realm.
When the Torah states that the pit was empty “for it had no water in it;” it alludes to the idea that the pit was devoid of Torah, which is likened to water.  When the brothers cast Joseph into the pit, we can understand, metaphorically, that their action was devoid of Torah guidance; it was empty.
 
Filled with Snakes and Scorpions
Furthermore, Rashi cites the Talmud when he states that while the pit was dry, it was not empty; it was full of snakes and scorpions.
The message that this detail conveys is that when one’s life is devoid of the life-sustaining waters of Torah, the vacuum is quickly filled with all sorts of negative influences, likened to snakes and scorpions.
We can now better understand the connection to our parsha. When G‑d states that the Torah is not empty, it means that Torah is likened to water with all of its salutary and indispensable qualities. Moreover, to think in error that if Torah is empty one need not engage in its study is an invitation for “snakes” and “scorpions” to enter one’s life because there is no such thing as a true vacuum in this world.
 
Hot and Cold
More specifically, the Talmud describes the difference between the sting of a snakes and scorpions. A snake’s venom is “hot” whereas the scorpion’s venom is “cold.”
 
The Greater Threat
In spiritual terms, the Rebbe explains, the “snake” form of evil infects us with a passion for negative pleasures and activities.  It can also fuel destructive, explosive and heated anger. The scorpion’s threat to us, by contrast, is its ability to cool us off; desensitize us to spiritual matters. It is interesting to note that when the letters of the word for empty-raik, are rearranged, they spell the word kar, which means cold. It is a term used by the Torah to describe the way the Amalekites cooled us off on our way out of Egypt.
The fact that only the cold sting of the scorpion is hinted in the word raik demonstrates that of the two threats to our existence, the cold sting of the scorpion is far more harmful because of its insidious nature.
When a person is ensnared in doing evil with passion and life, there is still a chance for the person to realize the error of his ways and rechannel that enthusiasm toward doing good.
It is therefore no surprise that the word for snake-nachash has the same gematria-numerical value as the word Moshiach (358). The message contained in this analogy is that when one is filled with energy and spirit and invests it in the wrong areas, it is always possible to reverse direction and use that energy for the ultimate good: the coming of Moshiach.
Not so, the cold sting of the scorpion, which desensitizes the person and makes him or her that much harder to reach. Once a person loses life, it is that much more difficult to channel the slight remaining energy in a positive direction because there is virtually nothing to channel and no fuel with which to channel it.  
This explains why Amalek, the arch enemy of the Jewish people, chose to cool us off rather than to excite us about doing evil, which is what the wicked Bilam attempted when he advised the Moabites to have their daughters seduce the Jewish men into idolatry. Amalek chose a different tack.  Amalek sought to cool us off and desensitize us because he knew that it was a far more effective approach to destroying the Jewish people’s hope of Redemption.
Happily, even the scorpion form of evil can be transformed into a positive redemptive force by developing it into an indifference to materialistic pursuits. This is hinted in the gematria of the word for scorpion, akrav,which has the same numerical value (372) as ben Yishai, the son of Jesse: a reference to King David and his descendent, Moshiach.
 
Moshiach and Life
Moshiach personifies life. Indeed, the great Sephardic Rabbi, Chaim ben Atar, writes in his commentary Or Hachaim that Moshiach’s name is Chaim. Some commentators suggest that he was alluding to himself, whose name was Chaim, as the potential Moshiach for his generation, in line with the rabbinic tradition that every generation has a potential Moshiach.
However, the Or Hachaim seems to suggest as well that Moshiach is associated with the idea of chaim-life. Moshiach instills life into the Jewish people and paves our way for the Redemption, ushering in an age of completed life; a life, in all of its dimensions, that will endure forever.
To prepare for the age of true and complete life we must also engage in matters with vitality and passion to reverse the curse of exile associated with the symbol of the serpent and usher in its opposite; the age of Moshiach.
It is interesting to note that the word Moshiach contains within it the word chai because he personifies the ideal of life in its most advanced form.  In addition, concerning the Davidic dynasty we enthusiastically sing “David, king of Israel lives and exists forever.”
 
Connection to the Lulav
Ha’azinu is read in close proximity to the Festival of Sukkos, when we recite a blessing over the Lulav-Palm branch and the three other species (Esrog, myrtles and willows). However, the dominant plant is the Lulavwhich towers over the other three species. Indeed, the text of the blessing we recite before putting the four kinds together mentions only the Lulav. According to Midrash, the Lulav is like a scepter which we hold aloft to demonstrate that we were victorious in our judgment on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and that we have been granted life.
It is therefore no surprise that the word Lulav is numerically equal to the word chaim (68). The Lulavsymbolizes life.
Moreover, Midrash equates the Lulav with a Torah scholar whose knowledge of Torah endows him with true life.
 
Empty Pits Bring Exile
To return to the empty pit into which Joseph was thrown:
As was mentioned, throwing Joseph into the empty pit was the first act of a chain of causation that led to the Egyptian exile. Our Sages state that our slavery in Egypt was a direct punishment for Joseph’s sale into bondage.
It stands to reason that if the empty pit symbolizes the absence of Torah, study of the living waters of Torah is the antidote to exile. All the snakes (read: our misplaced passion for evil) and scorpions (read: our individual isolation caused by coldness and insensitivity) will be transformed into life-sustaining forces to be ushered in by Moshiach.