There are two statements found back to back in the Gemara (Shabbos 21b) offered by Rabbi Kahana, who quotes Rabbi Nasan bar Minyumi in the name of Rabbi Tanchum. The first statement is that one who lights Chanukah candles higher than 20 amos from the ground, those lights are psulah like a Sukkah or a mavui (for an eruv). The second offering, is different in nature. He seeks to know the meaning of the phrase “v’habor reik ein bo mayim,” that the pit that Yosef was thrown into was empty, and did not have any water. We know it had no water! Rather, this verse comes to teach us that while the pit didn’t contain any water, it did have snakes and scorpions inside of it. Although the two points have nothing to do with each other save for being attributed to the same author, connecting two seemingly random statements by the same person is not uncommon the Talmud.
Rabbi Avraham Schorr offers a unifying factor between our two statements. He quotes from Rabbi Yosef Shaul Nathanson (Shoel U’Meishiv 1:126) who asks why it’s prohibited to kindle Chanukah lights from more than 20 amos high. After all, if it’s dark outside, the lights will surely be able to be seen, even from greater heights! Rabbi Nathanson explains despite the light being able to shine from such elevated levels, the light exuded must be closer to the ground so that it may penetrate into our hearts, and make bright the path on which we walk.
Furthermore, Rav Schorr explains, the light must be bright enough for us to be able to discern the nooks and crannies within the heart of each Jew. It is through this light that we are able to detect our faults and what we must fix within our own lives. The verse in Mishlei tells us that “Ner Hashem nishmas adam, chofes kol chadrei vaten,” that the souls of mankind are the light of the Almighty, which searches out our innermost compartments. This pasuk, Rav Schorr notes, alludes to the lights that we ignite throughout the holiday of Chanukah. When the light is too high, it is impossible to reach us. Even if we can see it, it cannot “see” us, our cracks and cavities.
This logic is in line with the explanation of the pasuk from before about the pit. How many times have you looked at something only to come back later and notice something completely different that you hadn’t recognized before? If one were to look in a dark closet without any light to guide them, they may have a very different idea as to what they were seeing versus reality. True, the pit was empty of water. The Torah tells us that explicitly. Yet, if one were to examine the pit carefully, they would see that it was not empty at all. Rav Schorr points out that Ben Yehoyada writes that the snakes and scorpions were not found at the bottom of the pit, but in the crevices along the walls. It looked empty, but had Yosef’s brothers been able to see the pit in its entirety, they would’ve known that there were creatures lurking in the shadows. Perhaps they wouldn’t have cast him into this particular pit.
This, explains Rav Schorr, is the connection between the two statements made by Rabbi Nasan bar Minyumi in the name of Rabbi Tanchum. The second account asserts that the snakes and scorpions were able to remain concealed because, from the vantage point of Yosef’s brothers, the pit was empty. Similarly, the ability to see the lights of Chanukah from greater than 20 amos high hinders us from being able to peer within ourselves. May we merit to let the Divine light shine upon us, and help us illuminate our lives and our neshamos.