Shabbat Parashat Vayeishev | 5768
A Refusal You Can’t Refuse
Some people don’t to give up when reason seems to dictate that they should. Their refusal can cause them unnecessary heartache. However, sometimes stubbornness pays off. Our parasha may provide one such example.
Yosef, the handsome, talented slave in Egypt, was the victim of sexual harassment, but according to many commentators, was also enticed by it. His master’s wife cornered him when people were away and almost succeeded in seducing him. According to one opinion of Chazal, he entered the house that fateful day with intentions to give in to her advances (see Rashi, Bereishit 39:11) and was able to overcome his temptation only when the vision of his father appeared to him. What merit brought about such unusual help, help that so many people need and so few get? Furthermore, where in the p’sukim did our Rabbis see Yaakov’s telepathic intervention?
Looking back at Yosef’s life, we see several factors that make Yosef deserving of Hashem and Yaakov’s help. First, they shared an unusually deep relationship, even for a father and son, which was fortified by joint Torah study. Yosef’s initial refusals were accompanied by invoking the concept of chillul Hashem that a moral lapse would cause (“and I shall sin to G-d” – Bereishit 39:9). Furthermore, he displayed proper halachic distancing, which are both practically and spiritually important in avoiding sin. “He did not listen to her to lie beside her or to be with her” (ibid.:10). The Ramban says that the latter phrase refers to avoiding discussions with her, which was important once he knew of the dangers. The Rashbam says that he was careful about the laws of yichud (a man and woman not being in a secluded place). When one tries his best, Hashem is more likely to help him avoid slipping.
Regarding textual hints, there are a couple of interesting possibilities. On “the day,” the Torah reports that “none of the members of the household were in the house.” Why doesn’t it say that no one was in the house but Potiphar’s wife? This may be a hint that, in some form, someone was in the house – Yaakov. We can also look for repeated uncommon words in the parasha. (Much is made of Yehuda’s saying “haker na”(please recognize) which Tamar later “threw back in his face.”) In the story of Yosef, “vayema’en” (he refused) comes up twice. Yosef refused Potiphar’s wife’s propositions. But previously, it was Yaakov who “refused to be consoled” over Yosef’s disappearance and apparent death (ibid. 37:35), saying that he would “go down with his son.” Cognitively, he said that he would go down to the grave. However, the connection he clung to with Yosef brought him down with Yosef to Egypt in the form of a vision. The loving father’s stubborn refusal to “move on with life” may have been enough to keep his son safe. Perhaps we could suggest, “he refused [and as a result he was] consoled.”
May all who need extraordinary salvation for their loved ones be consoled as they pray and, if not, be consoled with other positive matters.
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