Parshas Vayeishev - Garments of Betrayal
by Rabbi Dovid Green
In parshas VaYeshev we encounter several seemingly scandalous stories. The
student of Torah does not view these stories with a superficial perspective,
but attempts to understand them in context, in accordance with the words of
our sages. Only with their explanations can we truly appreciate the
motivations for the actions of our exceptional forebearers.
Yosef, the child of Yaakov and Rachel, becomes an object of hatred and
jealousy in his brothers' eyes. This was because Yaakov showed him extra
favor, above that which the other brothers received. Through a chain of
events, Yosef's brothers end up selling him as a slave to Egypt. There,
Yosef excels in his work, and soon finds himself in a position of major
responsibility in the house of Potifar, a servant of Pharaoh. Potifar's wife
takes a liking to Yosef, and attempts to lure him into an extra-marital
relationship. He unconditionally refuses, but Potifar's wife is undaunted.
She doubles her efforts, using tactics that would conquer the strongest of
In her final attempt she makes use of an opportunity when no one else is
around. "And she grabbed him by his garment saying 'lay with me' (Genesis
39:12)." Yosef runs out, leaving his garment in her hand. She uses the
garment to frame Yosef and say that he made forceful advances toward her.
Yosef ends up in jail for the next 12 years, until he is released and
becomes the Prime Minister of Egypt as we will read in next week's parsha.
Rabbi Shalom Noach Brezovsky, the Slonimer Rebbe, explains these verses in
the following way. "And she grabbed him by his garment." The words "his
garment" are one word in Hebrew; "bigdo." The root of this word (Beis,
Gimel, Dalet) means "to betray". Perhaps the Hebrew word for "betrayal" is
related to the word for clothing because clothing projects an artificial
impression just as one who betrays tries to do. With the above understanding
the Slonimer Rebbe explains that sometimes people are inclined to reason
that their actions don't matter. That is to say, they may feel that as a
result of their past lifestyles or transgressions they should give up, that
they have proven themselves unreliable to G-d, and at this point it no
longer matters whether they transgress further. "She grabbed Yosef by his
garment (betrayal) saying 'lay with me'. You're no longer a player on G-d's
team anyway. You might as well..." That is just plain negative thinking, and
it gets us nowhere fast.
Yosef's earlier response to her advances (Genesis 39:8-9) is the attitude
that helps us through such tests. "And he refused, and he said...there is no
one above me in this house..., and how could I commit this terrible evil,
and sin to G-d?" That is to say, "I'm an important person. I'm not evil, or
forsaken. I'm special. I'm dear to G-d with all my imperfections and
mistakes. These actions are below me. How could I possibly lower myself to
that degree? The Slonimer Rebbe writes that the Torah states no explicit
prohibition for sadness and despair, yet these feelings can bring a person
to commit all of the transgressions enumerated in the Torah. Yosef provides
us with the response to the "wife of Potifar" which we encounter numerous
times throughout our lives.
In the "Code of Jewish Law" it states that we should say "Modeh Ani" in the
morning upon awakening from sleep. In this one sentence we thank G-d for
returning our souls and granting us another day. The last two words (Rabah
Emunasecha) "great is Your faith (in us)", compliment our aforementioned
words. G-d gives us another day because He has confidence in us that we will
use the day in the proper way. By giving us another day G-d conveys to us
that what we do makes a difference; that we have a unique job to do, and
that G-d is confident that we are the one for the job. May we merit to live
up to His expectations.
Text Copyright © 1997 Rabbi Dovid Green and
Project Genesis, Inc.