Yosef was serving in the house of Potiphar. Potiphar’s wife had her eyes on Yosef. She tried to seduce him on a daily basis, but Yosef refused. “And it was on that day that he entered the house to do his work – and not one of the men of the household was there in the house…” (Bereshis 39:11).
Rashi quotes a Gemara (Sotah 36b) where Rav and Shmuel dispute the intent of this pasuk. One of them says Yosef entered the house to do his (regular) work. The other one treats the word melachto (his work) as a euphemism indicating that Yosef actually entered the house in order to have an affair with Potiphar’s wife. However, the image of Yosef’s father Yaakov appeared to him from the window and he backed off from that aveira (sin).
Given the context (according to this second opinion that Yosef was about to commit an aveira), it indeed took a miraculous event to stop him. The Medrash comments that a Roman matron asked Rav Yossi how it was possible for this 17-year-old boy, who was cut off from his family and sent alone to a very promiscuous society, to resist this persistent attempt to seduce him? It is this question that the Gemara in Sotah comes to answer: His father’s image appeared to him in the window and told him, “If you do this, you will forever be cut off from me and my entire family.” That stopped Yosef.
There are three lessons that I would like to bring out from this incident:
Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky says that we see from this Gemara how important it is for a father to maintain his integrity and importance in the eyes of his children. Yosef was stopped from committing this heinous crime by the threat that he would be cut off from his father’s family. This is predicated on the assumption that association with his father and the family was very important to Yosef. Yosef saw Yaakov as the trunk of a tree, and himself as a branch thereof. Yosef wanted to be part of that tree.
A father who does not maintain his dignity and integrity in front of his child reduces his child’s incentive to stay a part of the family tree. “So I will be cut off from you – big deal!”
Rav Yaakov writes that this is one of the fundamentals of Chinuch – that a father should be admired by his children. Just as the Talmud (Chagiga 15b) says that a Rav should be comparable to an angel, so too a father must be a significant role model, someone to whom his children look up and admire.
The Chasam Sofer asks a question in Parshas Vayechi that I had never previously seen. Yosef calms his brothers (after Yaakov’s death), by telling them that he is not angry at them. They planned evil against him but Hashem worked it out for good. This was all part of the Divine plan that Yosef should save the world from famine.
The Chasam Sofer asks: We know that Yosef was saved from the wiles of Potiphar’s wife by his father’s image appearing to him from the window. However, when the ten brothers wanted to sell Yosef, why didn’t they see the image of their father in the window? Yosef was one son who was about to do something wrong. Hashem miraculously helped him resist doing so, by showing him the image of his father in the window. Why didn’t Hashem do the same for the ten brothers, as they were about to sell Yosef?
The Chasam Sofer answers: Yosef himself had this very question. He asked himself, why me? Why didn’t Hashem do this for my brothers as well, and save them from the grievous aveira of selling their brother into slavery? Yosef’s conclusion was that Hashem wanted them to send him to Mitzrayim. This was all part of a Divine Plan. Clearly, Hashem did not want to intervene and save Yosef from going down to Mitzrayim. The Grand Plan was that Yosef should be brought down to Mitzrayim, and eventually be able to sustain not only his family but the entire world as well.
Therefore, when the brothers came to Yosef after Yaakov’s death and were afraid that Yosef would take revenge on them, he told them not to worry. “I know this was not your fault. Maybe you should not have done it, but it was all part of the Ribono shel Olam’s calculations.”
The Ramban writes in this week’s parsha HaGezeira Emes v’ha’Charitzus Sheker (loosely translated, what G-d wants to happen is going to happen and all the machinations of human beings is not going to matter a whit). We don’t know or understand why Hashem wants certain things to happen. In the case of Yosef’s sale to Mitzrayim, in hindsight, Yosef felt he knew why it happened.
That is why Yosef could deal generously with his brothers. He had this question about the miraculous appearance of his father in the window, which stopped him from committing the aveira. That did not happen to stop his brothers from committing their aveira. This was the proof to him that his sale into slavery was ultimately the Will of G-d.
I saw an interesting observation in the sefer Milchamos Yehudah: Even if the reason why the Ribono shel Olam allowed the brothers to sell Yosef was so that Yosef would go down to Mitzrayim, why did the Ribono shel Olam want Yosef to be put through the test of Potiphar’s wife? Why did that happen?
According to the Milchamos Yehudah, there was a very specific reason. The reason is because the Almighty knew that the Jews would eventually need to go down to Mitzrayim. This was already prophesized to Avraham at the Bris bein haBesarim. Hashem knew that Mitzrayim was an amoral country – a land immersed in promiscuity. How were Jews going to be able to survive in the promiscuity and lewdness that permeated Mitzrayim? The answer is that the fact that Yosef was able to withstand this test and not succumb to the aveira of arayos (forbidden sexual relations) made it possible for Jews to amazingly never succumb to the aveira of adultery the entire time they were in Mitzrayim (with the exception of one woman and that was a case of mistaken identity).
How did that happen? Societies affect people. Mitzrayim was full of promiscuity and yet, that did not affect Yaakov’s descendants. Yosef’s ability to withstand temptation set the pattern and set the standard of sexual morality in Klal Yisrael, which saved those who came later.
That is the way it has been in every single galus that the Jewish people have experienced. The Ribono shel Olam puts Tzadikim in those places who are the pioneers and trail blazers that help give strength to those who came later to withstand negative influences.
Consider this: What is the biggest nisayon in America? It is the nisayon of money and materialism. It is the overwhelming desire to earn and accumulate money. We are now two weeks into “the Season.” It is just incredible what people buy. They go into debt. They spend thousands of dollars for things they don’t need. One woman was quoted in the paper as saying that “There is nothing in the world that I need which would cause me to camp out all night in front of Walmart to be able to purchase it at a big discount.” But she is a lone voice. There are hundreds and thousands of people who camp out in front of Walmart and Best Buy to get their “Door Buster Sale Items.”
Even without this “Season” – what is the national pastime in America? It used to be Baseball, perhaps Football. No. Now the national pastime of America is shopping. It is money. To make money, to have money, to spend money. That is the nisayon of this country, at least at this stage.
The Milchamos Yehudah writes that just as Hashem sent Yosef down to Mitzrayim to set a standard so that those that follow would not stumble in matters of sexual immorality, so too Hashem sent people to America in the early days who were moser nefesh (self-sacrificing, fully dedicated) for Torah, who were willing to live in poverty in order to build Yeshivos.
When I was a bochur in Yeshiva, Rav Kulefsky did not own a car. He shared a car with a bochur. Can you imagine a Rebbi sharing a car with a bochur? There was a hole in the floorboard of that shared car. You could see the pavement while sitting in the driver’s seat!
Rav Henkin refused to take more than $60 a month from Ezras Torah because he wanted the money to go to Tzedakah. Rav Moshe Feinstein lived in a little apartment on the Lower East Side. These people lived in poverty because they said learning Torah is more important than having money.
What did they accomplish? Today there are thousands upon thousands of Bnei Torah in Eretz Yisrael and in America – in Lakewood and in Baltimore and New York and Yerushalayim and all over – sitting and learning al Taharas haKodesh, and it is tough! With all the stories of rich fathers-in-law and subsidies, people live hand to mouth. People live b’Dochak to be able to learn Torah.
It is not like someone who lives in poverty during medical school training or someone who scrounges around during the first years of law school, who later will become a top-notch doctor or a Wall Street attorney and start making $150,000 a year. After people learning in Kollel are forty years old, some of them may never get a job. There won’t be opportunities for them. There are more people learning Torah today than there are jobs available. That is the reality, but they do it anyway.
That is a revolution. The people who created that revolution are the people – the Roshei Yeshivas – who came here in the 1920s and 1930s and 1940s and set the standard that Limud haTorah is more important than making a buck.
That was the purpose of Yosef being tested by Potiphar’s wife. The Ribono shel Olam put him to that test, which he successfully passed, so that his children and descendants after him would be able to withstand such nisyonos in Mitazrayim.
Transcribed by David Twersky; Jerusalem [email protected]
Edited by Dovid Hoffman; Baltimore, MD [email protected]
This week’s write-up is adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissochar Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Series on the weekly Torah portion. A listing of the halachic portions for Parshas Vayeshev is provided below:
- # 034 – Chanukah Licht on Erev Shabbos
- # 076 – Katlanis: The Twice Widowed Woman
- # 125 – Ha’Malbim P’nei Chaveiro: Shaming Another
- # 172 – The Complex Issue of Child Custody
- # 218 – Grape Juice and Yayin Mevushal
- # 262 – Yichud and the Open Door Policy
- # 308 – Secular Studies
- # 352 – “Chamar Medina” — Used for Kiddush?
- # 396 – Artificial Insemination Before Chemotherapy
- # 440 – Third Night of Chanukah but Only Two Candles
- # 484 – The Ubiquitous Donor Plaque
- # 528 – Sending Someone on a Fatal Mission
- # 572 – Determining Paternity
- # 616 – Chanukah – Women Lighting for Husbands
- # 660 – Birthdays – A Jewish Minhag?
- # 704 – Sparing Someones Humiliation
- # 748 – The Menorah – Inside The House or Outside?
- # 792 – Observing Shiva for Grandparents?
- # 836 – Katlanis: A Third Marriage
- # 880 – Lying For The Sake Of The Truth
- # 924 – Bitachon Vs Hishtadlus
- # 967 – Can Older Brother Object to the Younger Brother’s Engagement?
- #1011 – Davening with a Minyan on Chanukah vs Lighting On Time
- #1055 – Can You Kill Someone Who Hashem Doesn’t Want To Die?
- #1098 – Doing A Mitzvah in Face of Sakana
- #1141 – Business Partnerships With Non-Jews
- #1184 – Holding the Kiddush Cup – Exactly How? Always?
- #1228 – Saved Miraculously from a Car Accident? Special Bracha?
- #1272 – V’sain Tal U’Matar: Some Fascinating Shailos
- #1316 – Endangering Oneself To Perform The Mitzvah of Kibbud Av
- #1360 – Showing Favoritism Amongst Your Children
- #1404 – Is Grape Juice As Good As Wine For Kiddush And Other Halachos?
- #1448 – MaOz Tzur and Its Traditional Tune – Not as Kosher as You Might Think
- #1492 – Chanukah – Zerizus vs. Hidur: Doing Mitzvos Promptly vs. Beautifully
A complete catalogue can be ordered from the Yad Yechiel Institute, PO Box 511, Owings Mills MD 21117-0511. Call (410) 358-0416 or e-mail [email protected] or visit http://www.yadyechiel.org/ for further information.