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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Vayeshev

NOT ME, TOO

Rabbi Stewart WeissKislev 20 5778
91
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Back in the day at Yeshiva, I was sitting & reading a newspaper during some free time (I was always a news junkie!) when our Rebbe Rav Herzl Kaplan zt"l walked by. With his usual sharp wit, he told me: "Shmuel, why do you read the newspaper – it’s only filled with sex & violence! If that’s what you really want to read about, better to just look in the Chumash!"

How true! The "buzz" all around us today regarding impropriety among the rich & famous is right out of our Sedra, as both Yosef & Yehuda – the twin "kings" of Israel - grapple with this very same issue, with a twist.

In Yosef’s case, it is Mrs. Potiphar – powerful in her own right, as she is the wife of Yosef’s master – who tries desperately to seduce Yosef, threatening to have him imprisoned if he does not succumb to her desires. In Yehuda’s case, it is Tamar, Yehuda’s daughter-in-law, who disguises herself and entraps Yehuda into impregnating her.

Though the cases are somewhat similar – two stories of women who want to impose themselves on men – there is a big difference. While Yehuda goes through with the act, causing him a great deal of shame & blame ("And Yehuda went down (morally) among his brothers," is the chapter’s headline), Yosef is resolute to the very end & refuses to compromise his moral character, despite the harsh punishment that results from his stance. This is perhaps why Yosef comes to be called a Tzadik.

Where did Yosef find the strength to resist Mrs. P’s advances? How did he overcome such temptation? What did he have that so many other men fail to have?

Chazal suggest that, at the most crucial moment, as he began to weaken,Yosef saw the face of his father reflected in a window or mirror. This may have been his own reflection, as Yosef & Yakov are said to have looked very much alike ("And these are the generations of Yakov/Yosef") says the pasuk. Yosef asked himself, "How can I betray the trust placed in me by my father, who told me I would be a great leader in Israel?"

At the same time, I suggest, Yosef was thinking about another father: Avinu She’bashamayim. G-d had watched over him so closely, helping him endure the pit, survive his sale to unscrupulous traders, allowing this semi-slave to become an "Ish Matzliach – a successful man among men. How could Yosef now betray Hashem after all this?

The lesson is eternal and ever-present: As long as we keep constant the twin faces of our parents & our Creator, we, too, can resist falling to sin and instead rise to the level of Tzadik.

Rabbi Stewart Weiss
Was ordained at the Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, Illinois, and led congregations in Chicago and Dallas prior to making Aliyah in 1992. He directs the Jewish Outreach Center in Ra'anana, helping to facilitate the spiritual absorption of new olim.
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