Genesis – ‘Vayeshev’: Standing strong in the face of evil

And how can I perpetrate this great evil and sin against G-d?

Yosef   resists the advances of his master Potiphar’s wife.  He rebuts her stating that it was improper for him, on two counts firstly when bearing in mind the debt of gratitude that he owed Potiphar”. Secondly it would be a terrible sin against G-d in committing adultery.

Rav Gifter  raises an interesting question   why  when responding to Potiphar’s wife’s advances did he not  tell her why it was wrong and inappropriate for her rather than him to commit such an act? Rashi quotes a Talmudic statement that even before the torah was given, non-Jews were commanded against immorality.

Rav Gifter suggests that Yosef sensing the severity of the test, felt that he was partially responsible for the situation at hand due to some shortcoming in his own personality. If he had been living on the high level of sanctity befitting the favoured son of Yaakov, Potiphar’s wife would never have imagined that she could sway the mind of such a tsaddik, and she would thus not have tried to do so.

Yosef’s greatness here is highlighted in his open admission that the situation he found himself in was not merely a victim of circumstance but it was a gradual and subtle lowering of his own guard which resulted in him finding himself in the testing situation presented by Potiphar’s wife.

This has relevance to us as individuals and as members of society, the response and excuse that people are just victims of circumstance and therefore had little or no choice in their unethical and immoral behaviour and personal conduct is.Yosef’s response to the overtures of Potiphar’s wife is insightful in how we should react .find ourselves in challenging circumstances that tempt and test our spiritual and ethical values, we should reflect on our past conduct and will realise in a similar vein to Yosef that we are only finding the circumstance a challenge due to our failure to enact the appropriate boundaries and fences to protect and pre-empt such a situation ever developing in the first place.

Published by Rabbi Piny Hackenbroch

Rabbi Piny Hackenbroch is currently the Senior Rabbi in Woodside Park Synagogue – a modern orthodox thriving community of some 1,400 members. His innate love for people and his empowering brand of leadership make him a well-loved figure in Woodside Park & London.

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