Yeshivat Ateret Yerushalayim

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Vayeishev
Rabbi Jablinowitz

We read in this week's parsha Yosef's encounter with the wife of Potiphar. Yosef rejects her advances as the Torah indicates (Chapter 39, Pasuk 8), Ve'Yama'ein Vayomar, he refused her and he told her how inappropriate it would be for him to engage in such immoral behavior. The Medrash Rabbah on the pasuk (87, 5) teaches that Yosef said to her "Darkei shel Hakadosh Baruch Hu Livchor M'Ahuvei Beis Abba L'Olah". According to the Medrash, Yosef justified his refusal to be with her based on the fact that Hashem chooses the most beloved of the Avos to sacrifice themselves. And if he would end up being chosen to be an "Olah", he would be disqualified having done such an aveirah.

The Sfas Emes points out that this Medrash is quite astounding. The reason Yosef couldn't be with her is because it was one of the most serious aveiros, Gilui Arayos! Why does Yosef need to go so far afield as explaining maybe he will need to be a sacrifice and doesn’t want to disqualify himself?

He answers by explaining that the way to stay away from sinning is by putting the will of Hashem before one's own will. As Chazal teach in Avos (Chapter 2, Mishnah 4), Batel Retzoncha Mipnei Ratzono, Subdue your desire before the desire of Gd. One has wishes and temptations, but they must be subjugated to the command of Hashem. In a similar vein, Chazal teach and Rashi brings their words at the end of parshat Kedoshim, Al Tomar Iy Efshi Le'echol Chazir, Iy Efshi Lilbosh Sha'atnez, etc. One should not say I have no desire to eat non-kosher and I have no desire to wear Sha'atnez. Rather, one should say I would like to eat non-kosher food and I would very much like to wear Sha'atnez, but what can I do, Hashem has commanded me that I may not. This is the notion of subjugating one's will before the Ribono Shel Olam. A person has desires and temptations and would like to sin, but the will of Gd and the fulfillment of the mitzvah keeps one from doing the aveirah.

The Sfas Emes explains that this notion of "Mah E'eseh, Avinu She'Bashamayim Gazar Alai" is very difficult. How can one truly not give in to his yetzer hara and keep from sinning when his temptation is so great? The sefarim teach that the nisayon of Yosef with Eishes Potiphar was even greater than the nisyonos of Avraham Avinu. What is able to bring about that "Mi'un", that refusal in the word Ve'Yama'ein?

The way Yosef HaTzadik was able to overcome the advances of Potiphar's wife was by recalling the notion of "Mesirus Nefesh". If one's life is threatened, he still doesn't perform the three serious aveiros, including Gilui Arayos. So how could he be willing to do the aveirah without his life being threatened?

This is the p'shat in the Medrash where Yosef says he might be asked to be a karban Olah. We like to think that we would not succumb to a serious aveirah when our religious commitment is being challenged in a life threatening situation. Our religious principles would be upheld. And it is precisely this commitment that needs to be recalled at a moment of weakness and desire. This was the method employed by Yosef, and this is a lesson for future generations as well. 

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