HOW TO JOIN THE RESISTANCE
November 27, 2018
Rabbi H. Greenberg in #1143, Parsha Thought, VaYeishev

A WINDING NOTE

Joseph was sold by his brothers into slavery in Egypt, eventually to serve Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s ministers. The Torah relates how his master’s wife attempted to seduce him and how he resisted temptation. The best word to describe his resistance, the Torah states, is va’ye’ma’en, which translates as “and he refused.”

This word va’ye’ma’en is unusual in that the musical note attached to it, the trope, is the shalsheles-a chain which appears only four times in the entire Torah. This trope note which resembles a chain, signifies a winding note, both in the shape of its symbol and in the way it is sung. As we shall see, va’ye’ma’en is pregnant with many levels, or links, of meaning.

On a simple level, we must understand why the Torah troubles to mention that Joseph refused his mistress’ salacious advances. His refusal is quite evident from the verses that follow, in which he told her that he would be sinning against G-d and her husband and that he fled. Obviously, he refused. So why would the Torah, which is always so economical with words, have to mention that he refused?

NON-NEGOTIABLE

The simple answer, provided by many of the Chassidic Masters, is that before Joseph explained why her demand of him was morally wrong, he made it clear that this was not negotiable. His refusal was not based on her acceptance of his values and reasons. He flatly refused. Once she heard that he gave an unequivocal no, he was then able to explain to her why it was so wrong.

If he had begun with an explanation, she might have attempted to argue with him and justify her behavior. If she were able to do that it would have given him more time to succumb to her advances. Maybe, she thought, he would actually come around to her way of thinking.

In truth, she had a very powerful spiritual argument to rationalize her desire. She had been prophetically informed that she would have a child through Joseph. Indeed, there was a kernel of truth in her vision. Joseph ultimately married her daughter Osnas, the mother of his children. Had Joseph not flatly, and categorically refused, he might have been influenced by her “spiritual prophetic” argument. 

This simple word, va’ye’ma’en, shows us the way we must deal with our own challenges by evil influences. Chassidic masters teach us that the most effective coping measure is not to engage with negative influences. We must make ourselves clear from the outset that we will not negotiate with evil and immorality. We must simply refuse to accept the enticements of any form of evil. Once we do that, we can use our minds to confront the irrationality of evil and deepen our negative feelings towards it.

This is one of the explanations for the enigmatic statement of the Talmud that on Purim we are supposed to become so intoxicated that we no longer know the difference between “cursed is Haman” and “blessed is Mordechai.” This has been interpreted to mean that even when we no longer have the capacity to explain why we reject evil (Haman) and embrace Mordechai (good) we do so because we are repulsed by Haman, whether or not we can explain it in rational terms. Likewise, we are attracted to and embrace Mordechai whether or not we can say our reason for that devotion to the Mordechais of the world.

In short, we must not enter into a dialogue with or debate our evil impulse and try to explain why it is not a good idea. Rather, we just say No!

REFUSING TO ACCEPT GALUS

This lesson can be applied to the way we view Galus-exile and the attitudes it engenders.

The Talmud lists Galus among the things that G-d “regrets” having created, alongside the Yetzer Hara-evil inclination.

Just as we tell the evil impulse within us that we unequivocally and categorically reject its objectives and premises, so too, do we reject Galus and the dark mentality it engenders even before we explain why we reject it.

We must say to ourselves, and to G-d, that we refuse to make peace with the allure of exile and its seductive appeal. We want out. We want Moshiach and Redemption now! Once we take that firm stance, we can safely analyze the evils of exile and why we need to escape it.

REFUSING AND BELIEVING

Once we accept the premise that we must immediately and categorically refuse to accept the allure of evil, we may then proceed to the next level, which explains what gives us the strength to detach ourselves so suddenly. This second level of va’ye’ma’en is rooted in the level of Torah interpretation called remez, which deals with the way letters and words are hints of other underlying concepts. If we take the word va’ye’ma’en and rearrange the letters, it will read, “va’ya’amen-and he believed.”

Here too Chassidic masters explain that the power we have to resist evil is the faith that we all possess. When our faith is strong, we are capable of resisting evil without going into lengthy explanations why evil is detrimental to us.

This approach must apply equally to our attitude towards Galus. When our faith in G-d and the coming of Moshiach is strong, we can resist the paralyzing exile conditions and attitudes. If our faith should falter, then all the rational arguments against the negativity of exile will not succeed in disengaging and untangling us from its control over our lives.

HOW TO AWAKEN THE FAITH?

Faith is something all of us possess, yet not all of us are capable of resisting evil. The reason for this disconnect is that faith is embedded so deeply within the soul of every Jew that it requires a catalyst to help reveal it. Otherwise it remains dormant.

Indeed, the Talmud records one rabbi’s opinion that Joseph was about to succumb to the charms of Potiphar’s wife. So what was it that catalyzed his inner faith to the point that he was able to detach himself from this dangerously negative situation?

The Talmud, as cited by Rashi, states that just as Joseph was about to give in to the pressure he saw the image of his father in the window. According to another opinion in the Midrash (Midrash HaGadol) it was the image of his mother that saved him from sinning.

This, commentators suggest, triggered the insight that by succumbing to Potiphar’s wife he would be severing his connection to his father. When a Jew is confronted with such an ultimatum – either surrender to the forces of impurity or run into your father’s embrace – the inherent nature of a Jew is to choose the latter. Indeed, a Jew will categorically refuse, no matter what the consequences to his or her life and well-being, as has been amply demonstrated throughout history.

This also explains the shalsheles-chain trope note attached to the word va’ye’ma’en. Joseph saw the chain that linked his father to him and from him down through the generations. He knew that if he were to sever his link in that chain it would extinguish the legacy of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. In short, there would be no Jewish people!

FATHER’S IMAGE OR MOTHER’S IMAGE?

As stated, there are two opinions in the Midrash about whose image prevented him from sinning; either his father’s or his mother’s.

What difference does it make if it were his father or his mother? They both represented the highest levels of morality and holiness; seeing either image would have helped him to strengthen his faith and empower him to resist.

Upon reflection, we can see that there is a specific quality which he received primarily from his mother and that was connected to the reason she named him Joseph. In last week’s parsha we read, “She named him Joseph [‘may he add’], saying, may G-d add [yoseif] another son for me.”

It is odd that, while she should have been reveling in the birth of her first child after many years of painful barrenness, she thought of the next son.

From this we can see that Rachel was focused on the future even as she was aware of and excited about the present.

Moreover, the Tzemach Tzedek (the third Rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch) retranslated the verse to read: “She named him Joseph, saying, may G-d add from an ‘other’ (i.e., an outsider) to become a son.”

In other words, her wish for Joseph was that he would become a leader and would focus on reaching out to those who are the most remote from the legacy of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs. She saw, presciently, that Joseph possessed the power to change people because of his unique spiritual leadership qualities. When Jacob questioned the young Joseph’s dream that his family would one day bow down to him, the Torah states that Jacob said, “are we to come, I and your mother, your brothers, to bow down to you to the ground?” Rachel was more open to the idea of her son’s future leadership capabilities.

When Joseph saw the image of his father it helped him connect back to the past; to his father Jacob and grandfather Abraham.

When he saw Rachel’s image, by contrast, this enabled him to see into the future and know that he was destined to take those outsiders who were lost to Judaism and return them to the fold.

TWO APPROACHES TO OUR CHALLENGES

There are two ways of dealing with our challenges, both of which involve seeing the chain-the shalsheles.

The first is to see our connection to our forebears going back to Sinai and the Patriarchs and Matriarchs.

The second approach is to see what Joseph saw in the image of his mother; a powerful force of optimism and the ability to see a glorious future where the other-outsider will be transformed into an insider-son.

The dispute in the Midrash as to whether he saw the image of his father or mother is, in truth, no dispute at all.  Both are legitimate approaches, however, the idea that it was his mother’s image is now more relevant.

As we stand so close to the Final Redemption, we must realize the power we have to be connected to the future and see that future in the present, just as Rachel saw the future leadership capabilities of her son Joseph already at his birth.

Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (http://beismoshiachmagazine.org/).
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