In this week’s parsha, Yosef was confronted with a nisayon from the wife of Potiphar. On a basic level, this was an incredible temptation for any person to withstand. There is an interesting machlokes that Rashi brings down. The pasuk says (39; 11) ‘And it was on that day, that he entered the house to do his work (referring to Yosef). Rashi says that there are two opinions as to what the word ‘work’ referred to. One opinion translates it literally, that he showed up for work like he did every day. The other opinion is that it means he arrived to concede and perform an aveirah with her. But an image of his father appeared before him and he didn’t commit the act (Sota 36b).
According to the opinion that he showed up to commit an immoral act-how can we possibly explain that? How can Yosef even contemplate such a heinous transgression?
To answer this, we find a Rashi (39; 1) that notes the following; ‘why is the topic of Yehuda’s descent next to the fact that Yosef went down to Mitzrayim? To have the two stories, the wife of Potiphar and the story of Tamar, side by side; to tell us that just as Tamar acted for the sake of Hashem so too the wife of Potiphar acted for the sake of Hashem. She saw through her astrological prediction that she would have descendants from Yosef but what she didn’t know was, that it would it be from her daughter and not her.’
There seems now to be a link between Yosef and the family of Potiphar. Perhaps this was the reason behind Yosef’s motives with the wife of Potiphar.
If this is so, why was no act done? Why didn’t Yosef go ahead with the plan if he was thinking this was for the sake of Hashem? What had prevented him from doing so?
Rav Gedaliah Schorr, ZT”L quotes Rav Baruch m’Mezhbitz who explains the following with a powerful lesson for life.
If you look in the pasuk (39; 10) it says ‘And so it was-just as she coaxed Yosef day after day…’ every single day she would try to lure Yosef to do an aveirah and every single day Yosef turned her down. Yosef understood from the fact that she was persistent and determined to entice him, that it was the yetzer hara. The yetzer tov presents an opportunity to a person only once, but the yetzer hara doesn’t relent. Originally, he thought it was a positive opportunity; for the sake of Hashem. But once he saw how she wouldn’t give up, Yosef understood that it was the influence of the yetzer hara.
We find a similar idea by Avraham Avinu. En route to the Akeida the Satan tried making it harder and harder for him by throwing many obstacles his way. Finally, just as Avraham was about to slaughter Yitzchok, he saw a ram whose horns were caught in the bushes. He then stopped, untangled the ram and offered it as a korban to Hashem. Why didn’t he think that this too was an act of the yetzer hara? Why was he so quick to grab this ram?
The answer is because the pasuk (Bereishis 22; 13) clearly says ‘ne’echaz basvach’, it was wedged in a tree. Had Avraham had easier access to it, then he would’ve assumed it was the Satan. Since he had to work to untangle it that made him understand that it wasn’t the yetzer hara! The Satan makes everything available and accessible. He saw how hard he had to work for it; he realized this was an opportunity and he grabbed it.
The Vilna Goan writes, in Rus, that if a person can’t make a decision and has two options available: one is more difficult to carry out and one is easier to carry out, how do you know which way to go? The one that’s more difficult is the right one as that is the yetzer tov speaking; making us work for it. If it’s easy then it’s the yetzer hara talking to a person convincing you to make the wrong choice. The yetzer hara knocks all day….the yetzer tov presents itself once. When an opportunity knocks at your door, you answer it.
May we all be zoche to be able to make the right decisions throughout our lives.
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