Say No To This: Vayeshev 2018

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: Does “giving into temptation” have a negative connotation? Should it? Does it depend on what’s driving that temptation? Or, when we speak of being tempted, are we always referring to something that is not advisable?

We read in this week’s Torah portion that, after being sold into slavery in Egypt, Joseph is refuses the romantic advances of Potiphar’s wife:

The Pitch: “One such day, [Joseph] came into the house to do his work. None of the household being there inside, [Potiphar’s wife] caught hold of him by his garment and said, ‘Lie with me!’ But he left his garment in her hand and got away and fled outside. When she saw that he had left it in her hand and had fled outside, she called out to her servants and said to them, ‘Look, he had to bring us a Hebrew to dally with us! …’” – Genesis 39:11-14a

Swing #1: “It seems, on first reading, as though [Joseph] refused without any reason. As our sages have said [in Midrash Sifrei], ‘A person should not say I don’t want to eat pork, because, indeed, I’d like to. But precisely because I would, the reason I behave as I do is because God wants it so!’ It is by means of just such reverence toward being alive that one is blessed to understand the real reasons for choosing good and rejecting evil. And so it is that by means of ‘And he refused’ [without offering any reasons] that he was rewarded with the reason. For mere human intelligence is able to mislead and go astray. Whereas only wisdom that comes from reverence toward being alive is accurate and correct.” – S’fat Emet

Swing #2: “[Potiphar’s wife] was no wanton and no nymphomaniac driven helplessly to snatch at every man within reach. She was a great lady. She was a dedicated person, even as her husband, the eunuch, was. Her passion for Joseph was not a sudden and furious flare-up of lust, already sated a hundred times indiscriminately and still insatiable. It grew slowly, and it came into the open only ‘after these things.’ … And long before it came into the open Joseph was aware of it, and went through the gesture of discouraging it.” – Maurice Samuel

Swing #3: “The court-ladies told her: ‘You must break this resistance, one day, when you two are alone. He is a man like any other, and cannot long withstand your charms. Doubtless he already reciprocates your passion.’ Zuleika took their advice. Early next morning, she stole into Joseph’s bedroom and fell upon him suddenly. He awoke, broke loose, and left her lying there. She cried in despair: ‘Has so beautiful a woman ever revealed her consuming love for you? Why so churlish? Why this fear of your master? As Pharaoh lives, no harm will come to you! Only be generous, and cure me of my wretchedness! Must I die, because of your foolish scruples?’” – Sefer HaYashar

Late-Inning Questions: The Torah text doesn’t give a reason why Joseph refuses Potiphar’s wife’s advances. However, when this section of the text is chanted aloud in synagogue, one of the words is sung with a shalshelet cantillation, a long series of notes that implies hesitation. Do you agree that Joseph was tempted by Potiphar’s wife? If so, was it because he took a moral stance, or was he more concerned about Potiphar’s potential reaction? Is it better to refuse temptation or to not be tempted at all?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: We are so proud of our annual Hanukkah tradition known as the “Night of Giving”, taking place this year on Sunday, December 2nd, at 6:00PM. Join us at Publix in West Ashley, Mount Pleasant, or Summerville to light the first Hanukkah candles of the holiday, and then purchase a bag of non-perishable groceries to give to the Kosher Food Pantry. It’s a great way to celebrate by giving back.

Also, we are thrilled to debut our first CinEmanu-El video, “Opening and Closing the Holy Ark”. Check it out:

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of temptation, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred believes that no amount of punishment will eliminate some players’ temptation to take performance-enhancing drugs. Do you agree?

Shabbat Shalom!