“And [Yosef] refused, and he said to his master’s wife, ‘Behold, with me [here] my master knows nothing about anything in the house, and he has placed everything he has in my hand’” (Bereishis 39:8).
Father Knows Best
Whereas Yosef’s brothers couldn’t stand him and sold him into slavery, Potifar was so impressed with him that Yosef was soon managing all his Egyptian master’s affairs.
Unfortunately, part of this package was Potifar’s wife, who pressured him to join her in betraying her husband.
How did Yosef find the inner strength to defy this powerful woman? Chazal tell us that at this critical juncture, the image of his saintly father, Yaakov Avinu, appeared before him. But that miracle alone didn’t save Yosef. If it had, Chazal wouldn’t heap such praise on him for passing this test. Rather, as the Nesivos Shalom explains, Yosef still had to work on himself. How?
Chazal say Potifar’s wife had holy intentions, for she saw in the stars that Yosef was destined to bear children “through her.” But who exactly was to be the mother: she herself, or her daughter Osnas? Potifar’s wife chose the former interpretation and threw herself into making it a reality, regardless of her marriage.
Yosef saw the same ambiguity in the constellations, which made his test even more difficult. Perhaps Hashem actually wanted him to give in to Potifar’s wife, in order that she bear him children! How on earth was Yosef to figure out the correct interpretation? How could he possibly remain objective with a scheming woman breathing down his neck?
Enter Yaakov Avinu, the very personification of truth. As the Navi writes “Grant truth to Yaakov […]” (Michah 7:20). When Yaakov’s image appeared before Yosef, so did truth, i.e., the clarity to understand what Hashem really wanted, which was of course to remain loyal to his master.
Toras Chesed offers a variation on this theme. According to the Etz Yosef commentary on the Tanchuma: Yosef didn’t need Yaakov’s image to save him from sin, for he would have resisted temptation himself. Rather, Yosef saw himself in the mirror! Mirrors were very expensive back then, so Potifar may have owned only one, which was probably near his vain wife’s bed. When Yosef glimpsed his reflection in that mirror, he remembered his father, whom he resembled. That’s when he asked himself: What would my father do?
The evil inclination preyed on Yosef, insisting that Hashem wanted him to sin. How many times have we played similar games with ourselves, reasoning that certain behavior isn’t so bad, or is actually good? After all, if Hashem placed us in this situation, He must want us to participate…
In such moments of moral muddle, may we look to our holy ancestors for clarity. Thankfully, the inner strength to slay the yetzer hara, even at the peak of its powers, runs in our family.
Question for Discussion
What role model or trusted adviser has helped you make a difficult decision?