Rabbi O’s Weekly Parsha: Vayeishev (Genesis 37-40) Know When to Say No

How do you deal with the ethical challenges in your life?       ·         Should I take home some office supplies from the school I work at; no one will miss them?       ·         Should I be faithful in my marriage even though my spouse really irritates me or should have an affair with someone at work who understands me?       ·         Should I take that piece of cake or that 2,000 calorie milk shake even though my doctor has warned me that diabetes is not far off if I don’t change my diet?       ·         Should I accept a sincere apology from my aunt who harmed me emotionally or do I remain abstinent and distance myself from her?       ·         If I am the main breadwinner of the household, should I help out at home with some of the domestic responsibilities or do I say that I do enough by bringing home a paycheck? Anyone leading an emotionally healthy and rewarding life will deal with these types of personal encounters regularly-sometimes numerous times a day. We know how great it feels when we overcome our yetzer hara (negative impulse)but we are not always successful. This week’s Torah reading involves the story of young and handsome Joseph and how close he came to being seduced by the woman of the house in which he worked. Understanding his internal struggle and his personal victory will provide us instruction for how to deal with succumbing to temptations in life.           After these events, his master’s wife cast her eyes upon Joseph; she said, “be with me. Joseph refused and told her that her husband had faith in him and fully trusted him with running his estate and had been generous with him. No one in this house is greater than me; He has not withheld anything from me other   than you, his wife. How can I do such a great evil and sin against G-d.Even though Egypt was a place where a multitude of gods were worshipped and moral standards were much looser than the home in which he was raised, Joseph maintained the moral and religious standards that his parents had inculcated in him. When Potiphar’s (his master’s) wife came on the scene and noticed his abilities and good looks, she tried to seduce him. On one hand, if he refused her, she could make his life difficult but on the other hand, adultery was clearly against the principles of the family from which he came and to which he was still connected. In addition, he was a decedent of, Abraham and Sara, Isaac and Rebecca. Judaism doesn’t forbid worldly pleasures; to the contrary, it encourages them but puts them in context so that we get maximum enjoyment from them. The unique intimate relationship between a man and a woman is a powerful and positive force that bonds husband and wife and even allows them to be G-d like in that they have the ability to partner with the Almighty to create another human being.In Joseph’s family, sexual activity was limited to the commitment of the marriage pact but in Egypt the view of sex was different. Promiscuity was common and socially acceptable. Masters slept with slaves, and eunuchs were prominent. Joseph was an attraction for Potiphar’s wife. An affair with him offered excitement with no bonding or commitment and certainly no sanctification; he could be sold or dispatched when she would be tired of him. Even though she also might have been attracted to his intelligence and spirit, she was seeking a relationship that offered quick physical gratification without bonding, commitment, or security. She wasn’t looking to leave her marriage and run off with a slave. But Joseph turned her down; he couldn’t do it to his master (who had been so good to him) and more importantly it wasn’t part of the value system that would ultimately transform the world. She didn’t seem to be impressed with either of these excuses [How can I do such a great evil (against my master) and sin against G-d] and continued to press him daily. One day when everyone was out of the house, she was more forceful in her seduction and, according to the Midrash, Joseph was ready to succumb, but an image of his father flashed through his mind and he remembered G-d’s promise and purpose in building a nation through Jacob (Joseph’s father) and his family. Joseph’s life had too much meaning; there’s no way he was going to allow a fleeting night of fun with his master’s wife to overpower his ability to make correct choices. This story illustrates the importance of people knowing who they are. In life, temptation and conflict disappear when one knows who (s)he is and what values (s)he stands for. When you realize who you are you also realize who you are not. This is the most effective way of preventing destructive behavior and far more useful than a lecture from a family member, friend or therapist. Temptation loses its grip when a person realizes that it takes the person away from his or her real purpose in life. By recalling his father, Joseph was reminded of his commitment to the covenant and the higher purpose of his existence. Had he succumbed; he would have betrayed himself. From this point of view, temptation can be seen as a failure to know oneself. Joseph was forced to choose whether to know himself and be Joseph or surrender himself to the oblivion of being narcissistic. Should I take home some office supplies from the school I work at; no one will miss them? If you know who you are and what values you live by, the answer becomes blatantly clear. Should I be faithful in my marriage even though my spouse really irritates me or should I have an affair with someone at work who understands me? If your life is about keeping commitments (you made a strong and significant one the day you got married!), you won’t falter in your ability to make the right decision. Should I take that piece of cake or that 2,000 calorie milk shake even though my doctor has warned me that diabetes is not far off if I don’t change my diet? If being responsible to yourself and your family is a core value, you will refrain and if you find you are helplessly compulsive when it comes to food, you will seek help.Some people feel they don’t have the ability to say no to certain challenges due to insecurity, fear, peer pressure or a host of other excuses. Most circumstances are not as hard as we make them out to be-it’s just that when we are in the heat of the moment, it’s hard to be rational. What is the most effective way to make a decision that you will be happy with the next morning? Do what Joseph did-ask yourself, what do I live for; what values really determine how I will lead my life? In order to say ‘no,’ you have to know (who you are).  Good Shabbos
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 Good Shabbos
Rabbi Oppenheim
Charlotte Torah Center