Innocence in Disguise – Vayieshev 5777
It’s back; for the third and final time in the Book of Breishis we encounter our longest Trop (musical note), the Shalsheles. Here it is placed on the word “וימאן and he refused”, when Yoseph resisted the (quite vigorous) overtures from Potiphar’s wife. (39:8 – the 2nd Passuk in Shishi)
According to what we have said previously that the Shalsheles denotes cognitive dissonance, this would seem to imply that Yosef actually did want to give in and accept her offer. In his heart that is what he wanted, but his mind won over and he was eventually able to resist. But even that resistance didn’t stand strong, for three verses later we are told how Yoseph came home on a festive day to ‘do his work’, knowing that no-one else would be in the house. Yes, ‘to do his work’ is (according to one opinion in the Talmud) a euphemism for giving in to Potiphera’s overtures!
However, what I find even more fascinating is not that Yoseph, identified by the Torah itself as a Tzaddik, was actually prepared to commit adultery, it’s the fact that he didn’t! The Talmud explains that what stopped Yoseph from sinning was when he saw the reflection of his face, which resembled that of his father Yaackov, in Potiphera’s eyes. Do you know how close you need to be to someone to see your face in their eyes? Plus he was already naked!
Cognitive dissonance indeed.
The temptation must have been overwhelming, except he didn’t give in.
It takes two to tango, and the second player in this episode Potiphera is always castigated as an evil woman. However, it would seem from a close reading of the Biblical commentators that she wasn’t entirely bad. She is compared with Tamar who earlier on in the Sedra is credited with acting for the sake of Heaven and thus being blessed with sons who would be the ancestors of Kings and indeed Moshiach. Where though is Potiphera’s righteousness? She tried to seduce an innocent young man, and then when she fails she causes him to be cast into jail.
Rashi explains that Potiphera had seen prophetically that she was destined to have children from Yoseph; she knew her destiny and was prepared to pursue it even though it would have put her in a difficult position. Then when her first plan fails, she understood that it was not through her specifically but rather her daughter* Osnat who would marry Yoseph and bear his children. She then embarks on a plan to keep Yoseph in Egypt until Osnat would be old enough to marry, even though it casts her in a negative light. All in order to play her part in the Divine Plan, which she had been privileged to have been made privy to.
The Rebbe draws our attention to this Rashi and notes how easy it is to judge someone unfavourably when we are not in full knowledge of the facts.
Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom and a Lichtiger Chanukah,
*Osnat was actually the adopted daughter of the Potiphars, and was in fact the biological daughter of Dinah and it was only when Yoseph saw an amulet that she wore stating her ancestry that he agreed to marry her.