Monday, November 29, 2010

avoiding tests

Yosef refused the advances of Eishes Potifar, "V'lo shama eileha lishkav etzlah l'heyos ima." (39:10) The Midrash darshens the double-language of the pasuk to mean that Yosef not only refused to have relations with Eishes Potifar, but he even refused to lie in the same bed as her (lishkav etzlah), despite prophetically knowing that he was destined to join her in olam haba (l'heyos ima).

The Koznitzer Maggid asks what the chiddush of this Midrash is. Obviously Yosef haTzadik would avoid even being in the same bed as her as Eishes Potifar. Would we dream otherwise?

A person grows from each challenge faced and each test overcome. Kal v’chomer this is true of a tzadik like Yosef. Each time he faced Eishes Potiphar and resisted her advances he became spiritually stronger. Eishes Potiphar therefore offered Yosef what seemed like a reasonable suggestion – instead of running away from her, increase the temptation and test by drawing closer, by lying next to her. How much greater schar would be from withstanding such a test – it would guarantee both of them a place in olam ha’ba!

This was the trap that the Midrash is teaching us that Yosef did not fall prey to. Yosef refused to lie next to Eishes Potifar even for the sake of proving that he could resist her and thereby gain additional schar. Given the choice, it's always better to avoid a difficult situation rather than prove one's ability to overcome the challenge. Tempting fate is far too great a risk, no matter what the potential benefit may be.


  1. great unknown1:57 PM

    Dovid HaMelech asked for a nisayon...and failed. [I am not familiar with Chassidic literature and therefore am unaware if there are those who claim that the event of Bas Sheva was a resounding success.]

  2. Take a look at the Tif. Shlomo's comments on the haftarah of David and Avishag. Sorry, I can't provide the mareh makom right now.

  3. "despite prophetically knowing that he was destined to join her in olam haba"

    that's not what the medrash says - it says had he sinned with her she would have accompanied him to olam habah - melamed sheaveira devuka leadam kekelev

  4. yet Palti ben Layish seemed to embrace his test. According to the Midrash, he wept when David took Michal back.

  5. great unknown7:35 PM

    If a person is forced into a test, as was Paltiel by Shaul - had he refused, he would have been subject to execution as a mored be'malchus, then one can use it as a tremendous growth experience. Hence, the sense of loss expressed by his crying.

    [Of course, he was continuously at risk of failure in those circumstances. Had he failed or come close to failure, he would not have regretted the termination of the nisayon but I assume even risked execution under the rubric of yeharaig ve'al ya'avor.]

    This is not the same as voluntarily embracing a test. His tears were not tantamount to asking Dovid Hamelech to send Michal back occasionally to give him a further opportunity to accumulate schar.

  6. velo lidei nisayon

  7. I've heard many stories of Rebbes that sought out tests, and I don't want to name names. I'm not a baal mussar, but in my humble opinion, if it's really a nisayon, seeking it out is not a choice, it's a symptom of serious moral illness. For example, after thirty years, three months ago I quit smoking. Whenever I get depressed, angry, or suicidal, I think of good and sufficient reasons to start smoking again. One could argue that I've satisfied my promise to my late father, and as far as health is concerned, I don't give a twopenny dam. But I recognize, at least so far, that these are rationalizations thrown off by my self-destructive impulse, not reasons. But it's been very, very close. So I deal with my issues by going out for a walk at three in the morning, taking my hunting knife and hoping to have a good reason to use it. Sex, power, and money are even stronger drives, and you have to be really, really, delusional to think you're doing a good thing by tantalizing yourself.