Friday, November 22, 2013

beating the yetzer ha'ra with love

1. Earlier in the week I wrote regarding Ya’akov’s tefilah, “ki b’makli avarti es haYarden hazeh” that the word “zeh” conveys a sense of immediacy and presence.  Micha reminded me in a comment that Chazal tell us that Moshe Rabeinu’s prophecy b’ispaklarya hamei’ra, with complete clarity, was characterized by the use of the word “zeh,” as opposed to other prophets, ispaklarya she’aina me’ira, whose prophecy was characterized by the use of the word “koh.”

 Turning to this week’s parsha, we can now better understand the words, “Nas’u m’zeh” that the stranger/angel says to Yosef about his brothers.  The other shevatim could not attain that lofty level of “zeh” that Yosef aspired to.  They ridicule Yosef as “ba’al hachalomos ha’zeh,” the dreamer of “zeh,” something they see as far outside their grasp, but which Yosef was able to attain.

2. Earlier in the week I asked why the Midrash needs to provide other excuses like “Maybe I will be selected to be a korban…  Maybe I will receive nevuah in the middle of the night,” for why Yosef refused the advanced of Eishes Potifar.  The Torah itself says he refused because it would not be right for him to breach the trust Potifar placed in him.  Besides which, the simple fact that it was an aveira should have been reason enough.

Josh M. suggested that the Midrash is highlighting the degree to which one must calculate schar mitzvah and hefsed aveira.  Even though the excuses suggested by the Midrash may seem far fetched, they enter into the equation.

The Rambam writes at the end of Hil Issurei Bi’ah regarding avoiding the yetzer for arayos:

  וירחיב דעתו בחכמה--שאין מחשבת עריות מתגברת, אלא בלב פנוי מן החכמה, ובחכמה הוא אומר "איילת אהבים, ויעלת חן: דדיה, ירווך בכל עת; באהבתה, תשגה תמיד

The Rambam is teaching us that when it comes to fighting the yetzer ha’ra, “Just say no,” is not enough of a strategy.  There has to be some positive good – the Rambam speaks of a positive expression of love – that the desire aroused by the yezter can be channeled into.  I’ll give a crude example: imagine you have a ba’al teshuvah who has been eating McDonalds his whole life.  Yom Kippur, when everyone is starving, is probably not a good day to try to impress upon him the importance of mitzvas kashrus.  Come over to the same guy in the middle of the Shabbos kiddush, when his plate is overflowing with kugel and kishke and cholent, and then talk to him about the McDonalds.  His response then is going to be, “Who needs McDonalds when you have this?”  That’s how to fight the yetzer ha’ra.

“Vayima’ein” was the “just say no” strategy.  It was followed up by a justification of what would be lost by violating the trust of Potifar.  But Chazal knew that there had to be more to Yosef’s victory of the yetzer than that – there had to be positive energy involved as well.  There had to be the “ayeles ahavim” for G-d that the Rambam speaks about.  So Chazal added these other considerations to the picture.  They tell us that Yosef reflected on his being worthy of prophecy, of his being so close to G-d that he could even be selected as a korban.  Those feelings of closeness with G-d, love of G-d, were what enabled him to achieve victory over the yetzer.

3. Yesterday I suggested that Yosef’s reliance on the Sar haMashkim was inappropriate because it was for a selfish end, but Bitya bas Pharoah was not criticized for acting on long odds and trying to save baby Moshe because it was on behalf of another.  Rav Shach in Rosh Amanah cites the gemara in Chulin (and there are many Midrashim to the same extent) that interprets the Sar haMashkim’s dreams as being a portent of the birth of Moshe, Aharon and Miriam, a hint to shalosh regalim, and other such signs that point to the growth and flourishing of Am Yisrael.  (The Netziv writes that “Vayachalmu chalom sheneihen” (39:5) is not referring to the Sar haMashkim and Sar haOfim, but rather “sheneihem” refers to Yosef and the Sar haHashkim/Ofim.  He sees this as the source for Chazal finding a message meant for Yosef and Klal Yisrael in the dreams.) 

Rav Shach suggests that had Yosef’s concern been limited to the fulfillment of the Sar haMashkim’s dreams for Klal Yisrael, then his making every desperate effort to get out of jail and bring them to fruition would have been not only warranted, but would have been a mitzvah.  Yosef’s error was saying, “z’chartani… v’hizkartani,” allowing consideration of his personal plight to enter into the equation.  I think this idea fits nicely with the chiluk I suggested.

4. Lastly, something to think about: many if not most people have a very simplistic view of emunah and think that if you do the right thing by G-d, G-d will in turn do good for you.  Sometimes it works that way, but often it does not.  After Yosef haTzadik passes the unbelievable test of resisting Eishes Potiphar (the Shomer Emunin writes that when someone is faced with temptation and overcomes it, that moment is an eis ratzon!) instead of being instantly rewarded, he instead loses his position and is tossed in prison.   Things seem to take a turn to the worse for him, not for the better.  Why davka after rising to such great heights of tzidkus does Yosef suffer punishment and disgrace?  How can that be the reward for his righteousness?  Something to ponder... maybe more next week on this.

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