A Torah thought on parshas Vayeshev
Rabbi Elchanan Shoff
The wife of Yosef’s master grabbed him by his cloak, attempting to convince him to engage in sin with her, “and he fled” leaving the room, teaches the Torah. When the Torah later describes the splitting of the Red Sea, averting the massacre of the Israelites and allowing thereby the creation of the Jewish people, the book os Psalms describes it as “the Sea saw, and fled.” The word for for “fleeing” used there is the identical word used to describe the fleeing of Yosef. The Midrash (Shocher Tov 114) wonders, “what did the Sea see, that cause it to flee?” and answers, “it saw the coffin of Yosef” that the Jews were carrying along with them, as they left Egypt. It was the fleeing that Yosef did when he left behind the temptations of his master’s wife that gave the Jewish people the strength and merit to make it alive across the sea.
In what way was the splitting of the sea a result of the actions of Yosef all those years earlier? We find, fascinatingly that the Talmud (Sotah 2a) compares the marriage of a couple to the splitting of the Sea, “it is as difficult to pair them up as to split the Red Sea.” Water is often associate in Rabbinic writing with kindness, or chesed. (See for example Pardes Rimonim, 23:13, Kehilas Yaakov (Yellish) Vol.2 sv Mayim Rabim, Meor Vashemes to Beshalach s.v. Uparoh hikriv.) Kindness is something that is wonderful, but when left unbridled, can turn into chaos. “When a person lies with his sister, this is chesed,” teaches the Torah. An abomination, is clearly the interpretation of chesed in that instance, for kindness when not limited properly leads to promiscuity. One is simply free and kind without any boundary. When that happened, Hashem brought a flood of water to the world, in the time of Noah. Perhaps this was to show us that even water, the ultimate elixir of life can be deathly when not limited properly. A similar thing is true in a relationship. In order to truly have the loving and meaningful relationship with ones spouse, there is by definition a limiting of others, and an exclusivity of this relationship. When a person wants to be truly kind and devoted to another person, he paradoxically must also be in full control of his ability to limit himself and that kindness. The greatest kindness that a husband can possibly perform for his wife is for her to know that he is committed to her and her alone, and that no one else will ever hold the place in his heart that she will. And so, as challenging as it is to split a sea, to find a place in the water where you can be consumed with water, and yet breathe and live, so is it challenging to be consumed with kindness and yet still mainting your integrity and stay true to yourself.
Yosef taught us how to survive in exile. He taught us how to live in Egypt and find favor in the eyes of others, making their lives better and contributing to their society, while never forgetting our place. He knew both how to be kind and giving, to the point where the whole world was eating and surviving because of his works, and yet to also be able to flee the room when he was in danger of getting sucked in. It was his example that led the Jewish people to be able to cross the Sea, to know that they were not members of Egyptian society and culture and instead a nation that could survive and make it on their own, with their only Master the true God. Fleeing is not always the easiest of things – many things can draw us in, and challenge our values. But locked into the makeup of the Jewish psyche is the power of our ancestor Yosef, who teaches us how to be kind, giving, productive and influential, while never letting our guard down.