Modesty challenges in a permissive world

The Parasha in the daily life – Parashat Miketz-Chanukah - Rabbi Eliezer Shenvald - 5780

In our Parasha, we are exposed to Joseph's great "ordeal" with Potiphar's wife. Young Joseph grew up inside Yaacov's home; a home full of faith and spiritual atmosphere with high standards of modesty in the relationship between the sexes. And now he finds himself in Egypt at Potiphar's in a strangely different cultural reality with other standards of gender relations:

וַיְהִ֣י יוֹסֵ֔ף יְפֵה־תֹ֖אַר וִיפֵ֥ה מַרְאֶֽה׃ וַיְהִ֗י אַחַר֙ הַדְּבָרִ֣ים הָאֵ֔לֶּה וַתִּשָּׂ֧א אֵֽשֶׁת־אֲדֹנָ֛יו אֶת־עֵינֶ֖יהָ אֶל־יוֹסֵ֑ף וַתֹּ֖אמֶר שִׁכְבָ֥ה עִמִּֽי׃ וַיְמָאֵ֓ן...וַיְהִ֕י כְּדַבְּרָ֥הּ אֶל־יוֹסֵ֖ף י֣וֹם ׀ י֑וֹם וְלֹא־שָׁמַ֥ע אֵלֶ֛יהָ לִשְׁכַּ֥ב אֶצְלָ֖הּ לִהְי֥וֹת עִמָּֽהּ׃

"Now Joseph was well built and handsome. After a time, his master’s wife cast her eyes upon Joseph and said, “Lie with me.” But he refused.... And much as she coaxed Joseph day after day, he did not yield to her request to lie beside her, to be with her". (Bereshit 39:6-10)

Potiphar's wife followed her heart and instincts and courted him and seduced him in various, direct and indirect ways: "

אמרו עליו על יוסף הצדיק בכל יום ויום היתה אשת פוטיפר משדלתו בדברים בגדים שלבשה לו שחרית לא לבשה לו ערבית בגדים שלבשה לו ערבית לא לבשה לו שחרית אמרה לו השמע לי אמר לה לאו ... נתנה לו אלף ככרי כסף לשמוע אליה לשכב אצלה להיות עמה ולא רצה לשמוע אליה

"They said about Joseph the righteous: Each and every day, the wife of Potiphar seduced him with words. In addition, the clothes that she wore to entice him in the morning, she did not wear to entice him in the evening. The clothes that she wore to entice him in the evening, she did not wear to entice him in the morning of the next day.

One day she said to him: Submit to me and have relations with me. He said to her: No... She gave him a thousand talents of silver to submit to her, “to lie with her and be with her” and he refused". (Yoma 35b)

It was a daily experience that lasted for about a year:

"During the 12 months that Joseph was in Potiphar’s house, he was exposed to those tactics by Potiphar’s wife on a daily basis. When the Torah speaks of these ongoing attempts at seduction (pasuk 10) as occurring יום יום, “every day,” this must be considered as if Joseph had withstood a year’s temptation. The word is used as meaning “year” (as in Esther 3:7). He would literally have to take evasive action, such as covering his face, practically shrinking to the ground. She would use instruments in order to force him to resume his normal posture. She would use the argument that she was not really married to Potiphar; he was a homosexual and had never consummated the “marriage.” He had to explain to her that the Hebrews were not allowed to have sexual relations with Egyptian women even if the latter were unmarried. She would threaten him with having him consigned to jail. Joseph would reply that his G–d had means of freeing him from jail. She would threaten to have him blinded, to which he replied that his G–d could make the blind see. Eventually, if it had not been for the priests who testified hat the drops of semen she produced as evidence that he had tried to rape her were in fact not from a human being, he might have been sentenced to death. This eventually became the reason why he dealt so extraordinarily generously with the Egyptian priests during the years of the famine. (Daat Zkenim on Bereshit 39:12).

Then one day opportunity knocked on the door:

וַיְהִי֙ כְּהַיּ֣וֹם הַזֶּ֔ה וַיָּבֹ֥א הַבַּ֖יְתָה לַעֲשׂ֣וֹת מְלַאכְתּ֑וֹ וְאֵ֨ין אִ֜ישׁ מֵאַנְשֵׁ֥י הַבַּ֛יִת שָׁ֖ם בַּבָּֽיִת׃ וַתִּתְפְּשֵׂ֧הוּ בְּבִגְד֛וֹ לֵאמֹ֖ר שִׁכְבָ֣ה עִמִּ֑י וַיַּעֲזֹ֤ב בִּגְדוֹ֙ בְּיָדָ֔הּ וַיָּ֖נָס וַיֵּצֵ֥א הַחֽוּצָה׃

"One such day, he came into the house to do his work. None of the household being there inside, she caught hold of him by his garment and said, “Lie with me!” But he left his garment in her hand and got away and fled outside". (Bereshit 39:11-12)

At such a difficult and challenging moment, the ordeal comes to its peak. Joseph saves himself from failing at the last moment:

ותתפשהו בבגדו לאמר וגו' באותה שעה באתה דיוקנו של אביו ונראתה לו בחלון...

"The verse states: “And she caught him by his garment, saying: Lie with me”. At that moment his father’s image [deyokeno] came and appeared to him in the window". (Sotah 36b).

He needed tremendous spiritual strength, taken from his father's house to withstand the difficult experience. Thanks to his steadfast adherence, Joseph was named (very rare in Tanach) "Joseph the Righteous" – עַל־מִכְרָ֤ם בַּכֶּ֙סֶף֙ צַדִּ֔יק

"Because they have sold for silver Those whose cause was just," (Amos 2:6), and marked in the people of Israel the ability to cope with temptations for generations.

This Sabbath falls on Chanukah. According to the Midrash, the circumstances leading to the Hasmonean uprising are also related to maintaining the standards of modesty and gender relations:

כיון שראו יוונים שאין ישראל מרגישין בגזירותיהם עמדו וגזרו עליהם גזירה מרה ועכורה, שלא תכנס כלה בלילה הראשון מחופתה אלא אצל ההגמון שבמקום ההוא...והיו יוונים מתעללות בבתולות ישראל וכו,

"Because the Greeks saw that Israel did not follow in their decrees, they sent them a bitter and dirty decree that a bride on the first night of her wedding would not go home with her new husband but with the bishop of that place. And the Greeks abused the virgins of Israel, etc". (Midrash the Tale of Chanukah).

The Greeks realized that the value of modesty is the "soul bird" of Judaism. It is not just a personal matter, it is one of the foundations of Jewish culture and society, and its special strength. And so, they wanted to harm it. This cruel and horrible fate was exaggerated. Matityahu's (the Hasmonean priest) daughter, was unwilling to accept the decree and give up her modesty. In her special way, she made the Hasmonean family realize that there was no choice and they had to endure the miracle of rebellion and go to war. Which eventually led to the miracle of Chanukah.

"The victory that Hashem gave in the hands of the Cohanim, who overcame the Greeks, who sought not only to uproot the people of Israel from their material status, but to uproot the quality of life that Israel proclaims in the world, that they should be according to the Torah, where the purity and modesty are the main purpose of family life, followed by the other Israeli values and opinions. The Greeks hated this and considered it to be the enemy to their culture, to them that brought to the world the joys of life and its physical and imaginative pleasures. Therefore, the hatred of the Greeks was directed to Torat Israel" (Rabbi Kook, Ein Ayah Shabbat, p. 61).

This year, we are dealing with Torah in the daily life. The permissive postmodern era in which we live disputes the moral and religious world. Postmodernism challenged the validity of values. It blurred the boundaries between the forbidden and the permissible and legitimized to go after one's heart desire even at the cost of breaking value constraints and changing habits. Permissibility undermined the rules of modesty in dress and behavior and broke the barriers between the sexes.

The integration and partnership of the religious person in the social and economic arena exposes him to a different world and challenges his values ​​of modesty and holiness. He may find himself confronted with temptations that he has not experienced, and he must adhere to his ways and resist the test.

On consultants and operational staff

Parsha and its fulfillment - Parashat Miketz - Chanukah - Rabbi Eliezer Shenvald - 5769

What is the role of the consultants?

And should decision makers have to accept their advice?

A study of the Parasha on Yosef's advice to Pharaoh will help shed light on the issue.

Pharaoh's strange dream puts him helpless. His heart told him that there was a dramatic and far-reaching significance to this recurring dream, but he could not figure out what message he was carrying. Pharaoh is the king of the world at the time, and accordingly the responsibility rests on his shoulders: "Pharaoh is dreaming" - and all men do not dream?- but the dream of a king is over the whole world" (Bereshit Rabba).

In his distress, Pharaoh turns for help: "Next morning, his spirit was agitated, and he sent for all the magicians of Egypt, and all its wise men; and Pharaoh told them his dreams, but none could interpret them for Pharaoh." (Bereshit 41:8). There were, indeed, some who interpreted it, but not in reference to Pharaoh (i.e., their interpretations had no reference to him as a Pharaoh, as a king), so their words found no acceptance by him and he was not satisfied with their interpretation. (Rashi). The answer to the dream offered by his advisers and ministers did not satisfy his opinion. "Yosef said to him: Who informed you that they did not solve it properly? He said to him: "Just as I saw the dream, so I saw its solution, they cannot play me." (Midrash HaGadol Bereishit 41:15) The unresolved dream gives him no rest.

Only when Yosef presented his solution to the dream did the solution settle his mind. "Immediately ahead are seven years of great abundance in all the land of Egypt. After them will come seven years of famine, and all the abundance in the land of Egypt will be forgotten. As the land is ravaged by famine, no trace of the abundance will be left in the land because of the famine thereafter, for it will be very severe." (Bereshit 41:29-31).

The greatness of Yosef's dream solution was that he also offered the practical way of coping with the challenge faced by Pharaoh, establishing a logistical system for storage of grain from the seven years of abundance, and distributing food throughout the country during the years of famine in an egalitarian manner.

Pharaoh's heart told him that this was the true solution of the dream. And this is the fateful meaning of the dream. As the king of the greatest empire at that time, he was given a heavy responsibility and a complex logistical and governmental challenge to prepare for the famine in the years ahead. Nothing he had done so far, prepared him for this challenge.

The answer to the challenge was to appoint a senior government official who would manage the project and establish a management and a mechanism to manage it: "Accordingly, let Pharaoh find a man of discernment and wisdom, and set him over the land of Egypt." (Bereshit 41:33). " discernment and wisdom - this intelligent man who understands something out of nothing, this wise man has wisdom; discernment without intelligence is like a hero without a weapon in his hand, intelligent but unwise is like a weak and a weapon in his hand, discernment and wisdom means an armed hero. (Midrash).

The advisors are supposed to serve the decision-making process of those in charge, who advise and do not dictate, even after they have formulated their advice, the decision-makers have the right and the duty to accept or reject the advice. There are false and misleading advice that does not serve any interests, and there are talented and wise counselors whose advice is wise and helpful but who cannot implement them.

At this crucial point in time, Pharaoh needed a wise and discern advisor who had the ability to advise and to carry out, to formulate the solution and to manage it. "If he is able with G’d’s help to interpret intangibles such as dreams, he must certainly be smart enough to arrange administrative earthly affairs in a competent manner". (Rashba'm on Bereshit 41:38)

Those who will lead the system require management skills, and they need a subordinate manager who will help them: "A man of understanding. He would have to reckon how much the Egyptians themselves required so that the rest could be sold to other countries for Pharaoh’s enrichment. And wisdom. He would have to know how to store the grain in such a way that it would not spoil." (Ramban Bereshit 41:33)

In addition to managing the system, it was also necessary to develop storage methods and long-term conservation in order to preserve the grain from the years of abundance to the years of famine.

The wonderful combination of counseling and performance brought success.

May we merit such leaders also today.

For Parshat Miketz – Rabbi Eliezer Shenvald

Our Parsha deals with many different aspects of the subject of macro-economics. The economy is one of the major factors of human society, and is a driving force behind historical changes.
Pharaoh dreams of seven fat, healthy cows devoured by seven emaciated cows, and of seven full ears swallowed by seven withered ears. Pharaoh understands that his dream contains an important message for the future, and it gives him no rest. Only Yosef, "the dreamer" with divine inspiration is capable of accurately deciphering Pharaoh's dream.
The dream prophesizes seven years of prosperity in Egypt, followed by seven years of catastrophic economic crisis and terrible famine that could wreak widespread death and a complete breakdown of the Egyptian economy.
Yosef presents Pharaoh with the problem but, with his divine inspiration, he also proposes a solution.
The solution reflects a rare understanding of macroeconomic strategy, and is based on several axioms of macroeconomics. First of all, the principle that in the face of a crisis of this magnitude, the concepts of "free trade" and "supply and demand" could lead to disaster. The abundance of the seven years of plenty could lead to a drop in the value of the produce and destruction of inventory, and the shortage in the years of hunger could lead to widespread famine and death in the poorer classes. Yosef's program is based on government management of the national economy in order to cope with an impending crisis:
The solution to the years of shortage is government stockpiling of surplus produce from the plentiful years and creating economic reserves for the future.
During the bountiful years, the supply in the free market is limited, in order to prevent prices from dropping.
During the crisis years, the food will be distributed by the government in an orderly and controlled manner.
Procedures are enacted preventing profiteering and smuggling outside of Egypt's borders during the famine years.
Yosef "the distributor" is put in charge of running the program he proposed. He has to set up the entire infrastructure for collection and storage on a massive scale. His challenge as "the master of the land" becomes even greater during the famine, when he has to become tough and be vigilant over distribution procedure, and prevent speculation and black marketeering.

At a later stage, with the Egyptian public's total loss of buying power, Yosef became the sole address for relief, and was transformed from "Yosef the supplier" to the "master of the land" in the full sense of the word.
Without economic means, Egypt's land and population were indentured to the central government in return for food and seed, and as a result Egypt turned into a "house of slaves" to its own people and to foreigners who were forced to take economic refuge there.
For Egypt, there was another, positive result. Yosef's effective and strategic management of the economic crisis was the turning point that turned that country into an economic and military power, and the cultural center of the world.
On the practical level, the worldwide economic crisis was the reason that Yaakov's family went down to Egypt. Yosef's program created the infrastructure to absorb the family and save them from starvation. In the hidden level of G-ds plans, this was the time and place for Yaakov's family to turn into a nation.

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