Parshas Vayeishev brings us to the story of Yosef and his brothers. The story of how the brothers sold Yosef as a slave to Egypt is well known, as are the events leading up to and following the sale. This story is very hard to understand on many levels for obvious reasons, how could anybody, let alone the sons of Yaakov, sell their sibling into slavery? One thing is certain though, Yosef’s journey to Egypt began his journey to greatness. The main catalyst to it is what we will talk about this week.
When Yosef is brought to Egypt, he is sold to the house of Potiphar, a minister of Paroh, and eventually works his way up to become the head of the household. The Torah tells us that Yosef was a good-looking guy and he soon drew the attention of Potiphar’s wife. Despite her constant advances, Yosef was able to maintain his distance. One day the entire household was out celebrating an Egyptian holiday and she used this opportunity to once again entice Yosef. Even with the Evil Inclination at its strongest, Yosef was once again able to resist and ran out of the house. “וַתִּתְפְּשֵׂהוּ בְּבִגְדוֹ לֵאמֹר שִׁכְבָה עִמִּי וַיַּעֲזֹב בִּגְדוֹ בְּיָדָהּ וַיָּנָס וַיֵּצֵא הַחוּצָה” “She grabbed him by his garment saying, ‘Lie with me!’ But he left his garment in her hand and fled and went outside.” (Bereishis (39:12). Because of this incredible act of self-control, Yosef was given the title Yosef HaTzaddik, Yosef the Righteous.
The commentaries point out that this pasuk seems a little wordy. Why do we need to know that he both fled and went outside, shouldn’t one suffice? Chazal tell us an interesting idea on a pasuk we say in Hallel, “הַיָּם רָאָה וַיָּנֹס” “the sea saw and fled” (Tehillim 114:3). This is referring to the time of Krias Yam Suf, the Splitting of the Red Sea. Chazal explain that when the sea saw the coffin of Yosef which Bnei Yisrael had brought with them out of Egypt, it immediately fled, the same way that Yosef fled from Potiphar’s wife (Tanchuma 9). What is it about Yosef’s act that caused the sea to split?
The Gemarah in Kesubos (30b) explains that nowadays, since we do not have courts that can carry out capital punishment, a person who would be deserving of death will die a similar death to the one he would have been given. For example, the punishment for purposely desecrating the Shabbos is Stoning, so nowadays this person would perhaps die by falling off of a rocky cliff. The punishment for illicit relations is Strangulation which could be accomplished nowadays by drowning in the ocean and being strangled by the waters.
We can now understand the connection between Yosef and the sea. When Yosef fled from Potiphar’s wife and the potential punishment of Strangulation, he gave Bnei Yisrael the merit which enabled them to travel safely through the waters which would have otherwise suffocated them. Furthermore, by fleeing the scene, Yosef went against basic human nature, so therefore the sea also went against its’ basic nature and split. As a final proof to this, we have mentioned several times that the Egyptian nation was known for its’ licentiousness. It is for this reason that the sea did not stay split for them but instead came crashing back down upon them, drowning them all.
We see a very powerful idea from this story, that any one of our actions can have ever-reaching consequences. When Yosef fled from the scene, there was no way he could have imagined the future millions of Bnei Yisrael standing on the beach, staring in amazement as the sea split in two. While we might not have to picture the results of our actions 200 years down the line, let us at least try to view all our actions in how they will affect our family, friends, and ourselves.
For any questions, comments, or to subscribe, please email us at AIMeMTorah@gmail.com