“DO YOU WANT YOUR NAME TO BE ERASED?”
By Roy S. Neuberger
“In the generation when [Moshiach] the son of Dovid will come, Torah scholars will decrease. And [as for] the rest [of the people], their eyes will become worn out through grief and anxiety. Numerous troubles and harsh decree will be appearing anew. Before the first [trouble] is over, a second one will … appear…. The meeting place will be [used] for licentiousness [and]… whoever turns away from evil will be [considered] foolish….” (Sanhedrin 97a)
In this week’s parsha, Yosef HaTzaddik withstands a great nisayon. He is completely alone in an alien, amoral world, lost to his family. No one is “looking.” Theoretically, he can do whatever he wants without restraint. He is face to face with an almost-irresistible temptation. In that setting, why would he resist? In fact, the Gemora (Sotah 36b) records a machlokes as to whether Yosef was in fact about to give in.
“At that moment, the visage of his father … appeared to him in the window [and said]: Yosef, your brothers are destined to be inscribed upon the stones of the ephod, and you are among them. Do you want your name to be erased from among them and to be called ‘a companion of harlots?’…. Immediately…[Yosef] jabbed his hands into the ground” in order to suppress his urge. (ibid)
Yosef summoned almost superhuman restraint because he saw destruction looming if he continued in the direction in which his yetzer hara was luring him. As a result of this self-control, he was rewarded with assistance from Shomayim. He was taken from the slaves’ dungeon and suddenly elevated to malchus, defying all expectations. He was able to overcome his “natural” desires and tendencies because he saw far into the future. He saved all Israel because he conquered his inclination. If not for his stupendous act of self-control, we, the Nation of Israel, would never have come into existence!
Today, we are about to enter Chanukah, the Season of Light. Here also, a group of Jews did what seemed impossible because they saw that the survival of Am Yisroel was at stake. Death and destruction, G-d forbid, awaited our Nation unless someone broke the chain which the yetzer hara had tied around our neck. At certain times, unless we act against nature and desire, trusting Hashem, then we will simply cease to exist, G-d forbid. “And it shall constitute tzitzis for you, that you may see it and remember all the commandments of Hashem … and not explore after your heart and after your eyes after which you stray.” (Shema)
My wife and I are privileged regularly to speak to Jewish students on college campuses, where there are heroic kiruvprofessionals who serve with mesiras nefesh in a land that, in many ways, resembles Ancient Mitzraim. My readers know how we grew up. Decades ago, living a Jewish life was not a glimmer of a dream for us. But, even then – attending university – I wondered why tens of thousands of young men and women were congregating there when, perhaps more appropriately, they should have been laboring on the family farm. In those days, the huge university we attended exercised quasi-parental power and tried to regulate morality in the traditional way which was still in evidence at that time.
They tried. Today, they are not even trying.
It is not appropriate to go into detail, but prevailing conditions on college campuses today bear a striking resemblance to conditions in Sodom. I was going to say, “there are no rules,” but that is not true. The ruler is the yetzer hara, and there is no restraint. When you see this, you understand not only the magnificent dignity and self-control exercised by Yosef Hatzaddik, but you also understand the dangers facing the world today. As we learned from conditions prior to the Mabul, Hashem protects this world only if it adheres to standards of morality.
Yosef was blessed with the “blessings of [his father] to the endless bounds of the world’s hills.” (Beraishis 49:26) The Hasmoneans echoed this greatness. “You delivered the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, the impure into the hands of the pure, the wicked into the hands of the righteous.” We say Hallel all eight days of Chanukah. The world is filled with light! An eternally-significant event has occurred. The light shines forever.
What enables this kind of event to occur? Someone summons strength which he doesn’t have, but which Hashem supplies when one strives to do His will. A Jew defies the powerful forces emanating from his “heart” and his “eyes” and listens for the voice of Hashem. This may seem impossible at the time, but, when one tries, Hashem makes the impossible real for us. Yosef was a real man who accomplished the “impossible.” The Hasmoneans were real people who accomplished the “impossible.” This has been our history from the beginning. Avraham Avinu took on the entire world and prevailed. Yaakov Avinu took on the malach of Esav and prevailed.
We can also prevail in a world of darkness.
In our days it often seems impossible to overcome the powerful allure of the surrounding culture. We have to know that we can be like Yosef and like the Hasmoneans. We can be like Avraham and Yaakov Avinu. We can fight the entire world and win. We can do the impossible.
“The pains of death encircled me. The confines of the grave have found me. Then I would invoke the Name of Hashem: ‘Please Hashem, save my soul.’ I was brought low, but He saved me!” (Hallel, Tehillim 116)
May He soon “shine a new light on Tzion and may we all speedily merit its light.”
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Roy Neuberger, author and public speaker, can be reached at email@example.com.
© Copyright 2017 by Roy S. Neuberger