Rabbi Yaakov Haber
Rabbi Yaakov Haber

Defying Human Nature and Divine Miracles

"Vayanas vayeitsei hachutzah" -- "and he fled and went outside" (39:12). With this terse phrase, the Torah describes Yosef's flight from the enticements of the wife of Potiphar. Although Chazal dispute whether or not Yosef was in any way tempted to sin, in the end, he clearly conquered temptation and fled without any regard for the consequences that might befall him for his courageous stance. As a result of his actions, Yosef is crowned throughout history as "Yosef HaTzaddik" -- "Joseph the Righteous."

Midrash Rabba attributes the miracle of the Splitting of the Red Sea to the merit of Yosef's flight. It bases this connection on the similar phraseology used in both episodes. Concerning Yosef, the Torah states "vayanas"; regarding K'riyas Yam Suf, T'hillim poetically describes: "hayam ra'ah vayanos" -- "the Sea saw and fled (split)" (114:3). What is the inner connection between the miraculous salvation of B'nai Yisrael through the parting of the Sea and the actions of our ancestor Yosef?

Rav C. Y. Goldwicht zt"l, the founding Rosh HaYeshiva of Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh, explained the connection as follows. Yosef, 17 years old at the time of the attempted seduction, was at the age of a natural heightened desire. (Indeed, the Midrash comments that a Roman matron, questioning R. Yose, could not believe that a human being in such a situation would be able to overcome such a great temptation.) Away from the spiritual environment of Ya'akov Avinu's home, surrounded by the alluring Egyptian culture and the promise of advancement in its society which might be open to him if he would cave in to the demands of his master's wife, Yosef was clearly in an extremely tempting predicament. Yet, through depicting the image of his saintly father Ya'akov's image in his mind's eye (see Rashi), he was able to overcome his natural desire. This, in essence, was a victory over the natural, innate tendency of human beings. Consequently, Hashem, midda k'negged midda (measure for measure), changed the natural order of the world where waters flow and do not stand still as walls and forced them to change their nature and part for B'nei Yisrael. Nefesh HaChayim (1:8-9) expounds upon the theme found in T'hillim: "Hashem tzil'cha 'al yad y'minecha" -- "G-d is your shadow on your right hand." Just as a shadow behaves as a mirror-image of the individual, so too Hashem acts toward us as we act toward Him. If we act supernaturally by overcoming desire, Hashem performs supernatural miracles for us.

A similar theme can be found concerning the first of the Avos. Dispelling Avraham Avinu's concern over his lack of children at his advanced age, Hashem takes Avraham outside -- "vayotsei 'oso hachutza (15:5)." Rashi comments that he took him out of the terrestrial atmosphere. Rav Goldwicht explained that this was a demonstration to Avraham that he and his descendants would not be subject to the regular rules of the earth, the rules of nature. Since his descendants would be committed to the Almighty's Torah in a supernatural way, Hashem would protect his children in a like fashion. Similarly, the Talmud in Shabbos (156b) teaches us "ein mazal l'yisrael," Jews are not subject to the influence of the constellations, i.e. the rules of nature. As a proof to this idea, the G'mara recounts the story of R. Akiva's daughter whom the astrologers predicted would die on her wedding night through the bite of a snake. Upon awakening the morning after the wedding, the kallah noticed that she had inadvertently skewered an asp during the evening which would have obviously killed her had she not done so. After her father questioned her as to what merit saved her, she responded that upon seeing a pauper at her wedding to whom no one attended, she immediately offered him her own portion of food. How is this episode a proof to the premise of "ein mazal l'yisrael?" R. Akiva's daughter was clearly saved in the merit of the mitzva of charity; otherwise, she would have perished by the "laws of nature!" What clearly emerges then is that when and only when K'lal Yisrael act in a manner against their own nature (such as caring for another on the night of one's personal joy), the laws of nature cease to apply to them. (See the G'mara for additional examples.)

The m'sirus nefesh, extreme selflessness, of the Chashmona'im in battling against the Greek attempt to abolish Torah Judaism was a remarkable demonstration of rising beyond normal human limitations. It is not surprising that Yosef, one of our ancestors that implanted this ability within us, seems to be alluded to in the Midrash concerning Chanuka (see Wisdom for a Purpose). K'lal Yisrael and indeed the entire world are under attack by those who would use misguided, corrupted m'sirus nefesh to kill, maim, and injure innocents. As we approach the holiday of m'sirus nefesh, our task is clear: to rise above our apparent limitations to excel in Torah, T'filla and Chessed, transcending our very nature, so that we merit special, miraculous Divine protection that we so sorely need.

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