Rabbi Daniel Stein
Rabbi Daniel Stein

The Power of Parents

In order to evade the persistent overtures of the wife of Potiphar, Yosef ran and escaped from the house, as the pasuk states, "and he fled and went outside" (Breishis 39:12). The Gemara (Sotah 36b) explains that Yosef fled from the house only after he saw the sobering image of his father Yaakov reflected in the window. This is perhaps hinted to in the word, "vayeitzei" - "and he went outside," spelled, vuv, yud, tzadi, and aleph, which is an acronym for "vayare Yosef tzuras aviv - and Yosef saw the picture of his father." If we can distill precisely why the familiar vision of Yaakov provided Yosef with the fortitude to resist the tantalizing temptation of Potiphar's wife, it might provide us with some guidance in conquering our own personal challenges.

The Torah describes Yosef's heroic restraint as "vayimaein" - "and he refused" (Breishis 39:8). The word "vayimaein" appears earlier in Parshas Vayeishev as well. After Yaakov is presented with the distressing forensic evidence of Yosef's grisly demise, the pasuk says, "And all of his sons and daughters attempted to console him, but - 'vayimaein - he refused' to be comforted" (Breishis 37:35). The Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh claims that Yaakov's children tried to alleviate his suffering with a demonstration of their abundant and united family. However, despite the size and solidarity of his family, Yaakov "refused" to be consoled, because he was unable to cope with the absence of Yosef.

The Nesivos Shalom suggests that Yaakov was "vayimaein - he refused" to be comforted because he deeply believed in Yosef's resiliency and boundless capacity to succeed. Therefore, he subconsciously concluded that despite all that he had been told, Yosef must still be alive. The Nesivos Shalom continues, that the word "vayimaein" is used again later in the parsha to indicate that it was precisely Yosef's awareness that his father had faith in his prodigious potential and divine destiny which gave him the strength to refuse the advances of Potiphar's wife and flee from the house at that pivotal moment in his life. It was the indelible image of his father's unyielding support and love that enabled him to prevail in his darkest hour.

Perhaps it is for this reason that the trup (musical cantillation note) on the word "vayimaein" is the rare shalsheles. The shalsheles is in the shape of a zigzagging line and is pronounced with a prolonged sound which repeatedly goes up and down. Rabbi Yosef Ibn Caspi (Mishnah Kesef) postulates that the fluctuating shape and sound of the shalsheles always indicates an internal struggle and moral hesitation. In addition, the Alshich Hakadosh notes that the word shalsheles literally means "a chain." Therefore, Rabbi Avi Fishoff suggests that perhaps the shalsheles here signals that it was specifically the "chain" of tradition and mesorah, the unbreakable relationship between a father and his son, that rescued Yosef from drowning in the quicksand of ethical uncertainty and personal doubt, and enabled him to refuse the seductions of Potiphar's wife.

Similarly, the Torah (Devarim 21:21) condemns the ben sorer u'moreh - wayward son to death. The Gemara (Sanhedrin 72a) clarifies that he is not sentenced for his previous indiscretions of overindulging in meat and wine, but rather in order to forestall the sins that he will inevitably perform in the future. Even at this early stage, the ben sorer u'moreh has established that he is beyond any hope for spiritual rehabilitation. However, the Gemara (Sanhedrin 88a) qualifies that a ben sorer u'morah whose parents forgive him for his gluttonous and drunken conduct is not punished at all. If a ben sorer u'moreh is hopelessly locked in a destructive religious tailspin, how is the mercy and compassion of his parents relevant and effective in obtaining a pardon? The Shem Mishmuel submits that a child who has the unequivocal support and love of his parents will never be beyond hope for recovery and change. The unconditional loyalty of parents provides children with the foundation and tools to overcome even the most daunting challenges and dire circumstances.

Rabbi Naftali of Ropshitz (Zera Kodesh) observes that the word "chalon - window", where Yosef initially saw the vision of his father Yaakov, is spelled ches, lamed, vuv, and nun, which is an allusion to the lamed-vuv (thirty-six) n'eiros ch'anukah. On Chanukah, as we light the menorah, perhaps Hashem is peaking in through our window, as the pasuk states, "there he stands behind our wall, gazing through the window, peering through the lattice" (Shir Hashirim 2:9). Just like Yosef was inspired by the encouraging image of his father, so too, during Chanukah we must become emboldened by the knowledge that Hashem trusts that we also have the ability to triumph and flourish even when we are confronted and surrounded by utter darkness.

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