A Watery Miracle by Chanan Strassman


The Gemara in Kiddushin (40a) relates a story: A gentile woman once attempted to seduce the great Rav Kahanna while he was selling baskets.  He said to her, “I will go and adorn myself.”  Instead, he went to the top of the nearest building and jumped off, only to be caught by Eliyahu HaNavi before he hit the ground.  Rav Kahanna asked him, “What caused me to be in such a position that a woman tried to seduce me?  Is it not my wealth?”  At this, Eliyahu handed him a chest full of money.  Rav Kahanna meant that because he had no money, he had to go around selling baskets in the bad part of town, where women seduce men, to earn a livelihood.  He was saying to Eliyahu, “If I had had money in the first place I would not have to be put through this temptation!”  In response to this complaint, Eliyahu handed him the money he needed.  We learn from this story that those who resist the temptation to do an immoral act merit the performance of a miracle.

In this week’s Parsha, we see Yosef in a similar predicament to that of Rav Kahanna.  In Perek 39, Pesukim 7-20, the wife of Potiphar, Yosef’s master, repeatedly tries to seduce Yosef into sleeping with her.  Yosef, remembering that he is an Ivri, adamantly refuses (“Vayimaein”) to commit this immoral act with her.  One day, when there is nobody home but Yosef and the wife of Potiphar, she grabs Yosef by the shirt and again tries to seduce him.  Yosef manages to wriggle free of her evil clutches (literally) and runs out of the house.  Potiphar’s wife, still holding Yosef’s shirt, publicly accuses Yosef of rape, and he is thrown in jail.

Something is very definitely amiss here.  Did we not just establish two paragraphs ago that one who resists the temptation to do an immoral act merits the performance of a miracle?  We saw how Rav Kahanna received a handsome reward for his trouble, so what is happening here with Yosef?  Unlike Rav Kahanna, Yosef received no miracle!  He did not even get so much as a lucky break.  All Yosef had to show for his trouble was a prison sentence!  Could this be an exception to the ruling of the Gemara?

Upon closer scrutiny of Sefer Bereshit, we see that the case of Yosef and Potiphar’s wife is no exception to the rule, and that there was indeed a miracle performed.  The answer lies in the last two Pesukim of the last Parsha in Sefer Bereshit, Parshat Vayechi.  In Perek 50, Pasuk 26, the Torah tells us that “Yosef died…they embalmed him and he was placed in a coffin in Egypt.”  We know that the Egyptians considered him to be godlike, so, in the hope of keeping him around for a while, they put Yosef’s coffin in the Nile.  However, Yosef anticipated such an occurrence, so he told the people of Israel (50:26), “Hashem will indeed remember you, and you must then bring my bones up out of here” (50:25) – when the time to leave Egypt comes, someone should bring his coffin along for the ride.  (In fact, it is Moshe himself who fulfills the promise, but that is another story.)

These Pesukim have yet to answer our question of the missing miracle.  To see how they do, let us put together the facts.  We know that Yosef is promised that his remains will leave Egypt with the rest of Klal Yisrael, and that this promise is fulfilled.  Three simple words will finally answer the question: Kriat Yam Suf.  The splitting of the Sea of Reeds is our miracle.  For those still scratching their heads in silent bewilderment, the following should clarify everything:  There is a Pasuk in Tehillim (114:3) that says, “The Sea saw and fled.”  The Yalkut Shimoni explains that Red Sea saw Yosef’s coffin and fled from it.  Yosef merited a miracle, and the Sea was not one to argue.  How, some may ask, can we be sure that the miracle of Kriat Yam Suf is indeed the miracle Yosef merited?  Chazal compare a person’s lust to a burning fire, and as everyone knows, even the hottest fire can be extinguished by water.  Since Yosef had enough water, i.e. Torah study (which is compared to water), to extinguish his lust, it is fitting that he merit a watery miracle.  It would be hard for a miracle to be much wetter than the splitting of the Red Sea, so it is only logical that we attribute this miracle to Yosef’s actions in this Parsha.

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