Who’s to Blame? by Eli Ginsberg


This week’s Parashah contains the story of Yosef and Eishet Potifar, Potifar’s wife. We read that Yosef manages to ignore Eishet Potifar’s attempts to seduce him. Yosef is able to overcome his Yeitzer HaRa, and tell her that he cannot commit such a grievous sin. He argues, “VeEich E’eseh HaRa’ah HaGedolah HaZot VeChatati LeiLokim?” “And how can I do this great evil and sin to Hashem?” (BeReishit 39:9). Rav Mordechai Gifter asks why Yosef’s reason for not being able to sin is just because it would be improper for him to do this act, implying that it would not be inappropriate for her to do this act and betray her husband. In fact, Yosef was not even married at this point. Why is he lax about Eishet Potifar’s adultery, while focusing exclusively on himself?

Rav Gifter gives a very interesting answer. Yosef feels that the fact that he is facing this particular test is his fault. He thinks that the reason Potifar’s wife tries to seduce him lies in is his own shortcomings. She only asks him to do this because he hasn’t developed himself to a sufficient level of purity and sanctity. If he had maintained an high level of virtue, she would never even consider seducing him because she would understand that he would never accept.

We can still ask why Yosef blamed only himself. Clearly, he is not primarily at fault, as he is not the one who wants to commit the sin. We can suggest that even though Potifar’s wife is the aggressor, a Tzadik such as Yosef is held to a higher standard than other people. Not only is passing the test required, but avoiding a situation where sin becomes possible is also expected. A true Tzadik will not try to find someone else to blame for his problems, but will examine his behavior, learn from his mistakes, and strive to never be placed in a situation where sin might lead him astray.

Ya’akov’s Disturbed Tranquility by Yehuda Feman

The Fire of Shame by Rabbi Ezra Wiener