Yosef’s Great Escape by Chaim Metzger


After Potifar’s wife attempted and failed to seduce Yosef, the Torah describes Yosef’s leaving her presence as “VaYaazov Bigdo BeYada VaYanas VaYeitzei HaChutza,” “Yosef left his garment in her hand, fled, and went outside” (BeReishit 39:12).  In the following Pasuk, the Torah recounts Yosef’s flight as seen by Potifar’s wife, “VaYehi KiRota Ki Azav Bigdo BeYada VaYanas HaChutza,” “When she saw that he had left his garment in her hand and fled outside” (39:13).  The difference between these two Pesukim is the word “VaYeitzei” “and he went outside.”  In order to understand this discrepancy of the missing VaYeitzei, Rav Moshe Feinstein suggests that the word VaYanas (flee) implies an escape from an immediate danger, regardless of whether or not the places he flees to is any safer than his current location. In a similar vein, the Gemara (Kiddushin 40a) tells of several Rabbis who fled from dangerous situations in which they were tempted by sin, despite the fact that their escapes were also dangerous. With the apparently superfluous VaYeitzei in the first Pasuk, the Torah is conveying that not only did Yosef flee, but that he made sure to flee to a safe place. Although Yosef was sure that he could resist the advances of Potifar’s wife, he fled so as not to leave himself in a situation where he would be tempted to sin.

Some individuals believe it is a Mitzvah to place themselves in difficult situations to garner more reward for not doing an Aveira.  This couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, by the story of Adam, the Torah specifically tells us to distance ourselves from such situations. Adam thought he would achieve greater spiritual heights by internalizing the Yeitzer Hara, Evil Inclination, by eating from the Eitz HaDaat, the Tree of Knoweledge.  Doing so, however, was contrary to Hashem’s command and so caused his expulsion from Gan Eden. Really the only time it is admirable to resist temptation is if it is otherwise unavoidable, but one should try his best to avoid such difficult situations. On the other hand, if one is sure that he can resist the given temptation he need not endanger his life by fleeing elsewhere.

This reasoning explains the discrepancy between what happened and how Potifar’s wife portrayed it as occurring.  The VaYeitzei in the first Pasuk describing Yosef’s flight explains that not only did he flee from a dangerous situation, but he also fled to a safe place.  Potifar’s wife, though, wanted to accuse him of adultery.  As such, she left out the VaYeitzei, to imply that Yosef fled to avoid capture for the adultery without planning the safety of his escape. It is important for us to learn from Yosef’s predicament to see how important is to avoid sinfully tempting situations lest we be tempted or be accused of doing the very sin you were trying to avoid.

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