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Just say No!

By Rabbi Jonathan Tawil

Imagine one of those typical days in London. The clouds are heavy, the wind is strong and the rain doesn’t stop falling. You come into work after having fought with the wind, your umbrella broken and your coat drenched. Just then the door opens and a colleague of yours walks in. “What an awesome day it is today, the weather is great don’t you think?”

What is your response? Two quick replies strike my mind.

The calm approach; “Interesting, I kind of thought it was raining and quite murky out there”.

Alternatively, you offer a more definitive response – “No!” you exclaim. “It’s not great weather!” Then you begin to explain yourself. “Have you seen the weather? It’s raining and cloudy and I was drenched this morning! How can you call this good weather?”

Which would you choose?

Let us take a look into the Parasha for some clues as to what you might be correct in answering. Yosef was sold as a slave to Potiphar – a great and mighty minister in Pharaoh’s regime. Potiphar was married to a beautiful wife, but as soon as she set eyes on Yosef, she desired him. She approached Yosef constantly and tried to coerce him. Each time Yosef would resist. One day Potiphar and all the people in the house were out; the only two people left were Yosef and Potiphar’s wife. She took the opportunity to make her move.

Yosef, a single young lad sold into slavery, was being severely tested. He passed with flying colours. He first refused, and then went on to explain how he could never do such a thing to his trusted master. Finally, after she moved in on him, he ran away.

When reading this episode from the Torah one comes across an unusual cantillation over the word Vayema’en – he refused (Bereishit 39:8). This cantillation is called a Shalshelet and appears only three times in the book of Bereishit. Why is this cantillation used here? Furthermore, there is a line representing a stop after the word Vayema’en, implying a pause. Why is this necessary?

Rabbi Yerucham Levovitz zts’l explains that Yosef was in no doubt that succumbing to her desires would be immoral. He was being severely tested, it was difficult, but his response to such a test was an emphatic NO!

The statement, “Vayema’en” (with a Shalshelet and a Psik) implies that Yosef needed no process of logical deduction or calculation in reaching his decision.

The separation indicates that for himself, Yosef needed no explanation. Only in his response to Potiphar’s wife did he feel the need to explain. For Yosef, the very fact that a given action is forbidden was sufficient reason to abstain.

The way of the Yetser Harah is to try and convince us to sway to his side of thought. He uses manipulation, conviction, and coercion to try and make us sin. Our answer, explains Rabbi Yerucham must be an emphatic NO!

If possible, in our war against our Yetser we should not try to get into a debate, we should be quick and certain to refuse at first. For once we open the door to doubt and debate with the Yester, and then we are playing on his ground and will find it harder to make a stand.

We find a similar idea when it came to burying Yaakov. The body of Yaakov was brought up from Egypt by all his sons. They came to the cave of Machpela to bury him and they were met by Eisav. He contested the fact that Yaakov should be buried there. The Tribes opened conversation trying to convince him that it was rightfully theirs. In the end, they decided to send Naphtali (who was fast) to Egypt to bring the document that showed it belonged to Yaakov.

Chushim the son of Dan was also present at the time. He was deaf and couldn’t follow the conversation. He asked what all the fuss was about; why were they not burying Yaakov? They explained to him the situation. He was very zealous for his grandfather Yaakov and couldn’t bear to see his body lie without burial for so long. He took action into his own hands and simply went and killed Eisav.

Rabbi Chaim Shmulevits zts’l asks didn’t the others feel for Yaakov. Why was it only Chushim that acted? He explains that once they entered into a debate with Eisav, then they were opening themselves up to manipulation. Eisav was able to buy time and try and conceive another way to cheat Yaakov out of being buried. Chushim on the other hand was deaf. He didn’t hear the whole conversation. He still had that initial conviction and acted on it straight away. It was due to his conviction that Yaakov merited a quick and honourable burial.

Every day we say in our prayers En Kelokenu En Kadonenu – there is no one like our G-d, no one like our Master. We continue and say Mi Kelokenu Mi Kadonenu – Who is like our G-d, who is like our Master?

Our sages ask why the prayer is in this order. Surely we should first state who is like G-d and then state there is none like G-d. Why do we say it the other way round?

Our Sages explain that a Jew has to build him/herself up so strong that their first reaction in life is En Kelokenu – there is none like Hashem. He is our Father, He is our Leader and He is the Creator of the Universe. There is none like Him. It is only once we have this understanding that we can then go on and ask who is like Him.

So when your friend walks in the room and says what a nice day it is outside, and it clearly isn’t, then by choosing to answer with a clear no, might not be such a bad response. It shows your sincere belief in what you are stating.

Our first point in life is to build up our belief in Hashem. Our response when faced with tough tests must be swift and clear. We must state emphatically – “Everything is Min Hashamayim”. It is the strength and clarity in our belief that will lead us through all of life’s tests.

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