From the Rabbi

 Devar Torah 

I want to wish mazal tov to Steve Schach on his seventieth birthday, and thank him and Sharon for sponsoring this week’s Kiddush. This coming week is the start of Chanukah, and there are lots of events for you to be part of. Pop into the Portico from 5.30 on Tuesday evening (12 December) for DIY Donuts, join Hinda and me at home for our House Party on Wednesday evening (13 December) from 7.30, and mark the centenary of the Fall of Jerusalem with delicious refreshments, a special presentation, lighting of the Falk Menorah and Kabbalat Shabbat service on Friday evening (15 December) from 5.30. I look forward to celebrating with you!

On Shabbat we begin the long narrative of the life of Joseph. Although he was not one of the patriarchs, more text is devoted to his life than any other character in the bible. Perhaps one reason for that is the extent of Joseph’s personal journey. Even though Abraham and Jacob (and to a lesser extent Isaac) developed throughout their lives, Joseph’s transformation was the most dramatic. He begins as a not very attractive character, dreaming of his superiority over his brothers and parents, but ends full of compassion, forgiveness and love. That is why he is known in the tradition as ‘Yosef Hatzaddik’ – ‘Joseph the Righteous’.

The pivot of that transformation takes place in our parasha. When Joseph found himself working for Potifar in Egypt, the lady of the house began to take an interest in him. She attempted to seduce him, but he resisted. It is not at all clear, in either the Torah text itself or the rabbinic interpretation, that Joseph was entirely sure that he would resist, but when the moment arrived he found the inner strength and he refused her advances.

What made Joseph a tzaddik was not a naturally perfect character, but effort and hard work. We see Joseph at the start of his life, before he put in that effort, and there was clearly some way for him to go. Later in his life, he was in control of himself and acted in a thoughtful and upright way. The episode in Potifar’s house shows us the transition from one stage to the next; we can see the effort it took for Joseph to remain untarnished. It was that struggle, in which he was finally victorious which earned him the right to be known as ‘Hatzaddik’.

Each one of us faces temptations and everyone has inclinations which can lead us off the straight and narrow. That is a natural part of being a man or woman of flesh and blood. What can make us different, is how we handle those temptations and manage those inclinations. Do we give into them, or do we summon the strength to behave properly? If we put in sufficient effort we can reach the level that Joseph achieved, and be remembered for living a virtuous life, not despite our humanity, but as a full expression of what, as humans, we can achieve.

Shabbat shalom!