Was She a Villain? - וישב

Thursday, 15 December, 2022 - 9:28 pm


Was She a Villain?

Joseph experienced a dramatic downfall. 

This week's Torah portion begins with the description of Joseph as his father's favored son, and concludes with Joseph in prison after his brothers sold him as a slave. 

Indeed a dramatic downfall. 

One of the characters in the story who advances the plot is Potifar's wife, who, after failing to seduce Joseph, causes his imprisonment. The Torah describes the story in great detail: 

Now it came to pass after these events that his master's wife lifted up her eyes to Joseph, and she said, "Lie with me."...

Now it came about when she spoke to Joseph day in and day out, that he did not obey her, to lie beside her [and] to be with her. And it came about on a certain day, that he came to the house to do his work, and none of the people of the house were there in the house. So she grabbed him by his garment, saying, "Lie with me!" But he left his garment in her hand and fled and went outside. So she left his garment beside her, until his master came home. And she told him the same thing, saying, "The Hebrew slave that you brought to us came to me to mock me. Genesis 39:7, 10-17)

It would be natural to view Potifar's wife as a villain, yet, surprisingly, the sages explain that her motivation was holy ("for the sake of heaven"). As the Midrash, quoted by Rashi, explains: 

Scripture juxtaposes the incident of Potiphar's wife with the incident of Tamar, to tell you that just as that one [Tamar] meant for the sake of heaven, so too this one [Potiphar's wife] meant for the sake of heaven. For she saw through her astrology that she was destined to raise children from him (Joseph), but she did not know whether [they would be] from her or from her daughter {Indeed, later in the story, Joseph married her daughter}. 

While the perspective that Potifar's wife had a holy intention may seem radical, it captures the essence of the story of Joseph and replays itself in each of our lives. The Mystics explain that the source of all unholy energy and phenomenon is rooted in holiness, the source of all existence. At the core of unholiness lies its concealed spark, whose intention is not to destroy holiness but to challenge the person to grow and intensify his connection to holiness due to the challenge. 

Indeed, every obstacle and challenge in Joseph's path was, in reality, a pedestal that would ultimately allow him to ascend to the most incredible heights. The same is true in our life. When we cultivate the awareness that at the core of our challenge or opponent is a concealed Divine spark; that in reality, there is no experience separate from G-d, the challenge becomes the fuel of commitment, dedication and spiritual growth. 

Recognizing the Divine spark in every experience will help reveal that Divine purpose and allow us to see how the challenge is transformed into positivity. 

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos Vayeshev volume 1 

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