In this weeks סדרה we find how אשת פוטיפר has יוסף sent to prison. The פסוק says[i], “Then יוסף’s master took him and placed him in the prison ….. and he was there in prison. The מפרשים are bothered by the superfluous phase at the end of the פסוק “and he was there in prison”. Where else was he if they put him in prison?
The רבינו בחיי[ii] answers that the spare words are really connected to the first words of the next פסוק; “and Hashem was with יוסף”. Accordingly it reads, “And he was there in prison and Hashem was with יוסף”. We are being told
that even when he was put in prison; the lowest point of his life, יוסף lived with the awareness that Hashem was down there with him.
With this idea I heard ר' חיים קויפמאן זצ"ל answer another מדרש. The מדרש[iii] expounds how יוסף explained to אשת פוטיפר why he couldn’t do the עבירה with her. “In my family, sometimes Hashem calls upon us to be a sacrifice, maybe Hashem will call me, if I do this עבירה I will be פסול to be a קרבן” said יוסף. “Sometimes Hashem appears to speak to us in our family, if I do this עבירה I will be טמא and won’t be able to speak to Hashem” said יוסף. The גמ'[iv] likewise tells of how יעקב אבינו appeared to יוסף and told him that if he is עובר the עבירה then he will not have his name on the חושן.
The question is that surely these tactics are for when people are on high levels, not while יוסף is on such a “spiritual low” in the midst of the most perverse country, on the brink of committing one of the three cardinal sins? Talking of Hashem speaking to you while you are about to do one of the three cardinal sins, is surely not speaking to your level? Shouldn’t he have had slightly more down to earth tactics to fight the יצר הרע?
On the contrary said ר' חיים זצ"ל; from here we see that even when a person is in the doldrums, Hashem is right there with him. Not only is it Hashem who has put you there but Hashem is still very much holding your hand through your trials and tribulations[v]. As the גמ'[vi] says that every day the יצר הרע attempts to kill us and if not for Hashems help we wouldn’t stand a chance.
There is a well known parable called ‘Footprints in the Sand’ that describes this very point. We see the paths of our lives, but sometimes we see two sets of footprints, and at other times only one set is seen. Then you notice that specifically at the hardest points of your life is when there is only one set. Seemingly Hashem who has been walking alongside us left us temporarily, hence the tremendous hardships. However the opposite is true at the very points when we think that Hashem has left us, and we don’t see His footprints next to us, that is when Hashem has picked us up onto his shoulders. The single footprints are his!
[i] בראשית לט:כ
[ii] וז"ל "ומה שהוסיף ואמר ויהי שם בבית הסוהר, כדי להסמיכו אל ויהי ה' את יוסף, ולמד שבתוך בית הסוהר היתה שכינה עמו" עכ"ל.
[iii] בראשית רבה פרשה פז:ה
[iv] סוטה לו:
[v] ע' לשון של תומר דבורה - פרק ראשון "ועוד אין רגע שלא יהיה האדם נזון ומתקיים מכח עליון השופע בו עליו; והרי תמצא שמעולם לא חטא אדם נגדו שלא יהיה הוא באותו הרגע ממש שופע שפע קיומו ותנועת אבריו, ועם היות שהאדם חוטא בכח ההוא לא מנעו ממנו כלל, אלא סובל הקב"ה עלבון כזה להיות משפיע בו כח תנועות אבריו, והוא מוציא אותו כח באותו רגע בחטא" עכ"ל.
[vi] קידושין ל: