In Parshat “VaYeshev” Yosef is sold into slavery, and is bought by Potiphar, one of ranking officials in Egypt. Yosef’s good looks attract much attention from the women, especially his master’s wife. She starts to try to seduce Yosef, but he had a good upbringing, and resists all of her advances. But what can he do? He is a strapping young 17 year old, at the height of his hormones, and he’s away from home, away from the watchful eye of his father. It’s not reasonable to think that any young man in his position could hold out for very long. (see Bereshis Rabbah 87:5)
We know that in any given set of events, there can be different explanations of the story – “competing narratives”. In our story here too, there are differing views in the writings of Chazal to explain our Yosef’s actions and motivation. Did he come to the house that day simply to do another day’s work? Or was the work he came to do the work of the Yetzer Hara – lust of the flesh? (Sotah 36b)
Either way, our hero finds himself in the mansion of his master, with only his wife there, with her plans to seduce him. She carefully set up this opportunity by waiting for the big day when everyone would be out at the festival, or was it the theater. She outright lied by saying that she doesn’t feel well and has to stay home in bed. And she lied by omission by not saying what she planned to do in bed.
How did Yosef get himself out of this predicament? The Rabbis of the Talmud tell us (Sotah 36b) Moments before he succumbed to temptation, his father appeared to him in the window. He said, “Yosef! In the future your brothers names will all be written on the precious stones of the High Priest, and your name is also destined to be there. Do you want your name to be erased and instead you will be called ‘A herder of harlots?!’”
A good name is more valuable than anything. By our actions we affect our name. In one moment, Yosef could have destroyed the ability of his name to be the Holy of Holies, and to be the lowest of the lows. If Yosef had given in to temptation, the verse in Mishle (29:3) would apply to him “he that keeps company with harlots wastes his substance”. Instead, Yosef resisted and he merited to be known as the “Mighty one of Ya’akov, … the Shepherd of Israel”, from the verse: (Bereshit 49:24)
וַתֵּשֶׁב בְּאֵיתָן קַשְׁתּוֹ, וַיָּפֹזּוּ זְרֹעֵי יָדָיו; מִידֵי אֲבִיר יַעֲקֹב, מִשָּׁם רֹעֶה אֶבֶן יִשְׂרָאֵל.