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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Yoseif and Mordechai, the Sons of Rachel

Rav Mordechai Rogow,in his sefer Ateres Mordechai Al Hatorah brings down a Medrash that says

"R’ Yuden besheim R’ Binyomin omar Boneha shel Rochel nisson (meaning their nisyonos) shaveh ugdulasam shaveh. Nisson shaveh, vayehi kidabra el Yosef yom yom, vayehi be’omram ailav yom yom; velo shoma ai’leha, velo shama aleihem. Gedulasam shaveh-vayaser paroh es tab’ato, vayaser hamelech es tab’ato.” (The sons of Rochel, their trials were the same and their greatness was the same.) By Yosef and by Mordechai, "yom vayom" (Breishis 39:10 and Esther 3:4) and the idea of the 'hasaras taba'as' of the king (Breishis 41:42 and Esther 8:2).

Rav Rogow says, when a person is being pressured to do an aveira, even though the first time he stands against the nisayon, it has an effect. Every time he is tested, his resolve is weakened more and more, till he might do the aveira. The gadlus of Yosef and Mordechai was that the first time had no roshem at all on them, and every subsequent time was like the first time, and they stood unshakeable in their resolve-yom yom, the last day was like the first day.

A critical reader might have some reservations about this pshat. Is it really true that when you are faced with a nisoyon that it weakens you and makes you more susceptible to future tests? On the contrary, it would seem that it would add to your strength of character.

Harav Avram Lawrence, of the Mirrer Kollel in New York, suggested a very good clarification of Harav Rogow’s derech. He suggested that it depends: if you don’t do the aveira because of you strength of faith and fear of sin, then your strength and victory add to your resolve and your ability to withstand it in the future. If, on the other hand, you didn’t do the aveira because the time wasn’t right, or because you were afraid to get caught, or that you never thought of doing it, so you avoided the sin out of habit, then the next time it arises, you will be weaker and more susceptible to the aveira. There are victories that make you stronger, and there are pyrrhic victories that make you weaker.

It has been said that merchant sailors are the healthiest people in the world. They are exposed to every vile disease and noxious environment in the world, and they have survived, so they must be supremely healthy. Or, one might say, they are the weakest people in the world, because they have been so weakened by their life experience, that they are doing all they can merely to survive, and the slightest additional trauma might push them over the edge. It really depends on whether they just barely survived, or whether they flourish.

We can say a slightly different mehalach. Both these men were under extreme pressure to make compromises, to sin when they could have told themselves that it didn’t matter, that nobody would know, that Hashem had abandoned them and didn’t care what they did. They both refused to do so. This teaches, as Chazal say by "Hachodesh hazeh lochem", that we are not 'in the hands of time', but rather, that the times are in our hands. This means that instead of making compromises to accommodate changing morals and attitudes, we make our stand and refuse--despite threats to our lives and livelihoods--to retreat an iota from what Hashem requires from us.

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