Are you part of the resistance movement?
The Lord was with Yosef; in everything he did God gave blessing and increase. Such wonderful success, able to carry responsibility – and on top of it all, he was handsome in form and appearance! But we know what he had to live through to bring him to that place. Yosef is in Egypt now, his past experiences of being sold into slavery by his brothers behind him. With God’s blessing upon him, we would expect his life to be straightforward now but this is not the case: indeed, as Yosef learns to act in a righteous manner his life spirals out of control even more.
In so many ways, Yosef is the antithesis of Ya’akov. Instead of being a control freak, he is passive, a dreamer used to being loved by his dad and protected from the hardships of life; life ‘happens’ to Yosef, whereas Ya’akov made it happen. Yet for all that Yosef is the one who has the closer connection with the Lord. His passive dream-state leads him to conclude, rightly, that God is in complete control of his life. Full of trust he speaks what he knows and has heard from the Lord, with no regard for the effect his words are having. He ‘shares’ with his brothers the prophetic dreams he has had, passively oblivious to their hatred and evil responses. A man who needs to get his tongue under control – which in the course of time, he does…
We find him, in this parashah, promoted to a position of authority in his service to Potiphar after enduring slavery and hardship. Life is still happening to him and – it would seem – it’s not that bad! But he has changed – and so has his speech. The focus has shifted. As he is thrown into prison for a crime he hadn’t committed he didn’t rail against the injustice of it all. He says when asked about interpreting a dream ‘don’t interpretations belong to God?’, in other words he is submitting now to the giver of the gift rather than exalting the gift; his certainty that God is in control has also reached to the areas that God has gifted him in; now God IS in control. Again as his case comes before Pharaoh and Yosef seeks release, his comment is ‘God will give Pharaoh an answer of peace’, in other words, ‘I will trust the Lord completely that He knows what to do. There is no attempt at control or manipulation as Ya’akov might have tried, just complete confidence in God and His ability to steer not only the course of history but his own life too. God truly IS in control and Yosef knows it without the need to tell everyone.
The final comment, though, is the most revealing and shows that Yosef is no longer the passive man we first knew. It involves Potiphar’s wife. Day after day she tempts him because he was good to look at, and Yosef’s comment in this situation is simply ‘how can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?’ he resists despite severe provocation. Passive Yosef is fighting back and resisting unrighteousness. He doesn’t blame Potiphar’s wife for this situation, he realises that the choice is his alone and he must decide to act in accordance with the righteous standards from the Lord. He has to take responsibility for himself, reach deep into self-control and flee the room. Yosef knows his response is critical; either he plays the blame game of ‘she made me do it, she seduced me’, or he decides that ‘I (personal responsibility) cannot do this, it’s a sin’ and flees the arena. He doesn’t passively accept the situation but resists it. And it is this resistance that causes him so many problems. Standing up for righteousness cost him his freedom.
We too are called to be proactively in control of ourselves and to know how to respond to situations that arise. In the Lord, you CAN do this. Rav Shaul knew what temptation was like, yet could say with knowledge: (1Co 10:13) ‘No temptation has seized you beyond what people normally experience, and God can be trusted not to allow you to be tempted beyond what you can bear. On the contrary, along with the temptation he will also provide the way out, so that you will be able to endure’. We cannot control everyone, nor every situation that might arise, but we ARE called to make the right decision for ourselves, take responsibility for our choices and act righteously. WE stand before God for ourselves, not on behalf of others.
Are you part of the resistance movement? Yosef was: he had learned that the Lord’s control of his life involved a human response – a response of righteousness. That may cost you in this dark world. But I want to leave you with a ‘tool of righteousness’ from all this. What of the times when we cannot physically flee? Hear what the prophet Amos said when confronted by assimilatory practices and the situations created by sin. Listen carefully to what the Lord says as it can speak to us today too. Read Amos 2:6-11, 3:3. Four times in this passage it says ‘it was I’ who… ‘Don’t you remember what I have done for you?’ God is asking us to remind ourselves of who He is and what He has done for us. When temptation strikes and/or a situation arises that is unrighteous and you’re caught off guard, stop and think. Remember our God – who He is and what He’s done. Fill your mind with the relationship you have with Him and how good it is to stand on solid righteous ground, and suddenly the bright lights of sin seem to dim.
The final bit is clear: can two walk together unless agreed? The Lord is saying, we agree! Have you forgotten? We walk together because we agree. So why continue to sin? Resist it. God IS in control of your life, you are married to Him as the bride of Messiah. Don’t get into the blame game, take spiritual responsibility for yourself; show self-control, fight for righteousness. Resistance is not futile… welcome to Chanukah!
Shabbat Vayeshev (and he dwelt)