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Yosef’s Immunity And Its Message For Our Times

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4. The Torah introduces the dramatic reunion between Yosef and his father with the words, “Vayeira eilav, And he [Yosef] appeared to him [Yaakov]” (46:29). Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz explained that with these words the Torah is highlighting Yosef’s heroic self-discipline and thoughtfulness. Rather than focusing on his own desire to reunite with his father, Yosef, at that poignant moment, suppressed his personal longing by channeling all of his thoughts and energies toward maximizing his father’s pleasure of reuniting with a long lost son.

In short, Yosef’s core personality is that of a “giver” rather than a “taker.”  Yosef represents the quintessential mashbir, one whose concern extends outward rather than inward. It is apparently this quality – the inclination to “give” rather than to “take” – that granted him the immunity to ayin hara. This thought may explain the following Talmudic observation (Berachos. 20a, Zevachim. 118a): “The eye that did not seek pleasure from that which was alien to it cannot fall under the spell of the evil eye.” Some commentaries interpret this statement as referring to Yosef’s successfully resisting the advances of the wife of his Egyptian master (Rashi ibid); others associate it with Yosef’s ability to avert the seductive gazes of the Egyptian women (Pirkei de’Rebbi Eliezer). However, it is likely that the Sages are also alluding, in a broader sense, to Yosef’s characteristic selflessness and altruism as the underlying basis for his immunity.

The imperative to live modestly without drawing attention to one’s self is an ideal worth striving for in all eras. Yet, the complexities of contemporary society make the pursuit of this virtue nowadays especially daunting. The phenomenon of globalization and instant communication, notwithstanding its many blessings, has severely eroded the natural sense of privacy which ought to be reserved for the individual, and has fueled a culture of exhibitionism and voyeurism where the lines between private and public are routinely blurred. Such tendencies surely exacerbate the potential for ayin hara and the havoc that comes in its wake. To counter this, it is essential that we redouble our efforts to embrace the attribute of hatznei’ah leches im Elokecha – walking modestly before Hashem – by internalizing the values embodied by Yosef HaTzadik, infusing all that we do with an altruistic spirit while eschewing the temptation for self-promotion and personal aggrandizement. This would undoubtedly serve us well in deflecting the gaze of our adversaries near and far.

About the Author: Rabbi Elchanan Adler serves as Rosh Yeshiva and holds the Eva, Morris, and Jack K. Rubin Memorial Chair in Rabbinics at the YU-affiliated Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary.


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One Response to “Yosef’s Immunity And Its Message For Our Times”

  1. Lisa Kamins says:

    well said. thank you.

Comments are closed.

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More Articles from Rabbi Elchanan Adler
YU-121313

The belief in the power of the evil eye and the desire to ward off its deleterious spell are rooted firmly in Jewish historical consciousness. Indeed, the Talmud is replete with numerous references to the notion of ayin hara and takes its existence for granted.

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