Thursday, December 3, 2015

Vayeishev--Graceful Exits

In this weeks' parsha, Yosef actually deliberately leaves evidence behind that actually can be [and is] used to frame him because a forceful removal of his top garment from the clutches of Potiphar's wife wouldn't have been "derecheretzdik".  Or, as Ramban notes, "proper respect" as the wife of his master "dictated this course of action".

Is that level of derech eretz actually yehareg veal ya'avor [he could have easily been executed]?  Aside from the fact that Potiphar's wife wasn't really acting commensurate with her station?

There are a few lessons to be learned here about graceful exits, particularly when one looks at some of the details leading up to the fateful encounter.

Rashi on 39:6 notes that Yosef started to twirl his hair "because he saw himself ruling", and G-d was moved to "incite the bear against [him]".  So aside from Mrs. Potiphar's conflicting inclinations [Egyptian immorality on one hand, her fuzzy prophecy about her descendants on the other] acting as a catalyst, Yosef had already begun to dig his own hole and deal with his own conflict: on one hand, having to remind himself that eshes ish was zayin mitzvos, swearing not to do it on top of that, and then finally actually being prepared to succumb--Yosef was conflicted enough once he summoned up the strength to make the less than graceful exit that he might have felt that he wasn't really in a position to violate the accepted cultural norms.  After all, but for the grace of G-d [and "demus dikyono shel aviv"], he might have misbehaved the way she was about to.   So he had to cut his losses.

Furthermore, just because SHE sullied her station, it would not have necessarily given him the right to aid and abet in said sullying, even if he had resisted the temptation [and we see that he might have come close to succumbing].  So at that point, Yosef's only salient exit strategy involved him making a statement about his OWN escape from the clutches of immorality, without necessarily making a parallel statement about his counterpart's behavior.  He had to give himself mussar without giving her mussar...hence his leaving his garment.

In theory, this would indicate that while one must sometimes clearly articulate when morality is being blatantly violated, one should avoid being ostensibly offensive about it.

Yet, to paraphrase my mara d'asra Rabbi Allen Schwartz, sometime the exit has to be emphatic.

When does one need to balance the forcefulness of the exit, and when must one lean towards the fully emphatic?

A personal story might be somewhat instructive.

In Jan. 2010 I and a friend who is considerably more doctrinally socially and politically conservative than I am went on a road trip to Indianapolis to see the AFC Championship game [Colts 30, Jets 17.  Too much Peyton].  After the game--the 3PM game--we left the stadium and searched for a bar to watch the 6:30 game.  We finally found what looked like a nondescript establishment with nothing on the facade but we could see several widescreen TV's showing the NFC contest, so we went in.

After about 90 seconds when several gentlemen in Colts jerseys one after the other kept asking me where I was staying for the night--and one made a rather graphic proposition--I figured out what kind of establishment I had walked into.

My traveling companion did not figure it out that fast.

Now, in theory, this was likely going to be one of those cases where I would have just made a rather quietly graceful exit without anyone noticing, had I been alone.  After all I had certainly entered the premises under somewhat false pretenses.  I would not have felt compelled to yell "Leviticus 18:20!!!" on my way out.  I actually might mot be too far off if I opine that such behavior would have  been contra to...well, derech eretz.

However, now I had a dilemma.  Time was going by and my counterpart was still not figuring out where he was--and I was operating under the assumption for some reason that if I did clue him in on it, whatever exit I had would be less than...graceful.

After about 20 minutes, when a female patron sitting at a table clued him in [she figured that he might want to know that, unlike him, the majority of the patrons in the bar were NOT acolytes of Sarah Palin], he reacted about the way I'd expected.  Thankfully the woman was nice enough to provide the graceful exit I was looking for: she told us where we could find the SPORTS bar we had been looking  for in the first place but hadn't been able to find.

[Thankfully, religion actually didn't visibly play into it.  We were both wearing Jets caps.  Maybe it just reflected somehow on Jets fans.  Chilul ha-Jets?]

Now, if I'd known exactly what kind of establishment it was, I would not have walked in [kal vachomer considering my counterpart].  I still ask myself if the way I handled it under the circumstances was both the most moral and least offensive.

Yosef, at the risk of his life and ultimately immeasurable cost to his freedom, did both because the circumstances leading up to that moment called for it.

Hopefully one can recognize which response are called for in which circumstance.