Sunday, December 18, 2016

Better Late than Never!

Rav Lipman Podolsky z"l 

Our Parsha portrays two women: Tamar, and the wife of Potiphar. One would be hard-pressed to find two women who had less in common. Tamar was utterly selfless, wholly dedicated to the values and future development of the Jewish people. The wife of Potiphar, ostensibly, was interested exclusively in her own personal gratification. They seem to stand diametrically opposed.

How surprising it is then to read the following Medrash: "Rabi Elazar says Just as Tamar acted for the sake of heaven, so did the wife of Potiphar. As Rabi Yehoshua ben Levi said: She saw through astrology that she was destined to have a child from Yosef. But she did not know whether it would come through her or through her daughter (Yalkut Shimoni, Vayeshev 144)."

Unbelievable! Potiphar's wife acted l'shem shamayim! But why then is she held in such contempt, while Tamar occupies a position of prominence in Jewish history?

The distinction, albeit subtle, makes all the difference in the world. Whereas Tamar was legally permitted to act the way she did, the wife of Potiphar was a married woman. No amount of good intentions can sanction the heinous crime of adultery. As someone famous once said: "The road to Gehinnom is paved with good intentions."

In every endeavor we will ever pursue, timing is of the essence. "He made everything beautiful in its time (Koheles 3:11)." When the time is right, you can mother a Moshiach. At the wrong time, you can destroy yourself and others as well. For example: Eating challah on Shabbos night fulfills a mitzva; on Pesach night one incurs the punishment of Kares (excision).

Potiphar's wife's mistake was one of impatience. Had she waited, she would eventually have seen that it was her daughter who was destined to marry Yosef (Breishis 41:45). But she couldn't wait.

Impatience is the root of all sin. Had Adam waited only a few hours, he would have been permitted to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. But he couldn't wait (See Breishis Rabba 18:6).

Had the Jews waited only a short while longer for Moshe to return from the mountaintop, they would have comfortably avoided the entire debacle of the golden calf. But they couldn't wait (ibid.).

Had the motorist driven only a little slower, he -- and other innocent bystanders -- would have arrived home safely. But he couldn't wait.

The Yetzer Hara has every interest in rushing our climb up the mountain of spirituality. He knows that by enticing us to climb too quickly, we are sure to lose our footing and end up back right where we started, probably in a lot of pain.

"Remove the Satan from before us and from behind us (Maariv)." The Satan before us is the Yetzer Hara who stands in our way, attempting to prevent us from ever performing mitzvos. The Satan behind us is the Yetzer Hara who prods us to dash impetuously into spiritual growth, without first ensuring that we have steady and stable footholds. Only once we have secured ourselves on one level may we proceed to climb to the next.

One of the most common flaws I observe among young people (including myself) is impatience. Everyone wants to be an overnight success. We live in the Microwave Generation. Who has time to wait? The consequences of such a weltanschauung can be devastating. People are frustrated, disillusioned, and easily succumb to despair.

Just like Rome, doctors and lawyers, a true servant of Hashem is not built in a day. The Key to Success: Patience and Perseverance -- one step at a time. Eventually, with Divine assistance, we will get there.

As they say, "Better late than never!"