By Rav David Silverberg
The Torah in Parashat Vayeshev describes Yosef’s success as Potifar’s servant in Egypt, to the point where Potifar entrusted Yosef with his entire home and all his possessions: “He left everything he had in Yosef’s hands, and he paid no attention to anything that was with him…” (39:6). Potifar trusted Yosef to such an extent that he was able to leave all his possessions under his care without having to supervise or oversee Yosef’s work at all.
This description forms the background to the next story, namely, the attempts made by Potifar’s wife to seduce Yosef and lure him to an adulterous relationship. The level of trust earned by Yosef would have, seemingly, magnified the challenge he faced in resisting temptation during this ordeal. Fully secure in Yosef managing all his affairs, Potifar would never suspect Yosef of violating his wife. Yosef could have easily acceded to Potifar’s wife without any fear of arousing Potifar’s suspicion. Yet, ironically, it was specifically Potifar’s trust in Yosef that drove Yosef to resist. In responding to Potifar’s wife’s and explaining why he could not sleep with her, Yosef emphasized the level of trust Potifar had in him, the fact that Potifar placed him in charge of all his affairs without having to oversee his work (39:8-9). Potifar’s trust and confidence in Yosef did not lead Yosef to feel at ease betraying him, but to the contrary, made it impossible for Yosef to even consider betraying him.
This perhaps points to a more general quality of Yosef’s character, namely, perceiving power and stature as a source of obligation, rather than a source of privilege. The trust shown to him by Potifar, in Yosef’s mind, raised the level of expectations and of the standards he was to maintain in his capacity as Potifar’s servant. He never considered misusing this trust for his personal gain.
We see this quality of Yosef later, as well, after he revealed his identity to his brothers. He reassured them that he will not seek vengeance for their crimes against him, because he recognized that God had sent him to Egypt for the purpose of leading the storage of grain which ended up saving millions of lives during the harsh years of famine. He saw his rise to power as a responsibility, not a privilege. It gave him obligations to fulfill, not personal opportunities to seize. Just as Potifar’s trust raised the bar of expectations, so did his rise to the position of Egyptian viceroy impose upon him responsibilities, and it could not misappropriated for personal interests.
Originally appears on VBM