Vayeishev – Never Say Die
That is the meaning of the word vayima’en, a word used twice in the story of Yosef in this parsha, once to describe a refusal by Yaakov Avinu, the second to describe one by Yosef.
Mourning his missing and presumed killed son for many days, the Torah recounts, Yaakov refused to be comforted (Beraishis 37:35): Vayima’en lihisnachem.
And then, when Yosef, serving as the second-in-command of the house of the Egyptian notable Potifar (ibid, 39:8), is seduced by his master’s wife, he refuses her: Vayima’en, again.
I haven’t been successful in tracking down the source of a suggestion I heard several years ago, but offer it all the same.
It was Yaakov’s refusal to accept that Yosef was no longer alive that enabled Yosef to refuse Mrs. Potifar’s blandishments. The first vayima’en gave power to the second one. It was, in other words, the merit of Yaakov’s love for, and dedication to, his son that empowered that son to overcome a great moral challenge (which he came close to failing, hinted at by the wavering shalsheles with which his vayima’en is chanted).
The lesson being that when we refuse to give up on someone who seems hopelessly “gone” – in whatever way – our very refusal can serve as a spiritual merit for that person, a long-distance and unknown-to-him assistance to him in dealing with adversity.
© 2022 Rabbi Avi Shafran
My most recent Ami column, “Fringe is Fringe,” can be read here.