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Resisting Temptation

Vayeshev (Genesis 37-40 )

by Nesanel Yoel Safran

Life is full of temptations. We all hear those little voices, whether they're from outside or from within, that try to convince us to do just the thing that we know we shouldn't. In this week's Torah portion, Joseph finds himself being tempted, cajoled, and threatened by his employer's wife to act in a way that would not only violate the trust that his boss had placed in him, but cause him to go against his most deeply held values. Joseph stayed strong and resisted temptation. We, too, can hang on to our values even when we find ourselves tempted not to.


In our story, a boy finds himself wrestling with temptation.


Joe Barron hit the ping-pong ball so hard that before it landed, it had sailed all the way across the playroom and rolled underneath the computer desk.

"Great slam, strong man!" said his brother Steve, tongue-in-cheek. "Maybe next time it will actually hit the table."

"Very funny," Joe said, as he went to retrieve the ball. He bent down and reached way under the desk, finally fishing out the small white ball, and with it a shiny gold key.

"Hey what's that?" asked Steve, "The key to some buried treasure, or something?"

Joe laughed nervously. "You don't know how right you are. I'm almost certain that this is the key to Ellen's new locked diary. It must have slipped out of her pocket while she was using the computer last night. The way she guards that book, you would think that it is more valuable than buried treasure."

Steve clapped his hands with delight. "Wow, we've struck gold, man!" he exclaimed. "Nobody's home. Lets go upstairs and check it out. I'm sure Ellen has already packed that diary with plenty of nice, juicy secrets that are just waiting for us to know."

Joe grinned. Ever since their older sister had gotten that locked diary, the boys had been just dying to know what she was writing so secretively about. And now fortune seemed to have smiled on them, giving them the perfect chance to find out.

Joe could feel his heart beating with excitement over the very idea. Yet something inside held him back. After all, what right did he and Steve have to just to go bursting into her personal possessions, never mind her deepest secrets? As Joe pondered all this, he felt a ping-pong ball bounce off his head.

"C'mon man!" said his brother. "What are you dreaming about? Let's do it before somebody comes home and its too late!"

Joe shuffled his feet. He really didn't know what to do. He certainly felt just as tempted as Steve to steal a peek into that precious diary ... and yet he knew just as clearly that it was wrong.

"Uh, Steve, let's forget about it. It really isn't right. How about we finish the game?" he stuttered weakly.

His brother looked furious. The boy was sure that the only thing stopping Steve from just grabbing the key himself was Joe's bigger biceps. "Are you nuts?" he nearly screamed. "This is our big chance. Don't blow it! Besides once Ellen figures out that we found the key, she won't believe us even if we tell her that we never looked."

Again, Joe felt himself being swayed. He seemed to be going back and forth more than the ping-pong ball. Would it really be so bad, after all? He was about to give in to his brother's pleas, when he pictured Ellen's face - how angry she would be, how hurt. No, it wasn't right, and that was that.

"Steve," Joe said with a new conviction, "it's not right, and we're not doing it!" Joe stood his ground confidently and awaited his brother's reaction. To his surprise, and delight, Steve and all his tempting just seemed to deflate like a leaking hot-air balloon.

"Well, big brother, I guess you mean what you say ... and I guess you're right."

Joe smiled with relief. He realized that he had passed a tough test, and made the right decision.

"Okay brother, serve the ball, already!" laughed Steve. "And give me at least a chance to win this game."


Ages 3-5

Q. How did Joe feel when he first found the key to his sister's diary?
A. He felt very excited, and tempted to read the diary, even though he knew it was wrong.

Q. How did he feel after he decided not to do it?
A. Great! He felt like he passed a big test by not listening to temptation.

Q. Why didn't Joe read his sister's diary?

Ages 6-9

Q. Why do you think that a person can feel tempted to do something that he clearly knows is wrong?
A. People are complex. Many times, even without being aware of it, a person can be experiencing several conflicting thoughts and feelings. Even though Joe knew it was wrong to read his sister's diary, he also felt very strongly tempted to do it by a different voice inside of himself. That's because everyone has a side that wants to do what's right and another side that feels like doing what's wrong. This conflict creates a moral dilemma and gives us the power to make choices. Our job is to try as hard as we can to choose to do what's right.

Q. What can we do when we are really feeling tempted to do something we know isn't right? How can we stop ourselves?
A. Sometimes the best strategy is to simply wait. Don't start by telling yourself that you are never going to do it, which might be too difficult to do, but rather tell yourself that "I'm not going to do it now and I'll see how I'm feeling in five minutes." Sometimes just that little delay can give us a chance to come to our senses and do what we deep down know we should.

Q. Can you think of difficult moral dilemma you were once faced with? What did you choose to do?

Ages 10 and Up

Q. What does it mean to have free choice, and how does it relate to our story?
A. The concept of 'free choice' describes in a spiritual sense, the essence of what it means to be a human being. At any given moment, we are 'free' to choose whether or not to live according to genuine, spiritual values, or to listen to our baser side that tempts us to do what's not right. These moral decisions determine, more than anything else, the type of person we will become. When Joe chose to ignore Steve's temptations, and not betray his sister, he grew into a more spiritual being.

Q. Is there anything good about being tempted to do bad?
A. Overcoming temptation is a powerful tool for growth. Although we shouldn't look for it, when we find ourselves in a situation where we are tempted to do something wrong - and we don't - we have grown much more than if we had never been tempted in the first place.

Q. Can you think of difficult moral dilemma you were once faced with? What did you choose to do?


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