Did you know that ancient Egypt was the original Vegas?
Sex everywhere, shady business deals, corrupt politicians, magic (of the black variety), decadent food, high fashion, and I’m pretty sure Celine Dion had a show there.
Not exactly an oasis of G-dliness.
Ye Olde Sin City is the backdrop of this week’s Torah portion, Vayeishev (And He Dwelled). It’s also what makes the events of this parsha so powerful.
This week, we meet Yosef, who has grown up in the rural holiness of his father Yaakov’s house. After thoroughly pee-ing off his brothers, they decide to do what most of us would do to our irksome siblings if the opportunity presented itself: sold Yosef into slavery to a band of passing Arabs.
Suddenly, Yosef finds himself transplanted from the holiest place on earth, to the spiritually dirtiest.
What would you do?
Well, if you were Yosef, you would get yourself thrown in jail on fake rape charges after rejecting Potifar’s wife’s attempts to get all up on you, then subsequently get yourself out of jail thanks to your ability to see the future in people’s dreams, save the economy of the most powerful kingdom in the world, and then become the second most powerful person in said most powerful kingdom in the world.
And despite the fact that not only are you immersed in materialism of the highest (and lowest) degree, but you actually rule over it…
you would earn the appellation, “ha’Tzaddik” – “The Perfectly Righteous One”.
How is it that out of all our Biblical forefathers, only Yosef merited to have this title tacked onto his name? Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov were all perfectly righteous, too. They were shepherds, minimally involved with the material world, totally submerged in spirituality. Yosef’s days were spent in the Egyptian metropolis, living and working among the world’s most unsavory characters. How did he earn the title “ha’Tzaddik“?
The answer is an incredibly empowering message for all of us.
Despite Yosef’s constant exposure to the most tempting of temptations and distracting of distractions, he remained loyal to his truest self, his G-dly essence. His challenge, and therefore his triumph, was much greater than the other forefathers’, who remained separated from the world.
When you think of a G-dly person, what comes to mind? A guru meditating on a mountaintop? A monk in a monastery? A person who’s taken a vow of poverty or chastity?
These people are certainly spiritual, but they’re not G-dly.
The college student who takes a few minutes each day to talk to G-d about something other than her need to pass an upcoming exam. The businessman who uses his wealth in the service of just causes. The stay-at-home mom who regularly sets aside some of her rare and valuable leisure time to learn a little Torah.
These people are G-dly.
By engaging meaningfully in the material world and inviting G-d into your life there, you are fulfilling G-d’s purpose in Creation – your own purpose in Creation. G-d made every single one of us His partner in bringing the world to perfection, because He wants to dwell right here, with little ol’ you and me, at school, at work, at home.
And if Yosef could do this in the mother of all Sin Cities, you can definitely do this in your own corner of the world. I’d bet on it.
(See what I did there? Betting? Vegas? Yes? No?)