Parashat BeShalah- Staying Away From Trouble
The Torah in Parashat Beshalah tells the famous story of "Keri’at Yam Suf" – the splitting of the sea. Beneh Yisrael were trapped against the sea by the Egyptian army which pursued them, and G-d miraculously split the waters to allow them to cross, and then threw the waters back upon the Egyptians, drowning them.
King David briefly recounts this miracle in one of the chapters of Tehillim which we recite as part of our Hallel service: "Ha’yam Ra’a Va’yanos" – "the sea saw and fled." The implication of this verse is that the waters of the sea "fled," giving way to Beneh Yisrael so they could escape from the Egyptians, only after it "saw" something. The Midrash explains that the sea split after seeing "Arono Shel Yosef" – Yosef’s coffin. As we read in the beginning of Parashat Beshalah, Moshe took Yosef’s coffin with him when Beneh Yisrael left Egypt, in fulfillment of the promise Yosef’s brothers made to Yosef before his death, that his remains would be brought to Eretz Yisrael for burial. The presence of Yosef’s coffin, the Midrash teaches, is what led the water of the Yam Suf to split and thus rescue Beneh Yisrael. The Midrash explains that this miracle was done in Yosef’s merit because he fled from Potifar’s wife when she tried to lure him to sin when he worked in her home as a slave. In the merit of Yosef’s fleeing from Potifar’s wife, the sea "fled" when it saw Yosef’s coffin, allowing Beneh Yisrael to cross to safety.
Rav Haim Shmuelevitz (1902-1979), in one of his classic discourses, remarked that the Midrash’s comments teach us of the vital importance of "fleeing" situations of temptation. Yosef chose not merely to refuse Potifar’s wife’s advances, but to flee from her presence. He did not want to be tested or challenged; he felt it necessary to run away, knowing full well that she would likely cast false allegations against him. And in this merit, the merit of fleeing from temptation, the entire nation was saved and experienced an extraordinary miracle.
The Gemara in Masechet Baba Batra (57) states that if a person walks through a place that has inappropriate sights, despite the fact that he could have taken a different route, then even if he closes his eyes as he walks, he is considered sinful. The person in this case did not actually commit any sin, and even tried to avoid temptation by keeping his eyes closed. Nevertheless, he is considered a sinner for unnecessarily choosing that route. If he had the possibility to avoid a situation of temptation, then he is held accountable for voluntarily placing himself in that situation, even though he resisted the temptation.
We should not be knowingly placing ourselves in positions that test our religious commitment. Maintaining our loyalty to Torah and Misvot is difficult enough as it is with the ordinary, day-to-day religious challenges that life presents us. We need to be smart enough to avoid places and settings which present especially difficult challenges.
Parents walking with their small children instruct their children to keep far away from the curb. Even though no car would hit somebody walking right next to the curb, nevertheless, as an extra precaution, people generally walk several inches, at least, away from the edge of the sidewalk. This should be our policy when it comes to spiritual safety, as well. We should never put ourselves on the "edge," in a place where it is very easy to slip into sin. We must steer clear of trouble, rather than putting ourselves in a situation of spiritual challenge.
The Gemara in Masechet Sota teaches that a person sins only if he is overcome by a "Ru’ah Shetut" – some kind of "insanity." After all, who in their right mind would knowingly transgress the command of G-d? This is possible, the Gemara states, only because one’s rational faculties were somehow compromised. Nevertheless, the Gemara proceeds to explain, we are punished for our misdeeds because we expose ourselves to this "Ru’ah Shetut." We put ourselves in situations that lend themselves to sinful temptation, and we are therefore accountable for the sins we commit due to these temptations. We might draw an analogy to a driver who is ticketed for running a red light. He might try excusing himself by saying that he was driving so fast as he approached the light that he could not stop the car in time, but this excuse, of course, would not help him in court. True, he could not stop the car in time, but he should not have been driving so fast as he approached the light. We, too, are held accountable for putting ourselves in positions where we are susceptible to a "Ru’ah Shetut" which leads us to sin.
One of the important applications of this message is drinking. Jewish tradition has always frowned upon intoxication and excessive drinking that lends itself to intoxication. As mentioned, it is difficult enough to live as a Torah Jew and withstand the religious challenges that life normally throws our way. When one is inebriated, his judgment is clouded, he is less disciplined, and thus he is less capable of withstanding sinful temptations. While our society encourages drinking and getting drunk from time to time, Torah Judaism strongly opposes such behavior. We are to avoid unnecessarily compromising our ability to properly observe the Torah, and must never knowingly place ourselves in a situation which tests our loyalty and makes it more difficult to follow Hashem’s laws.