Parshas Tetzaveh - How To Avoid Sin

By BJLife/Moishy Pruzansky

Posted on 02/23/18

Engraved in stone on the Kohen Gadol's breastplate were the names of the 12 Tribes. Rashi explains that one of the reasons for this was to “remind” Hashem of our forefathers’ merits. Interestingly, this breastplate was mentioned earlier in the Torah as well. When Yosef was tempted to sin with the wife of Potiphar, the image of his father appeared to him and convinced him not to sin by showing him the stone that was destined to be on the Kohen Gadol's breastplate forever, with his name on it. He explained that if Yosef would sin, he would forfeit this great honor and merit that he was on track to accomplishing.

Why did Yaakov persuade Yosef with this particular knowledge? Wouldn't it have been more appropriate to remind him that this was a married woman and that being with her would mean transgressing one of the 3 cardinal sins? Shouldn't Yaakov have pointed out to him that transgressing such a severe sin would earn him the worst place in Gehenom (purgatory)?

Menachem Mendel, the author of “Tzemach Tzeddek”, was the grandson of the first Lubavitcher Rebba. When he was in elementary school he was from the smallest boys in the class. One day, by recess, Menachem Mendel and his classmates decided to have a contest to see who could climb to the top of the highest tree in the school yard. Menachem Mendel made it considerably higher up the tree than everyone else and won. His grandfather witnessed the contest and asked him how he pulled off such a feat. After all, Menachem Mendel was relatively weak and feeble compared to his stronger classmates. Menachem Mendel answered with a message that would shape his life's direction: "my trick was simple. All the other boys were constantly looking down while they climbed, but I knew better. You can't reach great heights if you are always looking down, at the consequences of failing. Rather, I only looked upwards at the heights that I could achieve if I continued trying". Indeed, Menachem Mendel utilized his strategy of constantly striving to reach greater heights and of focusing on growth and positivity, to become the third incredible leader of the Lubavitch dynasty who inspired thousands to follow his example of always reaching for higher.

Instead of Yaakov reminding Yosef about all that he would lose if he failed, he taught him to fight his Yetzer Hara (Evil Inclination) through POSITIVITY and reminded him about the incredible heights that he would achieve if he kept on trying. He taught Yosef, and US, that you should not avoid sin only by focusing on the potential for punishment, but rather by also focusing on your potential for GREATNESS that will be compromised if you succumb to sin *.

Living Inspired

Yaakov’s lesson to his son Yosef is a shining example of how to instill the will to avoid sinning within our own children as well. Instead of scaring our children with the doom and gloom of punishment, it would be so much more effective to raise our children with a focus on the positivity of fulfilling the mitzvos, showing them all of the greatness that they are capable of and the beauty of being all that they can be. Additionally, this focus should be used to motivate ourselves in our battle against our own Yetzer Hara as well. Just like Yosef, we too have an incredible mission to serve our Creator and, if we succeed, our merits will stand for ourselves and our children forever as well. This mission comes into play every single time that we are tempted to sin; For the Sages teach us that our life’s mission is to demonstrate Hashem’s rulership to the world and that we fulfill this paramount mission each and every time that we refrain from sinning **.

The next time that we are tempted to sin, let us focus on who we are and the greatness that we are all capable of. Let us focus on our innate desire to retain the spiritual wholesomeness that Hashem has invested within us and the feeling of meaning, purpose and accomplishment that we attain when we do so. Being a member of the Jewish nation affords us the opportunity for an infinite potential for growth, accomplishment and meaning that we will forever be proud of. Deep down, we all desire to achieve this greatness. May we internalize Yaakov’s lesson to focus on these aspirations in order to overcome our Yezer Hara, and always focus on the heights that we could accomplish if we continue to reach for higher.


* - R’ Chaim Shmuelevitz elaborates on this concept at length.

** - For if not for the fact that there is an All-Powerful G-d that we were obeying, why would we have abstained from our physical desire?