By Rabbi Aron Tendler
The Talmud says, "there is no guard against sexual immorality." Our Sages, as
always, were being brutally honest and open with us about the human condition
and experience. We are physical creatures! G-d created us with both body
and soul. Through the gift of free will and the Mitzvos, the soul is
intended to impose structure, limits, direction and purpose on the body.
However, without imposing our free will in accordance with the Mitzvos, we
are nothing more than animals governed by needs and instincts. We loose the
distinction of having been created in the image of G-d. Sexuality is among
the most powerful, if not the most powerful, urges with which all animals are
created. It is imperative that we use our free will to frame our sexual
selves in accordance with the dictates of Torah law so that the distinction
between ourselves and the rest of the animal kingdom is maintained.
As a religious community we are far more protected from the influences of our
immoral and promiscuous society than the general public. Our homes are
filled with Torah study, acts of kindness, the overt belief in G-d, and the
respect and sensitivity generated by our adherence to Tzinus - modesty, and
Taharas Hamishpacha - the laws of Family Purity. Yet, the Talmud, which is
primarily studied by the observant community, still states that there is no
protection against sexual immorality! Were the Sages suggesting that
regardless of what we do to impose structure and purpose on ourselves and our
children in the realm of sexuality we are doomed to failure?
In this week's Parsha we are introduced to Yoseph Hatzadik - the Righteous.
Why is it that Yoseph is the only one to have "Tzadik" attached to his name.
Not even Noach, whom the Torah called a "righteous man," do we add the title
Tzadik? What was so special about Yoseph that he should earn such an
With each of the personalities in the Torah there is a defining moment that
captures the essence of his person. Yoseph is the ultimate spiritual
survivor. Having been cast away from the protection of his family, Yoseph
must physically and spiritually survive the amorality of Egyptian culture.
We were first exposed to their lack of morality when Avraham and Sarah
visited Egypt 93 years earlier. Already at that time the 75 year old
Avraham, the great moralist and individualist, had to resort to extreme
measures in order to protect the 65 year old Sarah from Egyptian carnal
interests. How much more difficult must it have been for a 17-year old
described by the Torah as "beautiful in appearance and form!" Yet, alone and
without any other external moral support, Yoseph survived his 22 year long
exile and remained a true son to the moral teachings of his father Yisroel.
The defining moment of Yoseph's character, for which he earned the title of
Tzadik, was his moral victory in not succumbing to the seduction of his
mistress, the wife of Potiphar. Let us analyze the incident of the seduction
and see what lessons can be gleaned.
Starting with Pasuk 39:2, we are told that Yoseph was uniquely successful in
everything he did. At the young age of 18 he was placed in charge of
Potiphar's entire household. Pasuk 39:6 informs us that Yoseph was, "well
built and handsome." The next Pasuk relates that "his master's wife cast her
eyes on Yoseph saying, "sleep with me." Yoseph adamantly refused telling his
mistress that he would neither sin against his master or against G-d. (39:9)
She relentlessly pursued him and Yoseph steadfastly refused her attentions.
(39:10) However, one day Yoseph found himself alone in the house with his
mistress and she aggressively pursued her seduction forcing Yoseph to leave
his cloak behind and flee form the house. (39:12)
Yoseph was introduced to us as a visionary. He dreamt of future times when
he would ascend to the position of chief administrator and king. His
brothers took issue with his dreams and sold him into slavery. However,
regardless of Yoseph's dreams, Yoseph proved to be a uniquely gifted
administrator. He was not only able to organize and delegate but he was
prophetic in his ability to plan for the future and insure success. As we
see at the end of this week's Parsha, Yoseph the dreamer also earned his
reputation as the great interpreter of dreams.
I have always imagined Yoseph as a master chess player, able to predict his
opponent's moves and maneuver himself to take advantage of every opportunity
with unfailing success. I've also assumed that Yakov who was himself the
ultimate master at foreseeing deception and planning for all possible
contingencies nurtured this skill in Yoseph.
Considering Yoseph's gift at organizing and planning for the future, why did
he allow himself to be alone with his mistress? Why, when he felt the need
to flee her advances, did he foolishly leave behind his cloak as evidence?
The Torah Temimah (Rav Baruch Halevi Epstein) in answering these questions
references the Talmud in Sotah 37b which suggests that Yoseph allowed himself
to be alone with his mistress because he could no longer withstand her
advances. Knowing that she was alone, he entered the house intending to give
in to her seduction! However, at the moment of his greatest weakness,
Yoseph, "saw the likeness of his father" and fled the scene of the
almost-crime. (As an aside, we are told that Yoseph looked like his father.
Is it possible that somewhere in the room there was a mirror and Yoseph
caught sight of his own image staring back at himself and recognized the face
of his father?) The memory of his father and the truths that he represented
jarred him out of the fantasy that Poiphar's wife had woven. Without
thinking, Yoseph fled her presence leaving behind his cloak. As the Talmud
suggests, Yoseph's reaction was not the calculated decision of the master
chess player; rather, it was the gut reaction of a Tzadik desperately
attempting to save his soul.
Every day in our morning Davening we pray to G-d to, "please not bring us
into the power of Nisayon - challenge." Our Rabbis understood that
regardless of our spiritual resolve and successes we are fundamentally
physical beings with urges and desires. We have enormous potential for true
nobility and sanctity. We are capable of framing our needs in purpose and
sanctity. However, we can never be certain how we will respond in a given
challenge. Therefore, we pray to G-d for the strength and foresight to avoid
Yoseph is called "the Tzadik" because in the end he withstood the temptation
to sin. However, we also learn, as the Talmud indicates, that it is far
better to avoid a confrontation with sin, rather than be faced with the
possibility of failure.
Copyright © 1997 by Rabbi Aron Tendler
and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation,
Valley Village, CA.