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by Rabbi Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler
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And Pharaoh removed his ring from his hand, and placed it on Yoseph's hand, and he dressed him in garments of fine linen, and placed a gold chain around his neck. (BERESHIS 41:42)
The head of the Ashkenazi community in Jerusalem was Rabbi Yeshayahu Bardeki. He took care of the needs of the community and also represented them to the Turkish government which ruled over Israel at that time. He was always on hand to help every poor person.
One Erev Shabbos, a poor person entered the rabbi's house and told him that he did not have anything to eat for Shabbos. The rabbi wanted to help the poor Jew, but he did not have any cash on hand. Instead, he took a candlestick from his cabinet and gave it to him, saying that he should sell it and use the money for Shabbos.
A few weeks later, the same poor man walked in with the same request. Rabbi Bardeki took out the second candlestick, and gave that also to the poor man.
Not long afterwards, the same poor man knocked on the rabbi's door with a request for help. Since the rabbi did not have any cash this time either, he took his shtreimel off his head and gave it to the poor man, so that he could sell it and have some parnassah. But the embittered man took the shtreimel, threw it into the rabbi's face, and began cursing the rabbi vehemently for not giving him cash.
The rabbi said to himself, "If this person is acting in such a harsh manner, who knows how many troubles and how much pain he has. Imagine what sorrow he has, if he has lost his emotional balance."
"Listen," said the rabbi, "Come with me and we will try to locate more funds."
Then he accompanied the poor man to different houses in the neighborhood, until he was able to collect a sizeable amount of cash for him. (K'TZES HA-SHEMESH BI-GVURASO p. 158)
Rabbi Bardeki showed self-restraint by doing chesed with the poor man instead of becoming angry at his actions. In marriage, it is an obligation to have self-restraint, since we must remain faithful to our spouses.
"And Pharaoh removed his ring from his hand."1 Yoseph was given from his own [what he rightly earned as a reward by refusing the advances of Potiphar's wife]. The mouth that did not kiss in sin [was given]. "And by your mouth will feed my whole nation."2 The neck that did not cling to sin [was given]. "And placed a gold chain around his neck." 3 The hands that did not touch in sin [were given]. "and placed it on Yoseph's hand."4 The body that did not cling to sin [was given]. "And dressed him in garments of fine linen."5 The feet that had not stepped to do sin will step and will ride on chariots. "And he was driven in the prince's royal chariot that he had."6 The thought that was not used for sin came and was called wisdom, "And they call in front of him "Avrech," 7 father [av] in wisdom, and young [recta] in years. (YALKUT 148)
How is it that every limb that Yoseph did not use for sin was rewarded, when we might expect that Yoseph would be rewarded as a whole, rather than limb by limb. Even if there is an axiom that a person is rewarded limb by limb, why was it necessary to go into details of all the different limbs?
The trial that Yoseph went through with Potiphar's wife was extremely difficult. Especially if one takes into consideration the fact that Yoseph was not married, was alone m a foreign land with no one to supervise his actions, was young and able-bodied, and was entirely alone with a woman who was doing everything possible to have relations with him. Not in vain was he labeled by our Sages "Yoseph the Tzaddik" 8, since only tremendous self-restraint could have saved him from being entrapped by Potiphar's wife.
The extent of her efforts to entice him can be further understood by the fact that our Sages say that she did not wear the same clothes in the evening that she wore in the morning.9 She was doing everything possible to make herself extremely attractive so that Yoseph would have no choice but to succumb to her amorous overtures.
The day that she was planning her final all-out attack, she had feigned illness on a Egyptian religious holiday, where she knew that no one could possibly be at home except Yoseph, who would not participate in such idolatry. She truly believed that now Yoseph would have no hesitation, since no one would be able to find about their private rendevous. Obviously, she made care to make herself more enticing than ever.
Given such almost impossibly tempting circumstances, one can understand why the above midrash says that Yoseph was rewarded for every limb that did not utilize the opportunity to fulfill these illicit desires. The limbs that normally engage in such escapades are mentioned: the mouth, the neck, the hands, the body, the feet, and the thoughts. Yoseph felt the struggle in each of these limbs, and he knew very well what physical pleasure he was giving up to keep his Jewish heritage intact. Since he was victorious in this difficult struggle, Hashem rewarded him for every temptation that he was able to overcome.
Pure Deeds and Pure Thoughts
Our Sages also mention that even Yoseph's thoughts remained pure. These words suggest that we have the responsibility not only to guard our words, but also our thoughts. For the Talmud tells us that "thoughts of sin are worse than sin itself".° This is true because sinful thoughts cause us to lose the holiness that one can gain through the Torah. We cannot dismiss thoughts as harmless, because they can lead to action and diminish a person's purity.
The Rambam writes, "One should turn himself and his thoughts to the words of Torah, and he should widen his mind with wisdom, since the thoughts of forbidden relations will only dominate a mind free from wisdom." it Contaminating ourselves with thoughts of forbidden relations is dangerous to our spiritual health, and can be avoided by occupying our minds with thoughts of Torah. Only the beauty of the Torah has the strength to vanquish such strong temptations.
The halachah that a person must control his thoughts also pertains to his relationship with his wife. The halachah states that during relations with your wife, you are not allowed to think about another woman, even if that other woman is also your wife, e.g., at the time when two wives were allowed by Jewish law.12 The idea here is that when one is in union with his wife, this should be the ideal moment for strengthing the bond between them.
Why not use the power of the mind to strengthen the love that you have for your spouse. During the day ponder on how wonderful your spouse is; and even make a list of all the good things your spouse does for you. Then imagine how unfortunate you would be without your beloved spouse. A person has many opportunities to think during the day, and these opportunities can be utilized to strengthen your connection with your spouse.
Even though the connection with your spouse is very strong after getting married, as time goes by it may lessen. This is no cause of alarm since time naturally causes our feelings to dull. It is our task to awaken those feelings by the proper thoughts. Whatever we think in our minds, will slowly sink into our hearts, and it is our task to revive all the good feelings we once experienced with our spouses.
Actually, our Sages tell us that Yoseph was saved from his trial by thinking of his father's presence. 13 Once again, we find the power of thought. If we have any temptations during the day, utilize the thoughts of your spouse to drive away those forbidden temptations. Only your spouse gives you an everlasting loving relationship, while other temptations only lead to disaster. Let your mind dwell on the chesed that your spouse does for you constantly, and what a betrayal it would be not to be faithful to such a loving spouse, or to repay with bad a person who does you only good.
Yoseph's trials with Potiphar's wife are lessons for all generations, that we have the capability to conquer our yetzer hara with the right thoughts and with a strong will; and therefore, if we put forth our best effort, we can be sure that G-d will help us and give us the moral strength we need to overcome such temptations.
1. Bereshis 41:42
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network