by Rabbi Yehoshua Aron Sofer
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"Yehuda recognized them and said, 'She is righteous, it is from me" (Berieshis 38:26).
Chazal see incredible strength of character in Yehuda's public admission of guilt, and they attribute the kingship emanating from Yehuda to the nobility of this incident. Chazal also say that in the merit of his saving three souls (Tamar and her unborn twins) Hashem promised to save his children from harm. We must ask, did Yehudah really have the option of denying his involvement with Tamar? Wouldn't it take a tremendous degree of callousness to allow three souls to perish to save oneself from shame? Especially since the twins were his own children, should he just let them be killed?
The answer is that he definitely could have saved their lives without implicating himself. A Beis Din never seeks to implement the death penalty, and he could have manipulated the court to grant her clemency and release her. However, she and her sons would have lived out their lives under the shadow of her misconduct. People would have pointed her out, and whispered behind her back of her illicit affair. They would have mercilessly slandered her children about their dubious parentage. It was to spare her this stigma that Yehuda made public his association with her. Bringing contempt upon oneself to save another from disgrace is indeed a unique act of mesiras nefesh, for which Yehuda was so lauded.
Yehuda had great rationalization for covering up: The terrible Chilul Hashem of people knowing his misdeed. But he realized that his motivation in hiding his tracks would be to protect his own honour, not the honour of Hashem, so he steeled himself and confessed his guilt. Lest one think that it was easy for Yehuda, the Midrash tells us that he had a difficult time arriving at the decision. The verse states, "She sent word to her father-in-law, saying, 'by the man to whom these belong I am pregnant'. And she said, 'please recognize to whom this signet, wrap and staff belong". Why does it state twice that she said? The meaning is that she sent him two messages. The first time he couldn't bring himself to confess and ignored her. Only the second time, when she was on the verge of execution, did he react. The second time she also uses the word please, injecting a note of pleading and urgency.
Another question raised is why was the reward of monarchy selected specifically for his disclosure? Rav Elya Meir Bloch zt'l answers as follows. We tend to think of royalty in term of externals. The bigger the kingdom, or the more wealthy, the greater is their monarch. However, in truth, the king is dependant upon the goodwill of the people for not revolting against his rule, or he relies on the might of his army to keep the populace in line. Either way, he isn't a ruler but a slave, for he's totally reliant upon others. Real kingship is an internal character trait. Someone who rules over himself, who is master over his desires, is considered a ruler, and is granted the power to command others as well. Yehuda demonstrated complete domination of self, and was therefore chosen as the progenitor of kings. The parsha concludes with the story of Yosef in Egypt, who began as a slave and ended up viceroy of the land. Here too the idea is that when Yosef was enslaved he showed full mastery over his urges by not sinning with Potiphar's wife. In return, he was crowned viceroy over Egypt.
Rabbi Yehoshua Aron Sofer, Kollel Beis HaTalmud Yehuda Fishman Institute, Melbourne Australia
Rabbi Yosef Levinson
"And Yosef entered the house to do his work" (Bereishis 39:11)
Rashi, quoting one opinion in the Gemara (Sota 36b), relates that the continuous advances of Potifar's wife eventually tempted Yosef to sin. However, at that moment, he saw a vision of his father and was able to resist. Yosef certainly knew that he would be liable to the death penalty for committing the cardinal sin of adultery. Yet it was only after he beheld his father's image that he was able to regain his self-control. What powerful message did this image hold?
The face of Yaakov Avinu was the jolt that reminded Yosef of the greatness to which he aspired. In an instant he realised the importance of preserving the high spiritual goals demonstrated in his father's house. He fled, leaving his coat behind. Avoiding the aveira was not enough.Yosef wanted to protect himself from even gazing at the woman. Perhaps this is the meaning of the Medrash (Shemos Rabba) that the Yam Suf (Sea of Reeds) split in Yosef's merit. The whole purpose of the redemption from Egypt and the splitting of the Yam Suf was to receive the Torah and build the Beis Hamikdash in Eretz Yisroel. Therefore it was Yosef's striving for spiritual purity which caused the sea to split. And how apt it is that the Mishkan was first erected in Shiloh, in the portion of Yosef's son Efraim, and remained there for 369 years.
Striving for spiritual purity is a quality we see reflected generations later by the Chashmonaim, the Maccabis. This midda infused them with the courage to challenge the mighty Syrian-Greek armies and they miraculously triumphed. They then entered the Beis Hamikdash to perform the avoda, the daily service. The Yavanim had defiled the Beis Hamikdash and no pure olive oil was readily available to kindle the menora. Still, the Chashmonaim searched and found one jug with the Kohen Gadol's seal still intact. Though it only contained enough oil for one night, a miracle occurred and they were able to light the menora for eight days. We celebrate Chanuka in commemoration of this miracle. (Shabbos 21B).
It seems from this that the Kohanim were unable to light the menora with impure oil. However the Halacha indicates otherwise: when no pure oil is available, it is permissible to use defiled oil. This is known as tuma hutra b'tzibbur. If the need arises, korbanos tzibbur, public offerings, which include kindling the menora, (Toras Kohanim, 24:3) can be performed in a state of ritual impurity (see Yoma 6b). Why then, ask many commentators, was it necessary for Hashem to perform a miracle to allow the Kohanim to light with the menora?
Before the Chashmonaim were able to perform the avoda, they had to re-dedicate the Beis Hamikdash. The Maharsha (Shabbos 21b) explains that this is reflected in the name 'Chanuka', which means to inaugurate. Based on this, Rav Yosef Engel answers our question (Gilyonei Hashas, Shabbos 21b). He explains that the leniency of offering korbanos tzibbur b'tuma, in a state of impurity, cannot be relied upon when inaugurating the Beis Hamikdash. This momentous Chanukas Habayis, heralded a new era of avodas Hashem. Since the future growth and success of a new undertaking is dependent on its beginning, the Chashmonaim strove to perform the avoda to perfection, harnessing that same midda that had encouraged them to attempt the impossible against a superior army.(For another answer to this question, see Moadim U'Zmanim, "That's Greek to me" )
This idea was also expressed by the Daas Z'keinim Mibaalei HaTosafos (Vayikra 10:4). They write even though a kohen is permitted to come into contact with any deceased relative that he is obligated to mourn for, on the day that he is installed in the Beis Hamikdash, he is forbidden to come in contact with any tuma, just like the Kohen Gadol. Since he is embarking on a new career of avodas Hashem, he must aspire to greatness. Perhaps one day he will be the Kohen Gadol.
We live in a generation where our lofty ideals are far removed from those of society. It is difficult to remain untainted by negative influences that surround us. Let us learn from Yosef and the Chashmonaim to strive for greatness in serving Hashem, even against the odds. In this way may we too be zocheh to dedicate the Beis Hamikdash speedily in our days.
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