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It was that day: Joseph came to the house to do his work… (39:11)
The passage relates the captive Joseph's rise out of slavery to a position of trust and responsibility. Potiphar, Pharaoh's grand vizier, had promoted him to general manager of his estate. His wife, however, had plans of a more personal nature; namely in scheming seduction. But Joseph refused, declaring that it would be an abuse of Potiphar's trust, and, further, 'How can I do such a great evil and sin against G-d'? (33:9). That Egyptian lady did not take no for an answer, and she seized her opportunity when 'it was that day: Joseph came to the house to do his work, and nobody else was at home' (39:11).
Rashi brings the opinion cited in the Talmud that 'his work' - did not mean his routine work, but that he wished to indeed sleep with the temptress. That was 'his work'. But at the last moment, 'he saw the image of his father Jacob,' and he said no.
What was it about specifically his father's image that made him change his mind at the last minute? Didn't he fear that G-d was actually watching at the time? Indeed, earlier on he rejected her by proudly proclaiming the Name of G-d: 'How can I do such a great evil and sin against G-d'? Why was the turning point his father, and not the Almighty?
A reply may be summed in one phrase: G-d understands, but Man does not.
This side of our relating to G-d is illustrated in the famous Unetaneh Tokef prayer of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, where we appeal to G-d to show us mercy because we are only human: 'indeed, as the Creator, He understands human inclinations, for they are, but flesh and blood'. G-d who created Man knows that there comes a point of tension beyond which flesh and blood can hardly stand.
Joseph was a healthy young man, with all the normal instincts. He was a captive in Egypt. He was far away from home. He was otherwise cut off from contact with women. He could have turned to G-d with the plea 'I am a human being. I am not an angel. That's how you created me. My past life has been hard and I need a bit of fun to keep sane. I am sure You will understand...'
Perhaps He would. But his father Jacob would not! He would see it as a betrayal of the trust that he put into the son 'which he loved more than all his brothers, because he was a son of his old age' (37:3). Indeed, after doing a thing like that, how would he ever face his father again?
This teaches parents and educators a very important and even frightening principle. Teenagers and older people, especially in this day and age, find themselves exposed to all types of tensions and temptations, having to decide whether to give in or resist. A parent and educator must strive to be such a person whose positive image will appear in the mind of a child or student when he or she is in a situation far out of their reach and direct influence.
So can people in the wider community. I remember in my childhood hearing a Talmid Chacham Baal Tephilla intone the opening words of the evening service of Yom Kippur 'Ohr Zarua La-tazadik, u-le Yishrei Lev Simcha'. (Light is sown for the righteous, and joy is sown for the upright). He sang it with such sincerity and devotion that one felt that the Divine Presence coming down to the congregation and the congregation being lifted up to the Divine Presence. I also recall with great pleasure a Baal Keriah who would read the Torah with such expression and inner feeling that the deep meanings came across, and one felt that he was personally imparting the words of Torah to us, as one of Moses' distant successors.
These are the things which come into one's mind when one is tempted to stray from the path of truth. And it is on parents, educators, and members of the community to create them.
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Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
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