And so it was- just as she coaxed Yosef day after day, so he would not
listen to her, to be with her. Then there was an opportune day when he
entered the house to do his work- no man of the household staff being
there in the house – that she caught hold of him by his garment,
saying, “Lie with me!” But he left his garment in her hand, and he fled
and went outside. (Breishis 39:10-12)
To do his work: Rav and Shmuel dispute whether he actually came to do his
work or whether he came to be with her and an image of his father appeared
before him… (Rashi)
This was the defining moment for Yosef. For all time he would be crowned
with the rare title “Yosef HaTzadik”-“The Righteous One”. He became worthy
of this status for having resisted enormous temptation. Congratulations!
However, when we read Rashi we find out that perhaps he had put himself in
grave jeopardy that day, and he would have capitulated had not a picture
of his father suddenly appeared at the crucial moment. It seems like Yosef
was saved by some external force. So where do we see in this episode an
exhibition of his greatness?
A local Rav recently related this story. It was something that had just
occurred, but the roots of the incident reach back more than sixty years.
He was a young boy strolling with his father in the country. With them was
a German-Jew a businessman who had just returned from the Midwest. He was
raving about the abundance of business opportunities in Wisconsin.
The Rav admitted he had been a precocious child, and so he interjected his
own opinion into the adult conversation. “Wisconsin only has a few
hundreds of thousand people! What’s so great about Wisconsin?” At that
instant the man became enraged and gave him a verbal thrashing that left
him crying shaken for many weeks. He throttled him over and over again
with the phrase, “What you don’t know about, don’t talk!”
Sixty something years later this now mature man is called by a night nurse
to accompany his elderly mother to the hospital on Shabbos, because of
complications from an infection. The attending physician questioned him
about whether his mother is allergic to penicillin. In his initial thought
process he assumed that because he had never heard that she was and
neither he nor his siblings were that neither was she.
He was about to tell the doctor that his mother was not allergic to
penicillin when a voice from sixty years earlier shouted, “What you don’t
know about, don’t talk!” So he humbly admitted, “I don’t know!” A few
calls were made and it was discovered that she was in fact allergic to
penicillin. Had he not been told off so harshly, years ago, he might have
spoken with presumed assuredness and contributed to the demise of his own
From where did this answer suddenly come? It was retrieved from a rich
storehouse embedded deeply within the human mind, where there can be found
limitless treasures of useful information and life lessons. Certainly, his
sincere desire to do the very best for his mother allowed him to, not only
cull that crucial piece of advice at the critical moment, but also to be
obedient even to a voice he once found so hurtful. Perhaps this is what
King Solomon refers to when he tells us, “Deep waters of counsel are in
the heart of man but a man of understanding will draw it up!” (Mishlei
Yosef was treated to no miracle by the appearance of his father’s image.
Otherwise, what was his accomplishment? Sure he was conflicted, and he
may even have contributed to that conflict but ultimately it was his own
powerful desire to overcome that temptation that helped him to conjure his
timely memory. Factor now the reverential response to that picture from
the past and appreciate, what rescues the Tzadik from the gravest of moral
dangers is also our greatest resource.