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    It was autumn, and
    the Indians on the
    remote reservation
    asked their new
    chief if the winter was going to be cold or
    Since he was an Indian Chief in a modern
    society, he had never been taught the old
    secrets, and when he looked at the sky, he
    couldn’t tell what the weather was going to
    be. Nevertheless, to be on the safe side, he
    replied to his tribe that the winter was indeed
    going to be cold and that the members of the
    village should collect wood to be prepared.
    But also being a practical leader, after several
    days he had an idea. He went to the phone
    booth, called the National Weather Service
    and asked, “Is the coming winter going to be
    “It looks like this winter is going to be quite
    cold indeed,” the meteorologist at the weather
    service responded. So the Chief went back to
    his people and told them to collect even more
    wood in order to be prepared.
    A week later, he called the National Weather
    Service again. “Is it going to be a very cold
    “Yes,” the man at National Weather Service
    again replied, “it’s definitely going to be a
    very cold winter.” The Chief again went back
    to his people and ordered them to collect
    every scrap of wood they could find.
    Two weeks later, he called the National
    Weather Service again. “Are you absolutely
    sure that the winter is going to be very cold?”
    “Absolutely,” the man replied. “It’s going to
    be one of the coldest winters ever.”
    “How can you be so sure?” the Chief asked.
    The weatherman replied,
    “The Indians are collecting wood like crazy.”
    This week’s portion (Vayeishev) tells the
    dramatic story of Joseph, an extremely
    handsome young man, attracting the
    lustful imagination of his master’s wife.
    She desperately tries to engage him in a
    relationship, yet he steadfastly refuses her.
    Then came the fateful day, “When he entered
    the house to do his work and none of the
    household staff was inside. She grabbed him
    by his cloak and pleaded ‘lie with me.’ He ran
    away from her, leaving his cloak in her hand,
    and he fled outside .”
    Humiliated and furious, she used the cloak
    as evidence that it was he who attempted
    to violate her. Her husband, Potiphar, had
    Joseph imprisoned, where he spent the
    next 12 years of his life until, through an
    astonishing turn of events, he was appointed
    Prime Minister of Egypt.
    Why is this episode recorded in detail in the
    Torah? The Torah is not a book of history and
    biography in the literal sense. It emits most
    of the events of its protagonists, beside those
    that are essential to convey a specific lessons
    to the reader. Even when it tells a story, it
    emits any details not relevant to the theme.
    (Abraham got involved in a war between nine
    kings. What exactly caused the five kings to
    rebel against the four and trigger a worldwar? The Torah does not tell us. What did
    Isaac tell Rebecca when he discovered that
    Jacob took the blessings? What did Jacob tell
    Leah when he discovered she deceived him?
    The Torah does not tell us).
    The objective of these portions is to relate
    how the Jewish family ended up in Egypt.
    Thus, we read about Joseph’s sale as a
    slave to Egypt, his prison sentence and his
    encounter there with the king’s ministers.
    This ultimately leads to his release from
    prison and designation as viceroy of the
    country in a critical time of famine, which,
    in turn, causes his father and entire family to
    relocate to Egypt, resulting in the Egyptian
    exile, which would then lead to Exodus and
    Why did the Torah find it necessary to
    relate the story of Joseph’s struggle with his
    master’s wife? Why is it important for us to
    know the detailed episode that caused his
    The Midrash explains the meaning of the
    phrase that Joseph “entered the house do to
    his work and none of the household staff was
    inside.” What type of work did Joseph come
    to do?
    The Midrash says that the “work” Joseph
    came to do was to yield to the advances of
    his master’s wife. After all of her unceasing
    pleas, Joseph at last succumbed. However,
    as the union between them was about to
    materialize, the visage of his father, Jacob,
    suddenly appeared to him. This caused
    Joseph to reject the powerful urge. He left his
    garment in her hand and he fled outside.
    What was it about Jacob’s visage that inspired
    Joseph to deny the temptation ?
    Let us reflect more closely on the
    psychological and physical condition of
    Joseph during that day when his master’s
    wife almost lured him into a relationship.
    Joseph was a 17-year-old slave in a foreign
    country. He did not even own his body—his
    master exercised full control over his life, as
    was the fate of all ancient and modern slaves.
    Joseph had not a single friend or relative in
    the world. His mother died when he was nine
    years old, and his father thought he was dead.
    His siblings were the ones who sold him into
    slavery and robbed him of his youth and
    liberty. One could only imagine the profound
    sense of loneliness that must have pervaded
    the heart of this lad.
    This is the context in which we need to
    understand Joseph’s struggle. A person
    in such isolation is naturally
    overtaken by extremely powerful
    temptations, and is also likely
    to feel that a single action of
    his makes little difference in the
    ultimate scheme of things.
    After all, what was at stake
    if Joseph succumbed to this
    woman’s demands? Nobody was ever likely
    to find out what had occurred between the
    two. Joseph would not need to return home
    in the evening to face a dedicated spouse or a
    spiritual father, nor would he have to go back
    to a family or a community of moral standing.
    This act would not harm his prospects on
    getting a good sheduch (marriage partner),
    nor would it get him thrown out of his
    yeshiva… He would remain alone after
    the event, just as he was alone before it. So
    what’s the big deal to engage in a snapshot
    In addition we must take into consideration
    the power possessed by this Egyptian
    noblewoman who was inciting Joseph.
    She was in the position of being able to
    turn Joseph’s life into a paradise or a living
    hell. In fact, she did the latter, having him
    incarcerated for in an Egyptian dungeon
    on the false charges that he attempted to
    violate her. If it was up to her, he would have
    remained there for life.
    The Talmud indeed described the techniques
    the woman used in order to persuade Joseph.
    “Each and every day,” the Talmud says, “the
    wife of Potiphar would attempt to seduce
    him with words. Cloth she wore for him in
    the morning she would not wear for him
    in the evening. Cloth she wore for him in
    the evening she would not wear for him in
    the morning. She said to him, ‘Surrender
    yourself to me.’ He answered her ‘No.’
    She threatened him, ‘I shall confine you in
    prison…I shall bend your proud stature…I
    will blind your eyes,’” but Joseph refused
    her. She than gave him a huge sum of money,
    but he did not budge.
    What is more, this story took place before the
    giving of the Torah, when adultery became
    forbidden for Jews even at the threat of death.
    One may argue that in light of the death
    threats presented to Joseph by his master’s
    wife, it would have been halachically
    permissible, perhaps even obligatory, for him
    to engage in the union !
    What, then, was the secret behind Joseph’s
    moral rectitude? What empowered a lonely
    and frail slave to reject such an awesome
    “The visage of his father Jacob”! That is
    what gave Joseph the extraordinary fortitude
    to smack his impulse in the face and to
    emphatically dismiss the noblewoman’s lure.
    But why? Jacob was living many miles
    away, unaware even of the fact that his son
    was alive. What was the magic that lay in his
    The Talmud presents a tradition that the
    beauty of Jacob reflected the beauty of
    Adam, the first human being formed by the
    Almighty Himself . Therefore, when Joseph
    saw the visage of Jacob, he was seeing the
    visage of Adam as well.
    Adam, we know, was instructed by G-d
    not to eat from the fruit of “the tree of
    knowledge.” His disobeying of this directive
    altered the course of human and world
    history forever . Though he did something
    apparently insignificant, merely eating a
    single fruit from a single tree, this minuscule
    act still vibrates through the consciousness of
    humanity to this very day.
    Why? Because every single human being is
    part of the knot in which heaven and earth
    are interlaced. G-d’s dream was not to be
    alone but to have mankind as a partner in
    the continuous task of healing the world. By
    whatever we do, we either advance or obstruct
    the drama of redemption; we either reduce or
    enhance the power of evil. Something eternal
    and Divine is at stake in every decision, every
    word, every deed performed by every single
    man, woman or child .
    When Joseph saw the visage of (Jacob which
    reflected the visage of) Adam, he reclaimed
    an inner unshakable dignity; he remembered
    that he was a candle of G-d lit on the cosmic
    way. Seeing the visage of Adam reminded
    Joseph how a single act, performed at a
    single moment by a single man, changed
    history forever.
    This is the reason for the Torah’s recording
    of the Joseph drama. During our lonely
    moments of misery, when we, too, may
    feel that nobody cares for us and we are
    alone in a large indifferent universe, we
    ought never fall prey to the easy outlet of
    immoral gratification. We must remember
    that something very real and absolute is at
    stake at every moment of our existence and
    in every act we do.
    You may view your individual actions in the
    privacy of your bedroom as insignificant. Yet
    in the biblical imagination, these decisions
    create history, not unlike the Indian chief’s
    hesitant predictions which defined the truth
    for the National Weather Service.
    If you only open your eyes, you will see
    the visage of your father whispering to you
    through the silent winds of history that you
    are not an isolated creature in a titanic world
    whose behavior is inconsequential. At this
    very moment, G-d needs you and me to bring
    redemption to His world.