For the week ending 9 December 2017 / 21 Kislev 5778

Parshat Vayeshev

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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Yaakov settles in the land of Canaan. His favorite son, Yosef, brings him critical reports about his brothers. Yaakov makes Yosef a fine tunic of multi-colored woolen strips. Yosef exacerbates his brothers’ hatred by recounting prophetic dreams of sheaves of wheat bowing to his sheaf, and of the sun, moon and stars bowing to him, signifying that all his family will appoint him king. The brothers indict Yosef and resolve to execute him. When Yosef comes to Shechem, the brothers relent and decide, at Reuven’s instigation, to throw him into a pit instead. Reuven’s intent was to save Yosef. Yehuda persuades the brothers to take Yosef out of the pit and sell him to a caravan of passing Ishmaelites. Reuven returns to find the pit empty and rends his clothes. The brothers soak Yosef’s tunic in goat’s blood and show it to Yaakov, who assumes that Yosef has been devoured by a wild beast. Yaakov is inconsolable. Meanwhile, in Egypt, Yosef has been sold to Potiphar, Pharaoh’s Chamberlain of the Butchers. In the Parsha’s sub-plot, Yehuda’s son Er dies as punishment for preventing his wife Tamar from becoming pregnant. Onan, Yehuda’s second son, then weds Tamar by levirate marriage. He too is punished in similar circumstances. When Yehuda’s wife dies, Tamar resolves to have children through Yehuda, as this union will found the Davidic line culminating in the Mashiach. Meanwhile, Yosef rises to power in the house of his Egyptian master. His exceptional beauty attracts the unwanted advances of his master’s wife. Enraged by his rejection, she accuses Yosef of attempting to seduce her, and he is imprisoned. In prison, Yosef successfully predicts the outcome of the dream of Pharaoh’s wine steward, who is reinstated, and the dream of Pharaoh’s baker, who is hanged. In spite of his promise, the wine steward forgets to help Yosef, and Yosef languishes in prison.


Respect and Dignity

“After these things, his master’s wife cast her eyes upon Yosef and she said, ‘Lie with me.’”(39:7) “And so it was – she coaxed Yosef day after day….” (39:10)

Wondrous as search engines may be, they don’t find everything. Without success I searched for an article I distinctly remember reading a few years ago. It was about a leading Wall Street law office that had introduced rules of office conduct which bore a striking resemblance to halachic norms of conduct between women and men.

Female employees were encouraged to wear modest and non-provocative clothing, and to communicate in a respectfully polite but non-intimate manner. Staying behind after hours alone in the office to finish work was prohibited, and discussions about private life between co-employees or employees and their bosses were also discouraged. Fraternal pecking-on-the-cheek was frowned upon. (Author’s note: If anyone remembers where this article appeared, please contact me at [email protected])

“And so it was – she coaxed Yosef day after day….” (39:10)

The Talmud (Yoma 35b) says that Zuleika (Potiphar’s wife) tried every way possible to entice him. Yosef was outstandingly handsome — so much so that whenever he passed by, women peeling citrus fruit with sharp knives would cut their fingers without feeling the pain, so entranced were they by his beauty.

Zuleika tried to seduce Yosef for over a year. She began by changing her dress three times a day to attract his attention. When this failed, she tried bribing him with a thousand talents of gold. One day, Zuleika found her opportunity. The day of the Nile’s over-flowing was a national religious holiday. Potiphar’s entire household went out to join the singing and dancing in praise of the Nile god. Ever the faithful servant, Yosef excused himself from these festivities and stayed at home to attend to his master’s bookkeeping. Zuleika, pretending to have a headache, also stayed at home, knowing that she and Yosef would be alone together in the house.

She dressed in her finest clothes and bedecked her hair with a crown of jewels. She perfumed herself with scent and her house with incense, and then she draped herself across the doorway where Yosef would have to pass to get to his work. Only the vision of the face of his holy father Yaakov prevented Yosef from succumbing to Zuleika’s blandishments.

There can be no doubt of the enormous power of physical attraction. Freud understood that this was the fundamental psychological motivation in man.

The Talmud (Kiddushin 30b) says, “(said G-d): I created the yetzer hara – (the desire for illicit relations) – and I created the Torah as its antidote.

Interestingly, the word for antidote – tavlin – can also be translated as “spice.” The Torah is the “spice of life.” When food lacks taste, quantity substitutes for quality, and we eat more in the vain search for satisfaction. The Torah puts spice into marriage, and in the vast majority of cases this prevents the mistaken search for illicit recreational excursions outside its hallowed boundaries.

My sister (a”h) used to say, “Sex is the screen-saver that comes on in a man’s mind when it’s unoccupied.”

Lord Acton said, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely.” The Ghengis Khans of today ride around Hollywood not on horseback, but in limos.

The more powerful a Jew without Torah is, the more likely he is to fall prey his yetzer hara and the easy pickings that surround him. Don’t get me wrong. I am in no way condoning the disgusting behavior of the moguls of Hollywood and Washington, or London for that matter. But without Torah a man’s “screen-saver” will flash across his mind given even minimal visual stimulation — let alone the un-dress code of the typical Hollywood starlet.

While society at large espouses standards of immodesty and fraternization between the sexes, is it any wonder that #MeToo scandals continue to appear with almost boring regularity?

Many is the time when I demur from shaking a lady’s hand, and try to finesse the moment by saying, “Please excuse me but my wife does my shaking for me.” Gila Manolson in her book “The Magic Touch” tells of an interesting experiment back in the days of “call phones”. The subject of the experiment was asked for a dime to make a phone call by the experimenter. If the experimenter touched the arm of the subject of the experiment, it turned out that he was far more likely to give him a dime. Touch is magic. And thus, Jewish Law goes to great — and to the mind of some — absurd lengths to nip any incipient inappropriate feelings in the bud.

If a woman wishes to be treated with the respect that she deserves, she could well take a page out of the book of the “Jewish Woman of Valor”.

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