The Beauty of Sanctity
Rav Zevi Roness
"So it was - just as she coaxed Yosef day after day, so he would not listen to her to lie beside her, to be with her." (Bereishit 39:1) The Midrash writes:
A Roman matron asked R. Yosi and said to him: Is it possible that Yosef, a seventeen-year-old, would be able to resist his heat [natural attraction] and do this thing [not listen to her]?
He took out for her a Torah scroll and started reading to her the story of Reuven and Bilha, [and] the story of Yehuda and Tamar. He said to her: What if these [men] who were older and living with their father – the Torah did not cover for them, Yosef who is young and living by himself – how much more so! [If he were to listen to her, the Torah would not avoid revealing it]
R. Yosi managed to prove to the matron that the story of Yosef and Potiphar's wife was indeed authentic. The question still remains though; how did he manage it? How did he succeed when he was only a seventeen-year-old teenager who was living by himself and his body was full of heat?
The Gemara writes (Sotah 36b):
"She caught hold of him by his garment saying" (Bereishit 39:12) – At that time an image of his father appeared to him in the window. [Yaakov] said to him: "Yosef, your children are destined to be written on the efod stones and you with them. Do you wish your name to be erased from amongst them and you will be called the companion of harlots, as it says: "The companion of harlots will lose a fortune." (Mishlei 29:3) Immediately: "His bow was firmly emplaced." (Bereishit 49:24)
The Yerushalmi (Horayot 2:5) adds:
R. Chuna in the name of R. Matana: He raised his eyes and saw an image of Yaakov Avinu; immediately he cooled. "From the hands of the mighty power of Yaakov." (Bereishit 49:24)R. Avin said: He also saw [the image] of Rachel, "From there, he shepherded the stone of Israel." ["The stone" alludes to Rachel who is the stone of Israel, and her image and merit also helped save him from the sin. (Pnei Moshe)]
According to the Yerushalmi, Yaakov's image was not enough to save Yosef from the sin, and Rachel's image was also necessary. What makes Rachel's image any better than Yaakov Avinu's?
I heard from my father, my teacher, in the name of his rabbi, Rav Avigdor Tziperstein zt"l (a Rosh Hayeshiva in RIETS), that in order to fight the beauty of Potiphar's wife – a different kind of beauty was needed. Potiphar's wife tried to snare Yosef with her external beauty. To this end she would change her clothes every time she passed by him in order to attract his attention (Yoma 35b), and to appear before him at the height of her beauty. Yaakov's image was not enough to save him from sin. Despite all the yirat Shamayim and Torah that Yaakov's image symbolized – it was still not enough to save Yosef from this type of sinful thoughts. It was only possible through the image of the matriarch Rachel, about whom the Torah testifies: "Rachel was beautiful of form and beautiful of appearance." (Bereishit 29:17) The Midrash writes: "The main feature of Rachel was that she was beautiful." Beauty was Rachel's single obvious distinguishing feature. It defined her entire personality and essence, was seen in her movements and actions and even in her external appearance.
We can now explain based on the Gemara (Brachot 5a):
R. Levi b.Chama said [in the name of] R. Shimon b. Lakish: A person should always try and stir his yetzer tov against his yetzer hara, as it says: "Tremble and sin not." (Tehillim 4:5) If he defeats it – good, and if not he should study Torah, as it says: "Reflect in your hearts." (ibid.) If he defeats it – good, and if not he should recite Shema as it says: "While on your beds." (ibid) If he defeats it – good, and if not he should remind himself of the day of his death as it says: "Be utterly silent, selah." (ibid.)
In order to beat the yetzer hara, Yosef first tried to think about Torah. Then, the image of his father, who taught him Torah, appeared before him. He remembered all the times they sat together to study, and everything that they learned. When that wasn't enough, he recited Shema and took upon himself the yoke of Heaven, saying: "Hear, O Israel (Yaakov): Hashem is our G-d, Hashem, the One and Only." He then saw his father's image again, but still it wasn't enough, so he reminded himself of the day of his death, the day that he would meet his deceased mother in the world of truth. There he would have to give an accounting of all his actions. He would have to justify why he preferred external beauty, which is essentially false, to the true inner beauty of truth and holiness. He then saw the image of Rachel Imeinu, and that gave him the power to overcome his yetzer hara. Rachel's image came to oppose the external, material, impure beauty of Potiphar's wife, by radiating true beauty of holiness and inner purity. When both beauties have to face off against each other, it is clear that the external false beauty will always be defeated, and that the truth will triumph.
Today, when the external beauty of the Greek culture and its descendant – the current Western culture – charm with their beauty, and attempt to seduce the Yosef of today, the image of the menorah comes to oppose them, and is seen in the window with its candles on which we say: "These lights are sacred." They symbolize the true beauty of Am Yisrael's purity and holiness, and the beauty of a life of Torah and mitzvot, which give meaning to personal and family life. Against the edification of beauty we fight with the beauty of sanctity, and just like Yosef Hatazaddik succeeded "in those days" – so, with Hashem's, help we will succeed "in this time."
קוד השיעור: 3619