A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

December 4, 2015 at 12:27 AM , , ,
“….She grabbed him by his garment, saying – Lie with me – But he left his garment in her hand and fled and went outside…” – Bereishit 39:12

״….ותתפשהו בבגדו לאמר שכבה עמי ויעזוב בגדו בידה וינס ויצא החוצה…״ – בראשית לט, יב

At that moment, the image of his father’s face appeared to him in the window… —Talmud, Sotah 36b


The image of Yaakov’s face appeared to Yosef just moments before he succumbed to his master’s wife’s advances, says the Talmud, and ultimately saved him from sinning. The Talmud implies that this was more than just a reminder to Yosef of the ethical standards with which he was raised; rather, it was the appearance of Yaakov’s face that gave Yosef the courage not to comply with this immoral act.

What was unique about Yaakov’s face? Elsewhere (Bava Metzia 84a), we learn that “our forefather Yaakov’s beautiful countenance was akin to that of Adam, the first man.” This physical resemblance is attributed in Chassidic teaching to the spiritual bond that Adam and Yaakov shared. Namely, the spiritual endeavors of our forefathers, particularly Yaakov, were built around repairing the damage that had been caused to the world by the sin of Adam (as explained in Zohar vol. 3, p. 111b.)

When Yosef saw his father’s face, he remembered why his father’s face was unique. He thought about Yaakov’s famous lookalike, and how Yaakov’s entire life’s work had been devoted to repairing Adam’s sin. He realized that Adam too had been only an individual, but like Adam’s sin, the effects of succumbing to Potiphar’s wife will not be inconsequential and only temporary – his decision can impact the entire world for all of time!

Yosef had numerous justifications to allow him to sin just this once – if only to avoid an inevitable life-sentence in jail for denying his master’s wife’s wishes! But upon seeing Yaakov’s face, Yosef “fled and went outside.” He raised himself above all those rationalizations, because he realized that the decisions of every individual at every moment have the ability to bring harm to the entire world as did Adam’s, or to repair the universe as did Yaakov’s.

—Toras Menachem vol. 29, pp. 262-265


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