amok. His brothers throw Joseph into a pit and abandon him to his dreams of dominance. By some miracle, or divine hand, he winds up in Egypt in the house of a high official, where his innate brilliance enables him to rise to the top. He is, as the Bible calls him, "matsleach" -- a huge success. He is also "handsome of countenance and fair to look at." Now the shadows darken in the story. The wife of Potiphar is smitten with him, and she invites him to her bed. At this point, the Torah cantillation offers his response. A "shalshelet," a prolonged "No, never."
The biblical commentators suggest that it was not all that simple. Joseph was of two minds about her oft-repeated proposal. And here I quote James Kugel of Harvard University, one of the great Biblical scholars of our time: "Even the greatest heroes are sometimes tempted to sin; their greatness lies precisely in their ability to overcome that temptation."
What helped Joseph overcome his temptation? According to the Talmud, "The image of his father appeared to him in the window." Aha! He was tempted, but he found strength to say "No!"
So nowadays, we often ask ourselves, how do we teach the next generation to withstand the many lures and temptations that beckon to them? How do we transmit the Biblical emphasis on honesty in personal relations, not to steal another person's spouse, or house, or purse, or anything? How do we create a mentsch, male and female?
There is, unfortunately, no easy answer. Each of us has to develop a moral core and code, helped by sacred texts, our parents, a sympathetic teacher, our schools or shul, our church, or even by true friends on the street. But after it is found, it needs to be developed by us. We invite the Divine to join the human encounter. And the two will walk together!
Apparently, we all need to discover and strengthen our moral fiber, jolt our sense of the good, without twinging our guilt. That is the sign of maturity. We are all in that process, on the road, let us hope.
And so, the Bible lesson continues into life. Joseph in Egypt is not only a provider, but also a role model, not only in Egypt but in our world as well.
--Rabbi Myron Fenster