Vayeshev – Why Yiras Shamayim Wasn’t Enough To Save Yosef

Vayeshev – Why Yiras Shamayim Wasn’t Enough To Save Yosef

Friday, November 26th, '10

וַיְהִי כְּהַיּוֹם הַזֶּה וַיָּבֹא הַבַּיְתָה לַעֲשׂוֹת מְלַאכְתּוֹ וְאֵין אִישׁ מֵאַנְשֵׁי הַבַּיִת שָׁם בַּבָּית פירש”י: לעשות מלאכתו – רב ושמואל חד אמר מלאכתו ממש וחד אמר לעשות צרכיו עמה אלא דראית לו דמות דיוקנו של אביו וכו’ כדאיתא במס’ סוטה

Why did Yosef need דמות דיוקנו של אביו to prevent him from doing an עבירה? Why couldn’t he refrain just on the basis of יראת שמים alone? Doesn’t the גמרא say that a גנב is worse than a גזלן because a גנב has more fear of people than he does of Hashem? So how can it be that Yosef was not able to prevent himself from doing an עבירה by focusing on the fact that Hashem is watching him, but was able to prevent himself from doing an עבירה when he realized his “father” was there?

Furthermore, the דמות דיוקנו factor is not due to simply “the fear of people,” but rather is specific to parents. The אור החיים הק’ writes:

איש אמו תיראו וגו’ טעם סמיכות מצוה זו למצות קדושים, נתכוון לרמוז גם כן גדר לעריות, והוא על דרך מאמרם ז”ל (סוטה לו:) שדרשו בפסוק ויפוזו זרועי ידיו מידי אביר יעקב וגו’ (בראשית מט כד), כי כשתקפתו אשת פוטיפר ליוסף ותקפו יצרו נזדמנה לו דיוקן אביו ואמר לו וכו’ מיד ויפוזו זרועי וגו’. ושמעתי משם אנשי אמת כי דיוקן האב תגביר כח הקדושה בבן, ותמנעהו מבוא אל התיעוב, והוא אומרו סמוך למצות העריות אמו ואביו תיראו, ולזה מי שתקפו יצרו יצייר בין עיניו יולדיו ויהיה לו למשיב נפש:

The question now is, what is there about the image of a person’s parents that conjuring it can prevent a person from doing an aveirah?

We also find this idea – that thinking of parents can prevent a person form doing an aveirah – in writings attributed to of Rabbeinu Yonah. At the very beginning of שערי העבודה he says that when a person is tempted to do an aveirah he should be ashamed “for himself and for his parents”; and he should think to himself how unfitting it is for such a good person as himself to “do such a terrible thing as to sin against my G-d and against my parents” (!)

What is there about thinking about our parents that prevents us from sinning, and, as we see from Yaakov avinu, more so even than thinking about Hashem?

The purpose for which Hashem created people is for them to earn their way into Olam Habah. The purpose for which Hashem created everything else is to help people do that. Every little creation in the entire universe is here for one reason only: to act as tools to facilitate human beings to earn Olam Habah. Every galaxy, every blade of grass, every molecule of air, was created only as administrative assistants to help humans in meeting their objective – going to Gan Eden.

This includes our emotions and psychological makeup as well. Parents’ love for their children; friends’ love for their friends; children’s attachment to their parents; husbands’ attachment to their wives – like specialists trained with very specific skill sets, all of these different type of emotions and part of our psyche are custom designed to play their specific role in facilitating the successful acquisition of Olam Habah.

And each of us has a specific role to play as well in the success of all those who we encounter during our lifetime, to help them in different ways, to earn their Olam Habah. Our friends, our Talmidim, our parents, our children, our acquaintances – we are instructed to help all these people to be successful, and Hashem has equipped us with very job-specific emotions and experiences in order for us to successfully fulfill our roles towards all these different people. The Mashgiach uses one set of natural and acquired personality-tools to facilitate the success of his talmidim; the wife is uses another G-d-given set of emotional and personality tools to assist her husband in his. Everyone plays their role, and every single emotion and feeling plays its role in meeting the grand objective of creation, i.e. to ensure the acquisition of Olam Habah by human beings.

And so we understand that the rule of nature that says אהבה מקלקלת את השורה – that love distorts one’s perception of the person he loves – that, too, was created by G-d to help human beings earn the next world. This tool helps us tolerate our loved ones and be willing to work things out with them even when things get aggravating. If not for the fact that אהבה מקלקלת את השורה people would be running away from each other a lot more then they do!

But not only does this rule of nature prevent us from running away from those who we need in our lives, it also helps our Avodas Hashem in another way.

It’s good to have someone who thinks highly of you, even if you don’t deserve it. A person tends to see himself the way others see him. As the Kotzker Rebbe said about the statement of the מרגלים: וַנְּהִי בְעֵינֵינוּ כַּחֲגָבִים וְכֵן הָיִינוּ בְּעֵינֵיהֶם – we looked at ourselves as insects, because that’s how they looked at us.

If everyone in the world knows that Reuven is bad, it’s that much harder for Reuven to be good. Rav Shimon Schwab zt”l used to tell me about off-the-derech kids, that we have to be very careful what we reveal to their parents about them, and especially if the children know that their parents know. He said that once a kid knows that his parents know what he is doing, they look at themselves as a disappointment to their parents,  a “bad kid”, and  it then much harder for them to come back.

I heard from Rav Freifeld zt”l that when he was in Yeshiva, his wallet was once stolen by another bochur in the Yeshiva. Rabbi Freifeld discovered the thief when he saw the stolen wallet poking out of the pocket of a certain boy’s coat  in the Yeshiva coatroom. Rabbi Freifeld went to Rav Hutner zt”l with the information of his discovery. The Rosh Yeshiva told him that he has two choices: he can either confront the thief, in which case the boy will know that the Rosh Yeshiva thinks of him as a thief, or he can ignore the whole thing. Everyone currently looked at this thief as a good kid, and the kid himself knows that. If he were to know that people, especially the Rosh Yeshiva, knows he is a thief, it will negatively change his perception of himself. The Rosh Yeshiva recommended that Rabbi Freifeld let it go, so that the boy could retain his self-image.

And that’s why Hashem made it so that parents sometimes only see good in their children. אהבה מקלקלת את השורה, and the particular שורה of parents is known to be particularly מקולקול[1]. No matter how low a person looks at himself, he can always say “my parents still think I am a Tzadik.” Even when you’ve disappointed everyone in the world, your parents are the ones who still believe in you. And then you say to yourself “At least them I will not disappoint,” and you pull yourself together.

Parents’ exaggerated appreciation of their children’s righteousness is implanted within them by Hashem to ensure that no matter how a person looks at himself, there is always someone out there who still holds he is a Tzadik.

And that is how דמות דיוקנו של אביו works. There is no question that the fear of Hashem has to be greater than the fear of parents – but it is not fear that is the factor here; there is no question that the love that Hashem has for us is greater than the love our parents have for us – but there is one advantage that the love of our parents has:

No matter how much Hashem loves us, we cannot say about Hashem’s love,אהבה מקלקלת את השורה. You can’t fool Hashem. Even when Hashem has רחמנות and shows חסד, He knows what we really deserve – he just chooses to act otherwise. Our parents on the other hand, still think we are Tzadikim.

And so, when Yosef HaTzadik felt the Yezter Horah beating him and he was going לעשות צרכיו עמה, he knew that Hashem knew what he was going to do, and he knew that his choice disappointed Hashem. He disappointed himself as well. And when a person is a disappointment – to himself and also to Hashem – he is at his weakest. It is specifically then, that we need to remind ourselves that there are two people in the world whose perception of us is not sullied – no matter what they know. And that gives us the strength to live up to their perception.  אלא שנראית לו דמות דיוקנו של אביו.



[1] In the ספר חובת התלמידים  of the Piacetzna Rebbe zt”l he says the reason people care so much what others think of them is that they haven’t outgrown that stage in their lives when they were infants, and people cheered exuberantly when they saw them successfully crawling or walking or clapping their hands or throwing a ball etc. – this pride and satisfaction that came from having people approve of their actions was never outgrown עכת”ד. Thus, it is our parents more than anyone for whose approval we strive throughout our lives to satisfy.


Copyright (c) ’10 Rabbi Yaakov Shapiro


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