Date: December 7th 2017


Parshat Vayeshev contains one of the most dramatic stories of the Chumash (Bible) - the temptation of Yosef (Joseph). It happened when Yosef was a slave in the household of Potifar, a high-ranking minister of the Pharaoh. Yosef was extremely talented, and Potifar entrusted him with the management of the entire household.

The Torah also relates that Yosef was exceedingly handsome. As a result, Potifar’s wife began to ceaselessly entice him to sin with her. On the day of a major Egyptian celebration, Potifar and his entire household left to join in the rejoicing. Potifar’s wife, however, feigned illness and remained at home. Unaware that she was in the house, Yosef entered and came close to succumbing to her enticements. At that point, Yosef’s father Yaakov (Jacob) miraculously appeared and warned that if Yosef sinned, he would be severed from his heritage. Yosef then seized control of himself and fled.

The Midrash Rabbah (1:1) on Shir Hashirim, as explained by the Commentary of Etz Yosef, writes that Yosef’s intention in coming to the house on that day was to do his regular work. The Midrash continues that this devotion to his duties was indicative of Yosef’s great piety and integrity. To quote the Midrashic text: “Rabbi Nechemiah said, It was a day of tiatron’ of the Nile. They all went to see, and he entered to do his work, to calculate the accounts of his master”.

The Commentary of Etz Yosef on the Midrash elaborates: “To me it appears that it was the day that the Nile burst forth from its banks to rise upon the entire land of Egypt, and they, therefore, made it [that day] a time of rejoicing in the land of Egypt. And that is what Rabbi Nechemiah concludes: “And they all went to see and he entered to do his work.” According to this, it is understandable that the scripture taught that he came to the house to do his work. This is significant as it demonstrates the chassidut (extreme piety) of Yosef. For even though all the servants and maidservants were subordinate to him, and they all went to join the merriment, nevertheless, he did not go with the counsel of the revelers, nor did he sit with scoffers. But rather, he faithfully came to the house to do the work of his master.”

Much is written in the Torah describing Yosef’s G-dly stature. Yosef’s brothers were all people of enormous holiness. Yet, Yosef was apparently the most pious of them all. He is referred to in Torah literature as Yosef Hatzaddik — Yosef, the supremely righteous man. Yosef was also a great scholar of Torah. By age 17, he had already mastered all of the Torah knowledge that Yaakov had acquired over a 14 year period during which Yaakov did not even interrupt his study in order to sleep (Rashi, Bereishit 13:3). Furthermore, although Adam, Noah, and the patriarchs had already lived, it was the merit of Yosef fleeing from this temptation of Potifar’s wife that caused the Red Sea to ‘flee’ from before the Jews and split at the time of the Exodus when they were being chased by Pharaoh’s soldiers and chariots (Midrash Yalkut Shimoni on Tehillim 114:3).

This Midrash being discussed came to reveal an additional and heretofore unknown dimension to Yosef’s piety. What was the additional act of devotion that eclipsed all of Yosef’s other spiritual attributes? What deed demonstrated yet greater piety than that which is otherwise known about Yosef? This Midrash provides the answer…Yosef worked most faithfully for his master Potifar.

Evidently, acting with absolute integrity in matters involving money, even very small sums, is extremely difficult. People rationalize that “It doesn’t make a difference.” Yosef likely would have been allowed to leave work on that day as the other household members did. But he apparently felt that, deep down, Potifar would not have been entirely pleased with his taking off. The righteous Yosef always wanted to do the “extra religious, charedi, glatt kosher” thing… So he went on that day to do his work.

It should be mentioned that Potifar was hardly the most righteous of people. The Talmud (Sotah 13b) relates that like his wife, Potifar harbored unholy intentions toward Yosef - he wanted to sodomize him. However, to protect Yosef, the Angel Gabriel came and castrated Potifar. Nevertheless, despite the fact that this employer of low moral character sought to abuse him, Yosef faithfully performed the duties with the greatest measure of integrity imaginable. In being so faithful an employee, Yosef demonstrated an additional level of piety that would not have been otherwise evident, notwithstanding all of his other G-dly attributes.

The following quote from the 52nd chapter of Kav Hayashar (a great 17th Century work on Torah ethics and the service of G-d) strongly emphasizes this notion that one’s absolute honesty with money is linked to one’s closeness to G-d.
“One should not rely on what he sees with his eyes — that [the person observed] is acting with perfection. (One cannot rely on appearances,) because one man does not know what is in the other’s heart. Always remember this principle: He who does not wish to gain from the money of his friend and certainly does not wish for stolen money, and [one whose] financial dealings are with integrity — he is certainly a man that is a tzaddik (truly righteous person) and is just. But when one sees another Jew kissing tefillin and praying and not dealing with money with integrity, one must distance himself from him with all forms of distancing. For the fundamental fear [of G-d] and piety is (manifested) in matters of money. Every man that maintains piety in financial matters, he is the consummate tzaddik.”

Many people who do not work in Torah-related fields are troubled by the nagging feeling that their daily labors are devoid of real meaning and spiritual growth. The Midrash and Etz Yosef are teaching that, in fact, virtually any workplace presents a unique opportunity for such. Working with absolute integrity as Yosef did can help beget exalted holiness. But “Absolute work integrity” connotes far more than basic job performance. For example, it also connotes that, unless permission is granted, one should work during every single minute for which he is being paid. Similarly, one must never pocket anything from the business, however small, even a single paper clip or pencil.

It is very disheartening to hear of outwardly devout Jews being implicated in major financial wrongdoing. The impression given by news stories reporting these happenings is that highly devout Orthodox Jews were found guilty of financial misconduct. As this Dvar indicates, little could be further from the truth. By definition, people guilty of financial misconduct toward others cannot be “highly devout Orthodox Jews,” for their religious observance lacks a most basic component. Extreme fiscal integrity is an absolute requirement of the Torah for being truly righteous and close to The Almighty.

This is an edited version of the JHI Dvar Torah that was previously emailed on November 22nd, 2013.

Please remember JHI when making end-of-year charitable contributions – especially if you learn ethical precepts of Torah from these JHI Dvars. There is hardly a more enduring and genuinely valuable benefit that someone else can provide!

Checks to JHI of Cambridge” can be mailed to JHI of Cambridge, 11 Magazine St, Cambridge, MA 02139. To donate by credit card through PayPal, go to Thank you. We wish you a Chanukah Someach, a freilichin Chanukah, and a Happy Chanukah.

You are subscribed to Jewish Heritage Initiative using

You may automatically unsubscribe from this list or change your subscription
by visiting

For more information, visit or send mail to

Mailing List Powered by Dada Mail

<< Previous: JHI Dvar Torah on Parshat Vayishlach

| Archive Index |

Next: JHI Dvar Torah on Parshat Meketz >>

(archive rss , atom )

this list's archives:

An occasional mailing from the Jewish Heritage Initiative on relevant Torah topics.
Visit us online at

Subscribe/Unsubscribe on Jewish Heritage Initiative

* Required

Powered by Dada Mail 3.0.3 Stable
Copyright © 1999-2008, Simoni Creative.