This week’s Torah reading, Parshas Vayeshev, tells us about the great challenge Joseph faced when his master’s wife attempted to engage him in a sinful relationship. The verse tells us (39:10) how she tried day in and day out to convince him to do so, but nevertheless, “He didn’t adhere to her to lay with her nor to be with her.”
What are the two things Joseph avoided that the verse is referring to? Rashi tells us that it means he did not agree to engage intimately with her, not in this world and not in the Next World.
One can’t help but wonder: Where does being with her in the Next World come in? What kind of relationship in the Next World is being referenced over here?
The Chofetz Chaim explains this (Shem Olam, the end of the first section) with a concept introduced to us by the Talmud. The Talmud says (Chagiga 16a) that if a person is tempted to sin in private and he says to himself, “Who will testify against me?” he should know that the stones and the beams of his house will be the ones to testify about his shameful acts.
What does the Talmud mean to convey to us with this? This obviously cannot be taken literally, since a person’s house remains in its place when he dies and does not go to court for testimony. The Chofetz Chaim explains that the Talmud is telling us that if a person thinks he will be able to deny his acts, he should know that he will be shown a picture exactly the way he performed the transgressions, with the entire background and all the details, just as it was at that time. The image of the stones and beams of the walls, along with everything else that was in the room at the time, will go on display. There will be a replay of the act precisely the way it was so that there is no denying it.
This, says the Chofetz Chaim, is what the verse is hinting to here as well. Joseph knew that if he were to sin with her, this image of him being together with her will one day be replayed for him in the Next World, and that is something he wanted to avoid at all costs. As the Talmud tells us (Avodah Zarah 5a), a person’s sins are wrapped around him and accompany him on his day of judgment after his demise. And there are no secrets in the Next World, as the Targum says (Kohelet 12:13) that all the deeds one does in private will one day become public.
This is an important concept we tend to neglect. All the choices that we make today are constantly being recorded with precision. There will be absolutely no way to deny them. Furthermore, whatever we think we can get away with, without the knowledge of others, will not remain concealed from the public forever.
The Kopitshnitzer Rebbe, Rabbi Avraham Yehushua Heshel, took a trip to Israel to partake in the celebration of his granddaughter’s wedding. During his stay, he took the opportunity to visit the great Torah scholar, Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Aurbach. When it was time for the Kopitshnitzer Rebbe to take leave, a taxi was called and Rabbi Aurbach accompanied him out the door. There was a delay in taxi’s arrival, and Rabbi Aurbach, who was two decades the Rebbe’s junior, offered to fetch him a chair to sit on while they waited.
But the Rebbe refused and said, “My father taught me that when you do an action, you need to imagine beforehand that you are being filmed in Heaven. All my life I strive to feel that every moment I am being filmed in Heaven. How will such a portrait look with me sitting and Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Aurbach standing?”
This is a powerful lesson for us to keep in mind, especially when we are tempted to act in a way that is less than ideal when we are out of public view. We too can get used to the idea of imagining our deeds being displayed in view of all, and learn to ask ourselves, “Do I want to have to face this kind of portrait hanging one day in Heaven?” This is precisely what the Mishnah is advising us to do. If we take this concept seriously and we were to actually stop and ask ourselves this question with sincerity from time to time, there will surely be choices we will avoid by doing so.
Parshas Vayeshev by Rabbi Yitzchok Aryeh Strimber (firstname.lastname@example.org)