These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem


Posted on November 25, 2010 by Jean

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Now Joseph was well built and handsome. After a time, his master’s wife cast her eyes upon Joseph and said, ‘Lie with me.’ But he refused… On such a day, he came into the house to do his work. None of the household being there inside, she caught hold of him by his garment and said, ‘Lie with me!’ But he left his garment in her hand and got away and fled outside. (Genesis 39:6-12)

So Joseph was “well built and handsome?” How do we know this? Was he running around like an Egyptian, exposing his arms and sandaled feet? I think we can guess why he entered the house when Potiphar’s wife was alone. Nice Jewish boy? I don’t think so.

Do you think Joseph observed the mitzvah of tzitzit while he was in Egypt? If so, perhaps the garment Potiphar’s wife “caught hold of” was his tallit katan. Perhaps it was even the tzitzit that she grabbed.

The mitzvah to wear tzitzit includes an explanation of its purpose:

Instruct them to make for themselves tzitzit on the corners of their garments… look at it and recall all the commandments of the Lord and observe them, so that you do not follow your heart and eyes in your lustful urge. (Numbers 15:37-41)

The four tzitzit are attached to the corners of tallit katan, an undergarment which covers a man’s chest, his shoulders, his back… The knots hang below his waist, swinging back and forth as he sashays on his way.

We don’t give Potiphar’s wife enough credit. I believe she was able to control herself despite Joseph’s attractive physique and seductive ways. What did her in was his tzitzit! Over time, the poor woman was tempted beyond her ability to resist.

By wearing tzitzit Joseph violated another commandment. “You shall not insult the deaf, or place a stumbling block before the blind.” The Rabbis interpreted this verse as a prohibition against putting temptation in someone’s way, making him or her stumble. Faced with extreme temptation, some women and many men might not have had as much self-control as Potiphar’s wife did. The exhibitionism of tzitzit is an overwhelming enticement to sin; it is a “stumbling block” placed before women.

Perhaps the wearing of tzitzit reminds you men of one specific commandment. “Be fruitful.” So, which is it? Do you wear tzitzit to keep you from following your lustful urge, or to help you satisfy it?

Gentlemen, please take my words to heart and stop wearing tzitzit! Or at least tuck them into your trousers.