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The Internet Made Me Do It!

By Tzvi Fishman
12/28/2009, 12:00 AM

It is no secret that the sexual drive is one of man’s strongest urges. Since we are approaching the period of “Shovavim,” which is designed to cleanse people from the blemishes of sexual transgressions, let’s take an inner look at the last few Torah portions to see what’s going on behind the scenes.


Yosef is the hero of the drama that we have been reliving these past few weeks. Yosef is known as “Yosef the Tzaddik,” because he overcame his sexual passions in his trial with Potifar’s wife. The Midrash explains that she was the most beautiful woman in Egypt, and every day, she wore more and more provocative clothing to lure the young Hebrew servant into having relations with her.

Potifar's Wife

To help understand the incredible, almost superhuman challenge, suppose erotic photos popped up on your computer screen every few minutes whenever you were surfing. Who wouldn’t succumb to the temptation and click on the link to see more? Maybe once, twice, even for a week, some superhero might fight the urge, but eventually he would cave in. But Yosef didn’t. That’s why he is called “Yosef the Righteous One.” Because he represents the paragon of holiness which every Jew is supposed to strive for, both for the individual and for the Jewish Nation as a whole.

Without delving into more esoteric understandings of the text, the Torah states: “These are the generations of Yaacov – Yosef” (Bereshit, 37:2). Now Yaacov had many other children whom the Torah does not mention here. Basing his teaching on the Zohar, the Kabbalist, Rabbi Elihua Leon Levi, explains that the Torah is teaching us that Yosef, the symbol of sexual holiness, is the foundation of the nation that Yaacov is to establish – the Nation of Israel. Thus Yosef is his main progeny. The brothers were jealous of Yosef precisely because of his outstanding righteousness in this sphere. In order to educate them toward better behavior, Yosef told his father that his brothers were casting their eyes on the daughters of the land (Zohar, Bereshit, 182b), which would be comparable to entering “adult” sites on the Internet today.

"You shall not stray after your heart and your eyes!"

Gazing at foreign women, whether on the street, or on the net, provides sustenance to the unholy forces that proceed from the realm of impurity (Ibid). Interpreting Yosef’s famous dream, the brothers understood that they would have to bow down to Yosef as their leader. Uncomfortable with having to live up to the standard of holiness that Yosef represented, the brothers threw him into a pit and sold him into slavery.

Because Yosef represented the Covenant of the Brit, which draws the Shekinah on a Jew and upon the Jewish Nation, when Yosef was separated from his father and sold to Egypt, the Shekinah departed from Yaacov, and his joy and holy inspiration left him as well. The Shekinah only returned to him upon his reunion with his lost son and with the holy covenant which Yosef upheld through all of his trials.

We can also learn from Yehuda the importance of guarding the Covenant and living our lives in sexual holiness. After his involvement in the betrayal of Yosef, the Torah states: “And it came to pass at that time that Yehuda went down from his brothers…” (Bereshit, 38:1). As their leader, he should have prevented the sale of Yosef. When he failed to do so, he lost his standing in their eyes, and suffered a spiritual downfall as well. “And Yehuda saw there a daughter of a certain Canaanite…and he took her and went in to her (Bereshit, 38:2). First he strayed after his eyes, and then he took her, as our Sages have warned: “The eyes see, the heart desires, and the body completes the transgression.” The outcome of the disgraceful event was that his first two children from her were spiritually blemished, and later slain by G-d for spilling their seed in vain. The Zohar explains that Yehuda’s first son was called  ער which is a reversal of the letters רע meaning evil, since he was conceived through an impure passion (there, 186b).

This is not the place to expand on the Zohar’s harsh words regarding the sin of spilling seed in vain, for which, as we mentioned, the period of “Shovavim” is particularly suited to rectify. For even this wrongdoing can be erased by repentance, as the Zohar affirms elsewhere: “For whoever repents of his sin, G-d preserves in this world and in the World to Come” (Zohar, Bereshit, 185b. Also, Zohar, Shemot 3a). However, one of the things which brings sad state about is gazing at women, whether on the street, or on the Internet. (Sure, sure, I know it doesn’t apply to you.)

While the Scoffer from Vienna likes to make light of these matters, and thinks that politics is the name of the game, allow me to quote another passage from the holy Zohar, which was transmitted to Rabbi Shimon Ben Yochai by Eliahu HaNavi and Moshe himself, showing us that it isn’t Bibi and Barak who determine what will be in Israel, but rather our very own behavior:   

“When G-d surveys the world to judge it,  and finds wicked people there, then, in the words of the Torah, ‘He shuts up the heaven, so that there shall be no rain, and the ground shall not yield her fruit’ (Devarim, 11:17). Through the sins of the sons of men heaven and earth are shut up and do not perform their functions. Those who do not guard the holy Covenant in purity cause a division between Israel and their Father in heaven. Thus, the Torah states, ‘And you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them… He shuts up the heaven so that there shall be no rain’ (Ibid), for to be false to the holy Covenant is equivalent to bowing down to another god. But when the holy Covenant is properly guarded by man, God showers down blessings from above on to this world” (Zohar, Bereshit, 189b).

Getting back to Yosef, unlike his older brother, he managed to escape the fires of passion and the wiles of Potifar’s wife, and overcome the difficult trial. For this, the Zohar tell us, he was elevated to kingship over Egypt, whose dominion extended over all the world: “It was in the virtue of having kept the purity of the Covenant that Yosef was privileged to be crowned in his right place and merited kingships in the upper and lower kingdoms. Hence to safeguard the purity of the Covenant is like observing the whole of the holy Torah, since the Covenant is on a par with the whole Torah” (Bereshit 197a).

Rashi tells us that when Yosef revealed himself to his brothers he bid them to come near him and showed them that he was circumcised, saying that because he guarded the sexual Covenant in purity, he rose to his exalted position (Bereshit, 45:4, Rashi).

The repentance of the bothers is complete when they bow down to Yosef, in fulfillment of his dream, and realize that the sexual holiness that Yosef represented must be the foundation of the holy Jewish Nation and kingship. This message is reinforced in this week’s Torah portion when Yaacov has Yosef place his hand under the place of the Brit in swearing an oath to bury him in the Land of Israel (and not in Monsey), because of the supreme holiness of the Brit.

With the Almighty’s help, we will explore this theme again as we approach the beginning of Shovavim. As for the readers who don’t like reading about these matters on this blog – don’t read them, that’s all.