Perhaps no Biblical story fascinates us like that of Joseph and his brothers. Its twists and turns are full of drama, intrigue, tragedy, violence, sex, cunning, pathos featuring common folk and royalty alike. It even has a happy ending. Everything to ensure a best seller. But the Torah's interest does not lie in the excitement of the story but in the multifold lessons derived form proper analysis of the story. The Torah is well aware that couching the crucial lessons of life in a story is often much more effective than a list of instructions. Those instructions - known as mitzvot - can only be effective after the stories of Breisheet have been learned and relearned.
We meet Joseph as a 17 year old somewhat immature teenager. He is wont to snitch on his brothers, has no compulsions sharing his egotistical dreams with all arousing both hatred and jealousy among his brothers. It took Joseph many years to mature and develop into Yoseph HaTzadik , the appellation our sages grant him. One would think that after his narrow escape from death he would learn the danger of arrogance. Yet we see that often those who survive crisis and turmoil do not necessarily become better people. It is no surprise that the Torah exhorts us no fewer than 36 times to be kind to strangers because you were strangers in the land of Egypt. Despite knowing the horrors of slavery there was a fear that once masters in their own country, the Jews would succumb and enslave others. In fact often those who suffer the most become the cruelest. If they had to endure pain so must others they often argue. They may even interpret their later success to the experience of suffering, which while perhaps true does not excuse one for bringing hardship unto others. Oh, how people forget their past.
Joseph was no different. Rising to prominence in Potiphar's house Joseph seems to consciously try to forget his past. Our psychological makeup is such that we blot out unpleasant memories. Yosef makes no attempt to contact his father to let him know he is alive and well. His goals appear to be setting up a new life in his adopted homeland. He is, as the Torah itself testifies, successful and is soon appointed master of the estate. Interestingly it is at this point, that we are told that "Joseph was well built and handsome" (39:6). Surely this statement should have been made when Joseph is first introduced to us, as is the norm in the Torah. Thus our sages understood this phrase not as a physical description of Yoseph but rather a moral one. Joseph was most interested in the latest fashion making sure his hairstyle was contemporary. His crying, aging father was the furthest thing from his mind. While perhaps understandable, considering what his family had done to him, G-d expected much more from the beloved son of Jacob. Immediately thereafter we read how "His master's wife cast her eyes on Joseph: Sleep with me, she said" (39:7).
Forgetting the past means accepting the relative morality of the modern world including it sexual values (or lack thereof). Joseph wavered, unsure whether to take that final last step into Jewish oblivion. What saved him, our sages claim, was the image of his righteous father that appeared before him. When push came to shove the intensive Jewish upbringing that Joseph had, protected him from falling prey to the degenerate effects of this most modern of cultures.
We today live in a culture no less threatening than that of ancient Egypt. Many succumb and many make unnecessary compromises. To gain from our encounter with the modern world we must make sure that the images ingrained on us are those of uncompromising commitment to Jewish values and morality. These images must be strong enough that they form our core essence enabling us to draw upon them when our values are challenged by those around us. It is these images that lead us to righteousness. Shabbat Shalom!