Category Archives: Sarah

Sarah’s Stages of Life

Sarah’s Stages of Life 

Of any stopping place in life, it is good to ask whether it will be a good place from which to go on as well as a good place to remain.  -Mary Catherine Bateson

happy-old-womanThe first Matriarch of the Jewish people, Sarah, is reported as having lived to the grand old age of 127 years. The phraseology however is unusual. It states that she lived “one hundred years and twenty years and seven years.”  Rashi, the classic rabbinic commentator, explains that the strange presentation of the years of Sarah’s life comes to teach us that at one hundred years she still had the innocence of a young adult, and that at twenty years old she still had the beauty of a seven year old.

Rabbi Hirsch on Genesis 23:1 takes this interpretation one step further and explains that Sarah’s particular achievement was that she lived each stage of her life correctly and was then able to bring those positive attributes to the next stage of her life. Hence, she possessed an untainted pure beauty from her childhood that stayed with her the rest of her life. Likewise and perhaps connected to it, she retained a childlike innocence both in her young adulthood and throughout her long life.

It seems there was some inner quality in Sarah, independent of any outward guises or efforts, which radiated purity, youth and beauty.

May we find and develop those inner qualities.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To Tamara on her birthday.

 

El abogado egipcio de José

ficción bíblica: Génesis Vayishlaj

Traducido del inglés y editado por Caro Cynovich carocynovich@gmail.com

­dorePharaohSmallEl abogado egipcio de José

—Ejecuten al esclavo —Faraón entonó, mientras tomaba delicadamente un sorbo de vino—. ¿Por qué es necesario molestarse por un caso tan común?

—Es esclavo de Potifar —respondió el Sumo Sacerdote—. El propio Potifar pidió esta audiencia.

—Curioso… —Faraón respondió, levantando los ojos de su copa de plata—. Entonces háganlo pasar.

Un guardia real anunció solemnemente:

—El Gran Chambelán, Potifar.

Otros dos guardias abrieron las altas puertas —incrustadas de oro— de la sala de audiencias públicas del Faraón.

Potifar, que había estado esperando en la antecámara, entró más lento que lo habitual. Él era llamado a menudo a la sala con fines comerciales. Esta era la primera vez que se acercaba al Faraón con un tema tan sensible y personal. Potifar vio las filas de sacerdotes acompañantes sentados a ambos lados del recinto. Vio a los eunucos de pie, sosteniendo grandes ramas de palmera, en cada extremo de la larga cámara revestida de mármol. Estaban constantemente abanicando el espacio, creando un ambiente mucho más fresco que el calor abrasante del exterior. Potifar pasó por delante de las estatuas de faraones anteriores y otras figuras de la historia de Egipto. Se acercó al trono. A tres pasos de distancia se dejó caer de rodillas y realizó el homenaje habitual.

—¡Dios te salve, Faraón! ¡Rey y Señor!

—Dios salve al Faraón —los sacerdotes corearon—. Rey y Señor.”

—Potifar  —Faraón hizo señas para que se levantara— ¿Por qué nos molestas con un crimen tan sencillo? Mata al esclavo y termina con esto.

—No es tan simple, oh Faraón —Potifar se aclaró la garganta— No estoy seguro de que el esclavo sea culpable.

—No entendemos el problema —dijo el Faraón, en un tono perturbado—. Tu esposa, esposa del Gran Chambelán, acusa a un humilde esclavo de acoso y estamos aquí sentados… ¿discutiendo su inocencia? Mátalo y consigue un nuevo esclavo.

—¿Acaso el Maestro de Justicia —interrumpió un sacerdote desde un lado—, no buscará la justicia?

—¿Quién es este perro insolente? —Faraón le preguntó al Sumo Sacerdote—. ¿No puedes controlar a sus propios sacerdotes?

—Yo no soy más que un humilde servidor —el sacerdote atrevido continuó con una perfecta reverencia—, listo para servir al Faraón en este caso, para que pueda llegar a una solución racional y verdadera. De esta manera, todos los súbditos de su reino sabrán una vez más la divinidad de su sabiduría y su poder.

—Continúa, sacerdote —Faraón se sentó, algo aplacado.

—La esposa de Potifar, Zelichah, ha acusado al esclavo de su casa de acosar de ella. El mismo Potifar duda de esto. Puede ser útil examinar los reclamos con más detenimiento para llegar a un entendimiento más profundo de la verdad.

—Potifar —preguntó el sacerdote— ¿hubo testigos que declararan a este supuesto ataque?

—No.

—Entonces es la palabra del esclavo contra la de su mujer —intervino Faraón—. Está claro que escucharemos a la mujer.

—Eso se hará, a menos que, oh Faraón —el sacerdote continuó—, exista una razón para creer que Zelichah no está diciendo la verdad.

—¿Por qué habría de mentir sobre un asunto tan importante? —preguntó Faraón.

—¡Oh Hijo del Cielo! —el sacerdote hizo un gesto dramático—. Faraón, de todas las personas, sabe que no todo es como parece. Faraón ya puede percibir que hay un misterio en este caso, que sólo la mente brillante del Faraón puede descubrir.

—Sí  —el Faraón se animó—. Hablas con la verdad, sacerdote. Vamos a llevar luz a este misterio, a donde ningún mortal puede. Debemos determinar qué fue lo que realmente sucedió. Puede que no sea como ella dice.

—Al hacer las preguntas correctas —continuó el sacerdote—, al pensar lo que nunca mortal podría pensar, Faraón revelará la verdad.

—¿Cuándo ocurrió, teóricamente, este ataque? —Faraón le preguntó a Potifar.

—Ayer.

—Ayer fue el desbordamiento del Nilo —Faraón pensó en voz alta—. Todo el reino estaba en la celebración en las orillas del río. Eso explicaría por qué no hubo testigos. Un día conveniente para los traviesos.

—¿Su esposa presentó alguna prueba de este ataque? —Faraón indagó más profundo.

—Sí  —respondió Putifar—. Ella tiene la ropa del esclavo que ella afirma que se quitó antes de su ataque.

—Eso es un mal augurio para él —Faraón dijo, mirando al sacerdote en busca de orientación—. ¿Por qué se desnudaría el esclavo en su presencia, a menos que fuera con intenciones deshonrosas?

—Debemos examinar su ropa —sugirió el sacerdote.

—Sí. Excelente idea  —Faraón exclamó—: Traigan la ropa del esclavo.

—Y la de ella también —agregó el sacerdote.

—¿La suya también? —Faraón estaba confundido— ¿Por qué necesitaríamos su ropa?

—Se puede aprender mucho de los tejidos que fueron testigos de los hechos reales —explicó el sacerdote.

—Por supuesto —estuvo de acuerdo Faraón—. Trae la ropa que la mujer llevaba en el momento del ataque reportado —el faraón ordenó a un guardia que estaba cerca—. Asegúrese de recibir la verificación de otra persona de la casa de que son de hecho las prendas correctas. Y sé rápido al respecto  —añadió Faraón emocionado—. Nosotros los dioses no tenemos tiempo para siempre.

El guardia salió corriendo de la sala.

—Mientras tanto, ¿qué más podemos descubrir sobre el caso? —preguntó Faraón , deseoso de progresar—. ¿Dónde están tu mujer y el esclavo ahora?

—En la antecámara.

—¡Maravilloso! —Faraón aplaudió con alegría—. ¿Con quién deberíamos empezar?

—Con el esclavo —ofreció el sacerdote.

—¿Por qué el esclavo ? —Faraón miró al sacerdote con suspicacia.

—Faraón ya sabe lo que afirma Zelichah, pero todavía tiene que escuchar el esclavo —explicó con calma el sacerdote—. Tal vez el esclavo admita su pecado, lo que solucionaría rápidamente este caso.

Faraón parecía ligeramente abatido por el pensamiento.

—O tal vez revelará algo de información nueva que sólo la mente perspicaz de Faraón podrá percibir. Faraón tendrá entonces la oportunidad de probar sus sospechas, y volver a examinar las alegaciones de Zelichah.

Faraón asintió con la cabeza.

—Hagan entrar al esclavo —comandó.

José entró en el pasillo. Llevaba una simple túnica de esclavo. Miró con curiosidad a las estatuas y se detuvo brevemente en una como si la reconociera. Continuó haciendo su camino hacia el trono. Todos los ojos lo miraban impasible, especialmente los de Faraón.

—Pedimos que entre el esclavo —Faraón preguntó confundido—,  ¿quién es este principito guapo?

A Faraón efectivamente le parecía apuesto José, quizás el hombre más bello que jamás había visto. Y además le parecía inquietantemente familiar.

—Yo soy José. Esclavo a Potifar. Soy hebreo, traído a la fuerza desde Canaán.

Un murmullo de incredulidad se agitó entre los sacerdotes.

—¡Un hebreo! —Faraón preguntó con una mezcla de repulsión y curiosidad—. ¿Pero tan atractivo? Te ves más como un hombre de ascendencia real que un esclavo.

—Yo soy el bisnieto de Abraham, a quien se recordará por haber visitado a tu ancestro hace más de un siglo.

—¡Abraham! ¿Será posible?

Para sorpresa de todos Faraón saltó de su trono y caminó hasta José. Lo tomó por el brazo, y con fuerza lo arrastró por el pasillo, hacia la entrada.

Los guardias alrededor rápidamente siguieron a su señor. Los sacerdotes salieron de sus sillas y también siguieron la extraña procesión. El Sumo Sacerdote y Potifar los alcanzaron y se pararon cerca de Faraón. Los eunucos se quedaron en sus lugares, abanicando mecánicamente la habitación.

Faraón se detuvo junto a una de las estatuas femeninas y colocó a José a su lado.

—¡Es cierto! ¡Eres la viva imagen de ella!

—¿Quién es ella ? —preguntó Potifar.

—Esa es la estatua de Sara. La leyenda cuenta que ella fue la consorte de nuestro predecesor por un corto tiempo. Era considerada la mujer más bella del mundo. Fue nuestro tatarabuelo que encargó su estatua como un recordatorio de su extrema belleza.

La multitud reunida miró a José y luego nuevamente a la estatua de Sara. Ambos estaban claramente relacionados; sus apariencias tan similares no podían ser una coincidencia. La fina forma de la nariz. La frente despejada. Los pómulos altos. Los ojos almendrados. Los labios firmes. Incluso el cabello rizado era idéntico.

—¡Qué curioso misterio! —Faraón exclamó—. ¡Tu esclavo acusado no es otro que la encarnación de Sara! ¿Por qué está todo el mundo de pie alrededor? ¡Vuelvan a sus puestos!

—¿Me dices tu nombre de nuevo? —Faraón se volvió a José mientras los sacerdotes y los guardias se deslizaron nuevamente a sus lugares.

— Yo soy José, oh Faraón.

—Sí, sí. José. Vamos a continuar con esta investigación —Faraón se acercó de nuevo a su trono con José; Potifar y el Sumo Sacerdote estaban cerca. Faraón se sentó de nuevo con un ademán ostentoso.

—Esclavo —el Faraón se dirigió a José—, ¿es cierto o no es cierto que has acosado a la mujer de Potifar?

—Yo no acosé a la señora de mi amo, oh Faraón.

—¿Por qué le dicen lo contrario?

—No puedo decir, oh Faraón —José miró significativamente a Potifar.

—Ustedes saben que el castigo a un esclavo atacar a un maestro es la muerte —explicó el Faraón—. Si no se produce una explicación viable, no tendremos más remedio que ejecutarte, por más bonito que puedas ser, y a pesar de tener un linaje ilustre.

—Yo sólo puedo adivinar las motivaciones de la mujer de mi amo en acusarme cuando estoy libre de culpa. Sin embargo, si yo fuera a hablar mal de ella, puede deshonrar a mi amo que ha sido tan bueno y amable conmigo.

—Hermoso y honorable —apuntó el sacerdote audaz, al regresar de las líneas laterales.

—Es cierto —señaló Faraón—. Pero no ayuda a su causa ni a sus posibilidades de sobrevivir. Puede retirarse. ¡Traigan a la esposa de Potifar!

José fue bruscamente escoltado fuera de la cámara. Unos momentos más tarde Zelichah entró.

La guardia real anunció formalmente:

—Zelichah, esposa del Gran Chamberlain.

Zelichah deslizó por el pasillo en un vestido ceremonial, austero y recatado. Se inclinó junto a su marido.

—Zelichah  —Faraón le indicó que se levante—. ¿Por qué afirmas que tu esclavo te acosó?

— Porque lo hizo, oh Faraón —Zelichah respondió con una mezcla de orgullo y dolor.

—Tenemos razones para creer que puede ser inocente.

—¿Inocente? Yo he comprobado lo contrario, oh Faraón. El siervo ha estado mirándome desde el día que llegó. Esperó pacientemente hasta que la casa estaba vacía, me atrajo a mi habitación y luego me atacó. Tengo la evidencia de sus ropas, que entiendo que Faraón ha convocado tan sabiamente. Yo era su presa.

—Tal vez la presa fue realmente el cazador —el sacerdote le susurró a Faraón.

Faraón miró desconcertado al sacerdote, mientras trataba de dar sentido a sus palabras.

—¿Qué mujer podría resistirse a la belleza extrema que acabamos de presenciar? —el sacerdote continuó en voz baja—. Puede que realmente haya existido un encuentro entre José y Zelichah ayer, pero que los roles hayan sido los contrarios.

—¡Pruébalo! —Faraón golpeó en su trono— . Está muy bien jugar a buscar la inocencia de un esclavo, pero acusar a una mujer de la alta nobleza de adulterio es un juego peligroso.

En ese momento el guardia enviado volvió con dos prendas en la mano. Se acercó a Faraón con ellos.

—Tiempo divino —el sacerdote dijo para sí mismo—. Oh Faraón, si le preguntáramos a la señora y el esclavo de llevar sus prendas de vestir del momento en cuestión, se podrá obtener un mayor conocimiento de los hechos.

—¡Que así sea! —Faraón tronó, perdiendo la paciencia.

El guardia le entregó el vestido Zelichah, quien salió tras él.

Unos minutos más tarde ambos Zelichah y José entraron en la sala y se dirigieron hacia el trono.

—Zelichah, si se me permite —el sacerdote preguntó — ¿por qué no estabas participando en las celebraciones por el desbordamiento del Nilo ayer?

—Yo estaba enferma.

—¿Y este es tu atuendo habitual cuando estás enferma? Tu vestido revela más de lo que esconde. Yo creo que a excepción de los eunucos, ningún hombre puede evitar sentirse atraído por tu belleza evidente y desbordante. Oh Faraón, este vestido tiene un solo propósito: la seducción.

—Eso no es una prueba.

—Es cierto. Pero es una indicación. Vamos a examinar más a fondo. También tenga en cuenta que la ropa de Zelichah está en excelentes condiciones, no tiene nada que haga alusión a ningún tipo de violencia. La prenda de vestir del esclavo, sin embargo, está rasgada. Es posible argumentar que en su arrebato de pasión, el esclavo rasgó su propia ropa, pero vamos a examinar cuidadosamente la parte rota. Oh Faraón, si Faraón lo desea, por favor toma la ropa del esclavo en la parte que está rasgada.

Perplejo, el Faraón se bajó del trono, se acercó a José y le agarró la prenda donde el sacerdote pidió.

—En la opinión divina del Faraón, ¿podría la rasgadura haber sido hecha por él mismo?

—No. El desgarro está en la parte posterior. Él no podría haberlo alcanzado por sí mismo.

—Eso elimina la posibilidad de que el esclavo se arrancó la ropa a sí mismo por pasión —el sacerdote dedujo—. Tal vez quedó atrapado en algo, tropezó y se rompió.

—Eso no es posible tampoco —señaló Faraón—. Esta prenda fue arrancada por una mano humana.

—Deducción celestial, mi querido Faraón. Entonces, si no lo hizo él mismo, y no fue un accidente, y no había nadie más en la casa en ese momento, sólo hay una persona que podría haber arrancado el vestido. ¡Zelichah! La pregunta ahora, sin embargo, es ¿por qué? ¿Hizo estragos en la prenda en un esfuerzo de auto- defensa?

—¡No! —Faraón exclamó con entusiasmo—. El desgarro se realizó tirando de la prenda. Eso significa que el esclavo se estaba alejando de la mujer cuando ella lo rompió. ¡El esclavo es claramente inocente!

—Y la mujer por lo tanto, es una ad…

—¡Basta! —Faraón paró al sacerdote—. Basta con que el esclavo es inocente. No necesitamos manchar su nombre ni el de su marido. Además, esta cuestión no puede ser revelada, y el esclavo no puede quedar impune, para que otros no se descubran la verdad. ¿Qué vamos a hacer con él? ”

—¡Que vaya a la cárcel!—ofreció el Sumo Sacerdote.

—Sí  —estuvo de acuerdo Faraón— , la cárcel es sin duda mejor que la ejecución.

—Tal vez la cárcel real —susurró el sacerdote atrevido a Faraón—. Éste requiere una estrecha vigilancia en algún lugar cercano.

Faraón asintió y señaló su secretario.

—Hemos decidido que el esclavo conocido como José se colocará en nuestra prisión real —anunció el Faraón con un poco de pompa—. Cualquier palabra de este caso, por más gratificante que haya sido para nosotros resolverlo, no saldrá de esta sala, bajo pena de muerte. De esta manera, la verdad se revela y se hará justicia.

Faraón se volvió hacia el sacerdote, pero él ya no estaba allí.

—¿Dónde está el sacerdote ? —preguntó el faraón, al no verlo en cualquier lugar de la sala. Todas las cabezas de la sala se volvieron a buscarlo, pero el sacerdote audaz no estaba a la vista.

—¿Quién era? —le preguntó Faraón al Sumo Sacerdote.

—No sé, Majestad —contestó el Sumo Sacerdote nerviosamente—. Nunca lo habíamos visto antes.

—Es una lástima —Faraón respondió con indiferencia, bebiendo nuevamente de su vino—. Habría sido un buen consejero.

Ancestral Land

[First posted on The Times of Israel: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/ancestral-land/]

Ibn Ezra Genesis: Chayei Sarah

Ancestral Land

“Each blade of grass has its spot on earth whence it draws its life, its strength; and so is man rooted to the land from which he draws his faith together with his life.” -Joseph Conrad

Our Matriarch Sarah dies and Abraham spends a veritable fortune to buy a plot to bury his wife. The Torah goes into painstaking detail as to the negotiations, the back and forth, the language each party used and the final sale price (400 shekel, the equivalent back then to buying a high-rise apartment building in Hong Kong).

It is curious the amount of time the text spends on Abraham’s purchase of land in Israel, his determination to buy the land at all costs and his refusal to accept it as a gift. The Ibn Ezra (on Genesis 23:19) suggests an answer.

He offers that there is something special, something unique about the land of Israel. He explains that out of all of the land on the planet, out of all of the countries in the world, Israel is the best place to be buried. It is the ideal resting place for the dead.

He adds one other comment. It is also the best place for the living.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

In memory of my grandmother, Mrs. Zahava Rosenthal, who died last week in New York and was buried in her ancestral plot, in Haifa, Israel. Attached are links to the eulogy I gave (original Hebrew or English translation).

 

Glorious Modesty

[First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/glorious-modesty/]

Ibn Ezra Genesis: Vayera

Glorious Modesty

“Modesty forbids what the law does not.” -Seneca

Our Matriarch Sarah is considered to have been one of the most beautiful women to have ever lived. Her beauty was so extraordinary, that even into her eighties monarchs sought to possess her. Her husband Abraham, fearful of being assassinated on account of his wife, by men that would covet her, came up with the subterfuge of pretending she was his sister. This did forestall any murderous intentions, but let the kings claim her with limited trouble.

God intervenes directly, protects Sarah from the paws of amorous rulers, and arranges for Sarah to be returned to Abraham untouched. Avimelech, the King of Grar (the second monarch, after Pharaoh of Egypt, to go through the frustration of claiming Sarah, only to have to give her back to Abraham), bestows a gift upon Sarah (“ksut einayim”), translated as “a covering for the eyes.” There are multiple interpretations of what this means.

The Ibn Ezra (to Genesis 20:27) explains that it was some unique type of headdress, which on one hand covered Sarah more, so that it would be harder for men to gaze upon her beauty, but on the other hand was a sign of prestige, signaling to others that she was a noble woman.

Ibn Ezra further theorizes that Avimelech’s extraordinary gift included something (it’s not clear to me if it’s an object, a protective force of slaves, a law and/or a press release) that allowed Sarah to drop the pretense of being Abraham’s sister, and made public the fact that they are married and that she is not to be pursued. Now, Abraham’s existence and presence as her husband would be Sarah’s defense against inappropriate interest in her.

I’ll refrain from any further wishes or comments, as the last time I wrote on this subject, I got some heated responses. Everyone draw their own conclusions.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To Shoshi Taragin and Gidon Kupietzky on their engagement. Mazal Tov to them and their families!

To Scientific American Magazine. They reported about a study that reinforces what Jewish law has implied for a very long time: Platonic relationships are mostly a one-sided phenomena.

The Secret to Fertility

Tzvi Ilan ben Gita update: Ilan is making great progress. His walking and talking are consistently improving and he has started joking around and displaying a great sense of humor.

Genesis Kli Yakar: Vayera

The Secret to Fertility


‘I will certainly return unto thee when the season cometh round; and, lo, Sarah thy wife shall have a son.’Genesis 18:10

Abraham and Sarah are the classic biblical poster children of an infertile couple. After years of trying, after tearful prayers, after attempting every conceivable and even some unusual strategies, they frankly give up. When they reach advanced ages, it is naturally impossible for Sarah to conceive and unlikely for Abraham.

There are various rabbinic explanations given as to why they were tested in this fashion and why it took so long. The Kli Yakar (Genesis 18:6) explains why they did merit to finally having a child.

He compares the case to another hauntingly parallel story in the Bible.  The prophet Elisha is given extravagant (for those days) hospitality by an older woman of Shunam who recognizes Elisha as a man of God (see II Kings 4:8-17 for story). Though past child-bearing age, she is blessed with a son, in almost the same language and words as the prophetic announcement of Sarah’s birth to Isaac:

‘At this season, when the time cometh round, thou shall embrace a son.’ II Kings 4:16

The Kli Yakar explains that the reason for their blessing and miraculous births were simply because of their great hospitality.

A home is just a house if no one else is in it. The Kli Yakar implies that we first need to bring others into our home in order that God bring a new one of us into it as well.

Shabbat Shalom,

Bentzi

Dedication

To the Puah Institute which helps so many families who are desperate to start their own.

Joseph’s Egyptian Attorney

Genesis: Vayeshev

Joseph’s Egyptian Attorney

Joseph and Potiphar's Wife
Joseph and Potiphar's Wife

“Execute the slave,” Pharaoh intoned, while sipping delicately from his wine, “why need we be troubled by such a common case?”

“It is Potiphar’s slave,” the High Priest responded, “he himself requested the audience.”

“Curious,” Pharaoh replied, raising his eyes from his silver goblet, “let him in then.”

A royal guard solemnly announced:

“The Grand Chamberlain, Potiphar.”

Two other guards opened the tall, gold-encrusted doors to Pharaoh’s public audience room.

Potiphar, who had been waiting in the antechamber, walked in slower than usual. He was often summoned to the hall for Pharaoh’s business. This was the first time he approached Pharaoh with such a sensitive personal issue. Potiphar noticed the rows of attendant priests sitting on either side of the hall. He saw the eunuchs standing at either end of the long marble encased hall, with large palm branches. They fanned constantly, making the spacious room significantly cooler than the sun-baked outside. Potiphar walked past columns with statues of previous Pharaohs and other figures from Egyptian history.

Potiphar approached the throne. At three paces distance he lowered himself to his knees and performed the customary obeisance. “Hail, Pharaoh! King and Lord.”

“Hail, Pharaoh!” the priests rejoined, “King and Lord.”

“Potiphar,” Pharaoh motioned for him to rise, “why do you bother us with such a petty crime. Kill the slave and be done with it.”

“It is not so simple, O Pharaoh,” Potiphar cleared his throat, “I am not sure that the slave is guilty.”

“We do not understand the problem,” Pharaoh said in a perturbed tone, “your wife, The Grand Chamberlain’s wife, accuses a lowly slave of accosting her and we are sitting here debating his innocence? Have him killed and get yourself a new slave.”

“Will the Master of Justice,” interrupted a priest from the side, “not seek out justice?”

“Who is this insolent dog?” Pharaoh asked the High Priest, “can you not rein in your own priests?”

“I am but a humble servant,” the daring priest continued with a perfect bow, “ready to serve Pharaoh in this case, that he may arrive at a wise and true resolution. Thus, all the subjects of his Kingdom will know yet again the divinity of his wisdom and power.”

“Continue, priest,” Pharaoh sat back, somewhat appeased.

“Potiphar’s wife, Zelichah, has accused their household slave of accosting her. Potiphar himself seems unsure. It may be worthwhile to examine the claims further, to arrive at a deeper understanding of the truth.”

“Potiphar,” the priest asked, “were there any witnesses to this supposed attack.”

“No.”

“So it is his wife’s word against the slave’s,” Pharaoh interjected, “it is clear we listen to the wife.”

“That is unless, O Pharaoh” the priest continued, “there is reason to believe Zelichah is not telling the truth.”

“Why should she lie about such a matter?” Pharaoh asked.

“O Son of Heaven,” the priest waved dramatically, “Pharaoh, of all people knows that all is not as it seems. Pharaoh can already sense that there is a mystery in this case, that only the brilliant mind of Pharaoh can uncover.”

“Yes,” Pharaoh cheered up, “you speak the truth priest. We shall bring light to the mystery, where no mortal can. We must determine what truly happened. It may not be as she claims.”

“By making the correct inquiries,” the priest continued, “by thinking as no mere mortal can, Pharaoh will reveal the truth.”

“When did this theoretical attack occur?” Pharaoh asked Potiphar.

“Yesterday.”

“Yesterday was the Overflowing of the Nile,” Pharaoh thought out loud. “The entire kingdom was at the celebration at the river banks. That would explain why there were no witnesses. A convenient day for mischief.”

“Does your wife bring any evidence of this attack?” Pharaoh pushed further.

“Yes,” Potiphar answered. “She has the slaves’ garment that she claims he took off before his attack.”

“That is a poor omen for him,” Pharaoh stated, looking at the priest for guidance. “Why would the slave disrobe in her presence unless it was for dishonorable intentions?”

“We should examine his garment,” the priest suggested.

“Yes. Excellent idea,” Pharaoh exclaimed, “fetch the slave’s garment.”

“And hers also,” added the priest.

“Hers also?” Pharaoh was confused. “Why do we require her garment?”

“Much may be learned from the fabrics that witnessed the true events,” the priest explained.

“Of course,” Pharaoh agreed. “Bring the garment she wore at the time of the reported attack,” Pharaoh commanded a nearby guard. “Make sure you receive verification from someone else of the household, that they are indeed the correct garments. And be quick about it,” Pharaoh added excitedly, “we gods do not have forever.”

The guard rushed out of the hall.

“In the meantime, what else can we discover about the case?” Pharaoh asked eager to make progress. “Where are your wife and the slave now?”

“In the antechamber.”

“Wonderful!” Pharaoh was gleeful. “Who should we start with?”

“The slave,” volunteered the priest.

“Why the slave?” Pharaoh eyed the priest suspiciously.

“Pharaoh already knows what Zelichah claims, but he has yet to hear the slave,” the priest calmly explained. “Perhaps the slave will admit his sin, which will bring the case to a quick solution.”

Pharaoh seemed mildly dejected by the thought.

“Or perhaps he will reveal some new information that only the insightful mind of Pharaoh will perceive. Pharaoh will then have opportunity to test his suspicions and recheck Zelichah’s claims against Pharaoh’s new elucidations.”

Pharaoh nodded in agreement. “Call in the slave,” he commanded.

Joseph walked into the hall wearing a simple slaves’ tunic. He looked curiously at the statues, and paused briefly by one as if in recognition. He continued to make his way towards the throne. All eyes looked impassively at Joseph. Most of all Pharaoh’s.

“We requested the slave.” Pharaoh asked in confusion, “who is this handsome princeling?” For Joseph indeed seemed handsome to Pharaoh, perhaps the most beautiful man he had ever encountered. And he seemed to Pharaoh hauntingly familiar.

“I am Joseph. Slave to Potiphar. I am a Hebrew, unrightfully brought from Canaan.”

A murmur of incredulity stirred from within the attendant priests.

“A Hebrew!” Pharaoh asked with a mix of repulsion and curiosity. “But so handsome? You look more like a man of royal descent than a slave.”

“I am the great-grandson of Abraham, whom you may recall visited your ancestor more than a century ago.”

“Abraham! Can it be?

To everyone’s surprise Pharaoh jumped out of his throne and ran to Joseph. He took Joseph by the arm, and forcefully dragged him back down the hall, towards the entrance.

The surrounding guards quickly followed their liege. The priests got out of their chairs and followed the strange procession. The High Priest and Potiphar caught up and stayed close to Pharaoh. The eunuchs stayed in their places, mechanically fanning the room.

Pharaoh stopped next to one of the female statues and placed Joseph next to it.

“It is true! He is the spitting image of her!”

“Who is she?” Potiphar asked.

“That is the statue of Sarah. The legend is told that she was the consort of our predecessor, for a short while. She was considered the most beautiful woman in the world. It was our great-great grandfather that commissioned this statue of her as a reminder of her extreme beauty.”

The assembled crowd kept looking at Joseph and back at the statue of Sarah. They were clearly related. They were too much alike to be coincidental. The fine shape of the nose. The clear brow. The high cheekbones. The almond-shaped eyes. The firm lips. Even the curl of the hair was identical.

“What a mystery indeed,” Pharaoh exclaimed, “your accused slave is none other than Sarah incarnate! Why is everyone standing around? Back to your posts!”

“What was your name again?” Pharaoh turned to Joseph as the priests and guards skittered back to their places.

“I am Joseph, O Pharaoh.”

“Yes, yes. Joseph. Let us continue with this investigation.” Pharaoh strode back to his throne with Joseph, Potiphar and the High Priest close behind. Pharaoh sat again with a regal flourish.

“Slave,” Pharaoh addressed Joseph, “did you or did you not accost Potiphar’s wife?”

“I did not accost my master’s wife, O Pharaoh.”

“Why does she claim otherwise?”

“I cannot say, O Pharaoh,” Joseph glanced meaningfully at Potiphar.

“You know that the penalty for a slave attacking a master is death,” Pharaoh explained. “If you do not produce a viable explanation, we shall have no choice but to execute you, as pretty as you might be, or as illustrious an ancestry as you may have.”

“I could only guess at the motivations of my master’s wife in accusing me where I am blameless. However, were I to in turn cast aspersions upon her, it may dishonor my master who has been so good and kindly to me.”

“Handsome and honorable,” piped in the daring priest, coming back from the sidelines.

“True,” Pharaoh noted. “But it does not help his case or chances of survival. He may be dismissed. Bring in Potiphar’s wife!”

Joseph was unceremoniously escorted out of the chamber. A few moments later Zelichah walked in.

The royal guard formally announced, “Zelichah, wife of the Grand Chamberlain.”

Zelichah glided into the hall in a serious and demure ceremonial gown. She bowed down next to her husband.

“Zelichah,” Pharaoh motioned for her to rise, “why do you claim that your slave accosted you?”

“Because he did, O Pharaoh,” Zelichah responded with a mixture of pride and pain.

“We have reason to believe that he may be innocent.”

“Innocent? I have stated otherwise, O Pharaoh. That slave has been eyeing me since the day he arrived. He waited patiently until the house was empty, lured me alone with him into my bedroom and there attacked me. I have the evidence of his garment which I understand Pharaoh has so wisely summoned. I was his prey.”

“Perhaps the hunted was really the hunter,” the priest whispered to Pharaoh.

Pharaoh looked at the priest trying to understand his words.

“What woman could resist the extreme beauty we just witnessed?” the priest continued in an undertone. “Perchance there was truly an encounter yesterday between Zelichah and Joseph, but the roles were reversed.”

“Prove it!” Pharaoh banged on his throne. “It is well and good to play at finding this slave innocent, but to accuse an important noblewoman of adultery is a dangerous game.”

At that moment the dispatched guard returned with two garments in his hand. He approached Pharaoh with them.

“Divine timing,” the priest said to himself. “O Pharaoh, if we were to ask the lady and the slave to wear their garments of the period in question, we may gain greater insight into the events.”

“Make it so!” Pharaoh thundered, losing his patience.

The guard handed the dress to Zelichah who exited after him.

A few minutes later both Zelichah and Joseph entered the hall and walked towards the throne.

“Zelichah, if I may,” the priest inquired, “why did you not participate in the celebrations of the Overflowing of the Nile yesterday.”

“I was ill.”

“And is this your customary attire when you are ill? Your dress reveals more than it conceals. I believe that except for the eunuchs, no man here can help but be drawn by your obvious and overflowing beauty. O Pharaoh, this dress has one purpose only: seduction.”

“That is no proof.”

“True. But it is an indication. Let us examine further. You will also note that Zelichah’s garment is in excellent condition, one that does not even hint at any violence. The slaves’ garment however is torn.”

“You might argue that in his fit of passion, the slave tore his garment, but let us examine the tear carefully.”

“O Pharaoh, if Pharaoh will, please grab the slaves garment there right by the rip.”

Bemused, Pharaoh got off the throne, walked to Joseph and grabbed the garment at the tear.

“In the divine opinion of Pharaoh, could this tear have been self-inflicted.

“No. The tear is in the back. He could not have reached it himself.”

“That eliminates the possibility that the slave ripped his garment out of passion,” the priest deducted. “Perhaps it caught on something, he tripped and then it ripped.”

“That is not possible either,” Pharaoh noted, “This garment was ripped by a human hand.”

“Heavenly deduction, my dear Pharaoh! Then if he did not do it himself and it was not some accident, and there was no one else in the house at the time, there is only one person that could have ripped that garment. Zelichah! The question now however is why? Was she ripping the garment in an effort at self-defense?”

“No!” Pharaoh exclaimed excitedly. “The tear is away from the body of the garment. That means the slave was moving away from the woman when she tore it. The slave is clearly innocent!”

“And the woman therefore is an ad–“

“Enough!” Pharaoh stopped the priest. “It is enough that the slave is innocent. We do not need to besmirch her name, or that of her husband. Furthermore, this matter cannot be revealed, and the slave cannot go unpunished, lest others then understand the truth. What shall we do with him?”

“Let him sit in jail,” the High Priest offered.

“Yes,” agreed Pharaoh, “jail is certainly better than execution.”

“Perhaps the royal jail,” whispered the daring priest to Pharaoh, “this one bears watching and keeping nearby.”

Pharaoh nodded and signaled his secretary.

“We have decided that the slave known as Joseph shall be placed in our royal prison,” announced Pharaoh with some pomp. “Word of this case, as gratifying as it was for us to solve, shall not leave this hall, on pain of death. Thus, truth is revealed, justice is served and the kingdom flourishes.”

Pharaoh turned towards the priest, but he was no longer there.

“Where is that priest?” Pharaoh asked not seeing him anywhere in the hall. All heads in the room turned to look for him, but the daring priest was nowhere in sight.

“Who was he?” Pharaoh then asked the High Priest.

“I do not know your Majesty,” replied the High Priest nervously, “we have never seen him before.”

“That is a shame,” Pharaoh answered nonchalantly, sipping from his wine again, “he would have made a good advisor.”

* * * * * *

Sources:

“Now Joseph was handsome of form and handsome of appearance. After these things, his master’s wife cast her eye upon Joseph and she said, “Lie with me.”

But he adamantly refused; he said to his master’s wife, “Look – with me here, my master concerns himself about nothing in the house, and whatever he has he placed in my custody. There is no one greater in this house than I, and he has denied me nothing but you, since you are his wife; how then can I perpetrate this great evil and have sinned against God.”

And so it was – just as she coaxed Joseph day after day, so he would not listen to her to lie beside her, to be with her. Then there was an opportune day when he entered the house to do his work – no man of the household staff being there in the house – that she caught hold of him by his garment, saying, “Lie with me!”

But he left his garment in her hand, and he fled, and went outside.

When she saw that he had left his garment in her hand and fled outside, she called out to the men of her household and spoke to them saying, “Look! He brought us a Hebrew man to sport with us! He came to lie with me but I called out with a loud scream. And when he heard that I raised my voice and screamed, he left his garment beside me, fled and went outside!”

She kept his garment beside her until his master came home. Then she told him a similar account saying, “The Hebrew slave whom you brought to us came to me to sport with me. But it happened when I raised my voice and screamed, he left his garment beside me, and ran outside.”

And it was, when his master heard his wife’s words which she spoke to him, saying, “Your slave did things like these to me,” his anger flared up. Then Joseph’s master took him and placed him in prison – the place where the king’s prisoners were confined – and he remained there in prison.” Genesis 39:6-20

The Egyptian women once gathered to behold Joseph’s beauty. What did Potiphar’s wife do? She gave them each an etrog and a knife with which to peel it. She then summoned Joseph. As they gazed at Joseph’s beauty, the knives slipped and they cut their hands. She said to them, “If this is how you are affected when you see him only for a moment, how much more so I, who see him all the time!  Tanchuma Vayeshev 5

There was no man of the household staff in the house. Genesis 39:11. Rabbi Yishmael said: It was the Overflowing of the Nile, where everyone would go, from the King and the ministers they would go to see and celebrate at the river. Hizkuni

Joseph was brought to the king, and the angel Gabriel came in the guise of a man, and told the king to have the garments checked. If the woman’s garment were ripped, than clearly Joseph attacked her, but if Joseph’s garment were ripped, it was the woman who accosted him. It was checked, and because Joseph’s garment was ripped he was not sentenced to death. In any case, he was not released immediately in order not to embarrass Potiphar’s wife to say that she accosted Joseph. It was the priests of Egypt who judged this judgment, and therefore Joseph did not take over their lands in the years of famine. Hizkuni

Potiphar’s wife was named Zelichah. Sefer HaYashar, Vayeshev

Joseph said, “You deserve the death penalty for purchasing me, for slaves are only from Canaanites, whereas I am a descendant of Shem and a son of kings. King Pharaoh made an image of Sarah. If it does not resemble me, you are right.” They did so, and his face resembled Sarah’s image. Midrash Agaddah, Bereshit

He (Joseph’s master) said, “I know that you are not guilty, but I must imprison you lest a stigma fall on my children for the people will say she acted the same way with others, and that our children are not mine. Bereshit Rabbah 87:9

Most prisoners are handled by the judges and police and placed in common prisons. However Joseph was placed in the royal prison out of the love Joseph’s master had for him. Nachmanides