Yosef HaTzaddik – Parshat Vayishev 5778
More secrets of the Torah from Rav Eliezer Berland, shlita.
Yosef HaTzaddik guarded his eyes, and he never opened his eyes. By doing this, he sanctified all the ‘emptiness’ of the world. He experienced terrible torment, and such difficult hardships: he had to spend one year in the house of Potiphar, and then another 12 years in prison.
The midrash tells us that three times a day, the wife of Potiphar used to come to try to entice him, and to tempt him with all sorts of invitations. Three times a day, she used to change her clothes – in the morning, at lunchtime, and in the evening. Every day, she’d come and prick him with all sorts of needles and barbs, with iron combs. ‘Iron entered his soul’.
She’d say to him: “I’m going to blind your eyes! I’m going to remove your eyes!” He’d say to her: “Hashem will open the eyes of the blind. I’m going to continue to walk with my eyes closed, and Hashem will open my eyes.” She’d come and stick pins in his neck, but he never opened his eyes.
She’d tell him: “I’m going to bend you! I’m going to humiliate you!” He’d reply: “Hashem straightens the bent.” She’d say you’re going be in under arrest in the prison here and you’ll never get out again. He’d tell her: “Hashem frees the captives.”
Yosef’s holiness sanctified the whole world
The holiness of Yosef sanctified the whole world. When Yosef was alive, even the earth itself was sanctified. The midrash says that Yosef was sold ‘for a pair of sandals’. What is the meaning of ‘pair of sandals?’ No-one sells their brother for a pair of sandals! Who ever heard of something like this, that you’d sell your brother for a pair of sandals? What, they didn’t have a pair of sandals!
The Pelech HaRimon explains that Yosef HaTzaddik guarded his eyes perfectly, and that in he never opened his eyes in his life. By way of this, he sanctified the emptiness of the world, and at all of Eretz Yisrael. The whole of Eretz Yisrael was sanctified with the holiness of the Beit HaMikdash, and so everyone could walk around the whole country without wearing sandals. As in the Beit HaMikdash, people walked around without shoes, on account of the tremendous holiness there.
And so it was at the time of Yosef, you could go everywhere without shoes. They could feel so much holiness with each and every step taken that they didn’t even notice the thorns pricking them, or the sharp stones stabbing them. For as long as they believed in Yosef, and didn’t think about selling him, nothing could stab them at all; the thorns were holy, everything was holy.
The brothers didn’t know who the Tzaddik really was
The brothers didn’t know who the Tzaddik really was, or that in his merit the whole country was full of kedusha. Each person thought to themselves that maybe, this was thanks to their own merit, they didn’t believe that it was in the merit of Yosef. The moment they sold Yosef, everything stopped. They didn’t feel the kedusha of the land anymore, the earth was just stam, regular earth, and suddenly they felt how everything was pricking them and stabbing them. Immediately, they needed ‘sandals’.
The Talmud Yerushalmi says that Yosef rebuked the brothers for looking at the country’s womenfolk. He said to them: “What are you looking at?” They replied: “This doesn’t harm us!” but Yosef argued that even if a man is holy and pure, and that looking [at women] doesn’t harm him – it’s still forbidden to look! Because the very act of looking itself harms him. Rav Natan explains that such an enormous spiritual light comes from the eyes, such a wondrous light, all of a person’s vitality passes through his eyes. A person transfers all of his vitality, all of his neshama, all his Nefesh – everything! – to the person he looks at.
Looking transfers energy
Essentially, the act of looking itself, the vision itself, transfers energy, and transfers the life force, because a person is full of Torah, and full of prayer and full of elo-kut (Divine holiness). When we look at the klipot (husks of evil), at the evil-doers, at the goyim, so then we give them vitality and energy.
This is what Yosef rebuked the brothers about: “Yes, it’s true that looking doesn’t harm you, you’re the 12 holy tribes. But the act of looking itself is transferring all this strength to the sitra achra (the dark side), to the forces of tumah (spiritual impurity). And so, it’s forbidden for you to look!”
The Tur says, (Part 1): “swift as an eagle” – this is referring to guarding the eyes, that you should close your eyes as swiftly as an eagle. This is how the Tur begins his commentary. When a person opens his eyes, and walks around with his eyes open, all the Torah he learned goes over to the klipot, to our enemies, to the evildoers – everything goes to them!
The dark side’s strength comes from us
He gives them strength, he gives them their energy. Because their energy comes from you, their strength, their vitality, it comes from [the Torah] you’ve just learned. If you learned for 10 hours, and spoke out 60 measures of [holy words], by way of this – that you look at forbidden sights – you just energized all the forces of evil. All 60 measures just went straight over to them! If we wouldn’t look at them, they wouldn’t have any strength or power.
But, if a man walks in the street while guarding his eyes, then he’ll raise up all the holy sparks that are to be found amongst the klipot. When a man closes his eyes, he burns up all the klipot, and within every klipa is a spark of holiness. When a man walks in the street, guarding his eyes, he frees that holy spark.
Divine sparks can be found in every place
The Heichal HaBracha tells us that the when the world was created, holy sparks were laid down in the streets and in the shuks (market places), and these sparks are waiting for someone to raise them up and to rectify them – and only someone who closes their eyes can do this.
These Divine sparks can be found in every place, but we don’t see them. They’re hidden, because ‘looking’ is forbidden, so we only see the klipa, and then [by looking] we only create more and more klipot.
Don’t look! If you look then more and more klipot will be created. That holy spark that’s imprisoned inside that woman, it’s crying out to you: “Don’t look! My brother, have mercy on me and please don’t look at me. Free me! If you look, you’re going to bury me even deeper, you’re going to cover me with even more chains.“
If you don’t look, you’ll bring the geula
This holy spark is begging us: “My brother, have mercy on me! Free me from prison. If you don’t look, you’ll bring the geula (redemption). Until now, no-one has redeemed me, and no-one has rectified me. Have mercy on me! Help me get out of prison, don’t look! That one time that you don’t look at me, you’ll cause all the innumerable walls and klipot that are surrounding me to to fall!”
We have to know that if an angel walked around the streets, he wouldn’t affect any tikkun, (spiritual rectification), and he wouldn’t raise up any holy spark, because he doesn’t have the same yetzer hara (evil inclination) to look. He doesn’t have a yetzer hara attracting him to tumah (spiritual impurity). But a human being, a man made of flesh and blood, he needs to display a tremendous amount of mesirut Nefesh (self-sacrifice) in order to guard his eyes.
At that moment when you’re walking in the streets, and when you’re going to the market places, you are experiencing an enormous test. But guarding your eyes will raise up and rectify all the holy sparks to be found in those places.
Translated from the Tzama Nafshi Newsletter.