Controlling Love

Joseph teaches us to temper love with a sense of duty and a knowledge of right and wrong.

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Redeeming Himself

If Joseph got into trouble because of his father's inability to control his love for him, to remember his duties as a father to his other children, and to take their feelings and needs into account, it is by being aware of his duty, and not allowing the emotions which are associated with love to run away with him, that Joseph begins to redeem himself.

Faced with the option of a 'love affair' with the wife of Potiphar on the one hand, and his loyalty and duty on the other, he chooses to be loyal, and dutiful. In traditional thinking, Joseph is, in fact, celebrated as the one who controlled himself, who, in an Egypt which is seen by the Rabbis as a decadent and seductive society, managed to 'keep the covenant' (connected with the circumcision--and therefore with sexuality), and remain faithful to his God and his people.

The interplay of love and duty, of what we want to do and what we should do, is central to the human experience. The Bible, while never for a moment rejecting or demeaning the power of love, reminds us of the need to control and temper it with a sense of right and wrong, of commitment to a wide circle of people who depend on us, and thereby, hopefully, prevent the destructive possibilities which love carries with it from coming to the fore.

(Note - The story of Judah and Tamar, which seemingly interrupts the Joseph story at the point when he is sold as a slave, is a further illustration of the interplay of these forces.)

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Rabbi Shimon Felix

Rabbi Shimon Felix is the Israel Director of the Bronfman Youth Fellowships in Israel. He lives with his family in Jerusalem, and has taught in a wide variety of educational frameworks in Israel and abroad.