Yesterday, we mentioned that the purpose of man is to delve in Torah and Mitzvah performance for the sake of Heaven.
One must always remember that regarding anything we do, one’s intentions do not justify one’s actions. This means that one cannot go after all of one’s heart’s desires and claim that one “feels” like one is performing a great Mitzvah and one has the greatest intentions in the world. One must pay attention to one’s surroundings and consult with genuine Torah scholars to see if one is behaving correctly, for we are bound by the laws of the Shulchan Aruch and we may not deviate from it whatsoever!
The Torah states regarding Tamar, Yehuda’s daughter-in-law: “Yehuda said, ‘Remove her and let her be burned!’ She was being led out and she sent a message to her father-in-law saying, ‘To the man whom these belong I am pregnant from.’ She said, ‘Please recognize to whom this signet ring, cloak, and staff belong.’ Yehuda recognized them and said, ‘She is more in the right than I.’”
Tamar’s tremendous self-sacrifice so as not to shame another is truly remarkable. She was well aware how correct she was, however, since revealing this would cause Yehuda great shame, she elected to be burned!
In the Torah, the story of Yehuda and Tamar is recorded in the middle of the episode of Yosef being sold to Egypt. Rashi explains the reason for this: “The Torah interrupts the story of Yosef to juxtapose the actions of Potiphar’s wife to those of Tamar to teach you that just as one (Tamar) acted for the sake of Heaven, so did the other (Potiphar’s wife).” Indeed, Potiphar’s wife saw in the stars that she would one day bear children from Yosef and that is what drove her to seduce him so much to be with her.
According to this, both Tamar and Potiphar’s wife intended to act for the sake of Heaven. Tamar knew that she would bear children for Yehuda and Potiphar’s wife knew she would bear children for Yosef. So, what, in essence, is the difference between them?
Hagaon Harav Eliyahu Lopian zt”l explains (in his Sefer Lev Eliyahu) that Potiphar’s wife did not know how she would bear children from Yosef. It was possible that it would be through herself or through her daughter, Asenat (who ultimately ended up marrying Yosef). If so, why did Potiphar’s wife decide that it was to be her that would marry Yosef? Because that is what she wanted! Her intentions for the sake of Heaven were mixed with feelings of “I want.” On the other hand, Tamar’s intentions for the sake of Heaven were completely pure!
The righteous Mashgiach, Hagaon Harav Leib Chasman zt”l adds (in his Sefer Ohr Yahel) that the distinction between Tamar and Potiphar’s wife is clear. Although Tamar’s intentions were for the sake of Heaven, when all of her dreams were about to go up in smoke as she and the twin boys in her womb were sentenced to death by burning and while she knew that the righteous Mashiach was to emerge from her, nevertheless, she remained silent since “it is preferable for one to fling one’s self into a fiery furnace rather than shame someone else in public,” although she knew she was correct!
Potiphar’s wife, on the other hand, acted completely the opposite: When she saw that Yosef did not agree with her interpretation of what was for “the sake of Heaven” and when she saw that she was unsuccessful in seducing him, she caused him unimaginable torture, suffering, and public shaming through false rumors.
This is exactly the difference. What happens when someone does not agree with your opinion of what constitutes “for the sake of Heaven”? (Adapted from the discourses of Hagaon Harav Shalom Schwadron zt”l quoted in “Lehagid” page 282)