Potiphar’s wife saw through astrological means that she was destined to be the ancestress of Joseph’s descendants. Not knowing that this would happen through her daughter, she sought to seduce Joseph.
Facing Temptation
וְאֵיךְ אֶעֱשֶׂה הָרָעָה הַגְּדֹלָה הַזֹּאת וְחָטָאתִי לֵאלֹקִים: (בראשית לט:ט)
[Joseph told Potiphar’s wife,] “How could I commit such a great wrong and also sin before G‑d?” Genesis 39:9

Being a servant, Joseph was obviously at the mercy of his master’s wife. Potiphar’s wife intimidated Joseph with all sorts of threats, including death, if he would not acquiesce to her seduction.1 But then Joseph saw an image of his father Jacob’s face in front of him, from which he understood he was obligated to resist her temptations. Jacob’s face reminded Joseph that our individual sins are not only our own personal matters, for which there might be mitigating rationalizations; they affect the moral balance of all reality.

When confronted with temptation, it is tempting to convince ourselves that nobody will know about it, that it is technically justified, that succumbing to it is only a temporary setback and that we can later repent, and so on. In such moments, we too must “envision the image of Jacob,” that is, remember that our actions are not merely the isolated deeds of individuals in isolated times and places. Our deeds have cosmic ramifications; they can harm or heal the entire world.2