We often see a man who starts out trying to do something which seems to be totally altruistic. Yet somewhere along the line, his attempts turn sour, and he finds himself imbedded in all sorts of situations which pressure him to act inappropriately. In contrast, sometimes we see a man who innocently enters a project, and not only does the project grow, but he himself grows along with it.
There may be many obvious reasons for this to happen, but I would like to mention one explained by Rav Shraga Grossbard in Daas Shraga. In this week’s parsha we have the story of two women who “knew” that they were supposed to have descendants from the 12 Tribes. Tamar knew that she was supposed to mother the Kings of Israel, and Potifar’s wife also knew that she would have descendants from Yosef. Both put themselves in seemingly compromising situations in order to attain that goal. Yet, as the two stories unfold, we first see Tamar showing her selflessness to do the right thing (and was willing to let herself be thrown into a furnace), which seems to me to be the backbone middah of leadership. This is in stark contrast to Potifar’s wife, who cruelly put blame where it did not belong in order to exonerate herself from a possibly uncomfortable situation.
Another contrast brought out in the Gemora is that when Yehuda met Tamar, he asked her a host of questions to make sure that it was indeed permissible for him to have a relationship with her (See Sotah 10a). Potifar’s wife, instead, looked forward to making a union with Yosef, even though she was a married woman. I think that this is the key that we use to unlock the secret of success and failure: Potifar’s wife believed that the end would justify the means, whereas Tamar understood that in order to be successful, the means must also be done through the guidelines of the Torah, even if at the expense of her not being the mother of Moshiach.
If one has an opportunity to perform a mitzvah, but doing so will cause pain to others, should one do the mitzvah? What if the pain is – in a sense – self-inflicted? Does this make a difference as to whether you should have compassion on the person? Just two short weeks ago, we read about Rachel and Leah. Leah put herself in a position to marry Yaakov at Rachel’s expense. Was that the right thing to do? It obviously was. (See mifarshim for elaborate explanations of her actions.)
I will mention that some twenty years ago I myself was involved in launching a project of “Torah, Tefillah and Chesed”. However, we realized that the launch of this project would cause a certain individual to feel slighted. I went with my colleagues to discuss this with Rav Michel Yehuda Lefkowitz, who was considered one of the gedolei hador at the time. He sat with us, and went through all of the repercussions of starting this project until we came to a final conclusion. With the help of that daas torah, I believe we had the Heavenly help that this project is still thriving and bringing about a Kiddush Hashem.
May we merit not only to have G-dly visions of doing the right thing, but be provided with the provisions that will bring about a sanctification of G-d’s holy name.