Friday, July 17, 2009

"The life and ideals of Reb Yaakov Emden" by Rabbi Shimon Finkelman1

Of course you'll never see this title appear, but the following is a most interesting, and in certain ways quite admirable, passage in R. Ya'akov Emden's autobiographical Megillas Sefer:

"A miracle also occurred to me, especially relevant to matters spiritual. (It was) a miracle similar to that of Joseph the righteous and (even) slightly more so. I was a young man, tender in years, in the full strength of my passion. I had been separated from my wife for a long time and greatly desired a woman. A very pretty unmarried young girl who was my cousin happened to meet me there and was alone with me. She brazenly demonstrated great love to me, came close to me and almost kissed me. Even when I was lying in my bed, she came to cover me well on the couch, in a close loving manner. Truthfully, had I hearkened to the advice of my instinct she would not have denied my desire at all. Several times it (indeed) almost happened, as a fire (consumes) the chaff.

"Frequently there was no one in the house with me but her. They (i.e. the members of her family) were also not accustomed to come for they stayed in the store on the marketplace, occupied with their livelihood all day. Had God not given me great strength, the excellency of dignity and the excellency of power (Gen. 49:3), to overcome my fiery instinct which once almost forced me to do its bidding, (and) were it not for the grace of God which was great upon me, (I would have been unable) to withstand this very powerful temptation, greater than all temptations. I was a man at the prime of my strength and passion. There was a very pleasant beautiful woman before me who demonstrated for me all manner of love and closeness many times. She was related to me, unmarried, a tender child and recently widowed. She may have been ritually pure or would have ritually purified herself had I requested it. If I had wanted to fulfill my passionate desire for her, I was absolutely certain that she would not reveal my secret. I controlled my instinct, conquered my passion and determined to kill it. My heart was hollow and I did not. Blessed be the Lord who gives strength to the weary for I was saved from this flaming fire. "

Translation in doctoral thesis by Rabbi Jacob J. Schacter; emphasis mine. Although I do not endorse Mortimer Cohen's analysis of this event, here it is for your judgment.

Here's an interesting point to ponder: although I maintain that one will never find this account or anything like it in the kind of book we all know and love to trash, does the above account fall into the unrealistic portrayal of righteousness which the young reader can only be alienated by, or the realistic depiction of the young on their way to becoming great grappling with normal problems in a normal way?

1 What I mean.


  1. Greetings,

    could you provide the exact spot of that quotation withhin מגלת ספר, please.
    Thanks in advance,
    Jehoschua Bieler



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