"I just figured out how to put my documents into individual folders on the computer," I confess to my friend S. "I know there’s so much you can do on the computer -powerpoint and downloading songs from itunes – but … Read More
"I just figured out how to put my documents into individual folders on the computer," I confess to my friend S. "I know there’s so much you can do on the computer -powerpoint and downloading songs from itunes – but I tend to stick to the basics. I would ask my kids to teach me, but I think they’ll look at me like I’m one of those hopeless, old-fashioned people who fondly recall turning the television on and off by hand!" "You need," S states firmly, "a cute guy to teach you computer classes. A computer class for cougars!" We both laugh, and the conversation sinks into the usual lewd lows that cougar (over 40) women regularly indulge in: there’s talk of pool boys and handymen and computer hunks, and I almost joke about hard drives but I contain myself. Our conversation gets me to thinking about the Biblical cougar, Potiphar’s wife. It’s a funny story, I’ve always thought, not least because across the distance of almost 4,000 years, its purpose for being included in the Bible seems unclear, though maybe back then it was chock full of inside jokes and served as some kind of social or political commentary on lazy, ungodly, Egyptian men and hard-working, God-fearing, sexy Israelites. Potiphar, the Pharaoh’s courtier, bought Joseph as a slave after he was sold by his brothers to the Ishmaelites. (His brothers had tossed him into a pit, then dipped his coat-of-many-colors in sheep’s blood to prove to their father, Jacob, that Joseph had come to a sad end.) Eventually, Potiphar "left all that he had in Joseph’s hands, and he gave no thought to anything with him there save the bread he ate. And Joseph was well built and handsome." Clearly, Potiphar is just asking for trouble – here’s some fat guy who only wants to eat. It’s no wonder that his wife "raised her eyes to Joseph and said, ‘Lie with me.’" Joseph honorably refuses her request, blathering on about how he’s been entrusted with everything in the household, everything has been placed in his hands, except her. Oh, but she very much wants to be in his hands, so she bugs him every day, and every day, he says no. (I personally would be mortified after being rejected just once, and I’ve never understood how she could ask for sexual favors again and again, when the guy has politely said no thanks. Either she has no self-respect or he was saying "no" even while his tunic was tightening.) Then, one day, Joseph comes into the house and no one is there except our desperate housewife herself. (Hard to believe that Joseph is unaware that nobody’s home.) She grabs the hot Heeb by his garment and again commands, "Lie with me!" Joseph flees, leaving his garment behind, (yes, a wonderful literary device, Joseph always being divested of his clothing), and she accuses him of having tried to rape her. Joseph is tossed into prison – echoes of the pit – where he interprets the dreams of fellow prisoners and it’s only a matter of time before the Pharaoh asks him to decipher his dreams. If the point of the story is to illustrate how our hero, Joseph, keeps getting tossed down, from pit to prison, but manages to claw his way out and come out on top, with God’s help and by resisting the temptations of the society in which he lives, I don’t know why we necessarily need to hear the salacious details about this sex-starved woman. Not that I’m complaining, because I’m as curious as anyone about what’s going on behind closed doors. I’m just saying. I’m still thinking about Joseph and Poti’s wife when I meet a friend, Chana, for lunch. We haven’t seen each other in a while, and we catch up on our kids and college and summer plans, and at some point she mentions a mutual friend who is getting divorced, and I say I’m sort of surprised because you’d never know from the outside that there were problems in the marriage. She is far more observant than I, or else she is better piped into what’s going on in the community, and she shrugs and says, "Most couples are unhappy." I almost gasp at her unvarnished, unsentimental, rather harsh judgment of marriage. She looks at me as if I am totally innocent and clueless and goes on to name names. She thinks that a number of them have desperate housewife and desperate husband tendencies which they would love to act upon, (and some probably have) should a comely Hebrew slave happen along. (I wonder just how "well-built" Joseph was?) Chana has her own marital problems, and she tells me that her therapist wants her to figure out why she chose the man she chose to marry. I personally like her husband, and I don’t think he was such a bad choice, frankly. So I argue, "You know, it’s not like there was a whole row of men lining up who wanted to marry you and whom you wanted to marry, and you chose the one clunker in the bunch. And believe me, it’s not like those other guys didn’t have their flaws, too. Different flaws than your husband’s, but still flaws." "Yeah, my shrink says that if I met somebody else, in ten years, I’d be sick of his flaws, too." I’m getting faintly depressed. I think I hate her shrink. In other words, Chana made a bad choice but she should stick it out because in ten years, she would find out she’d made another bad choice with another man? I valiantly protest, "Well, at least you would have ten years of something fun, rather than ten more years of whatever you have now." We are quiet, considering this logic. We both know women who have managed to maintain their façade of a happy marriage while quietly "having fun" with their own version of the pool boy – a guy from work, an old boyfriend, a hook up with a stranger…But in her case, she wants her marriage to work, and she’s not looking for a temporary diversion. For a minute, I feel as if I might not be on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. No, I’m back in Egypt with Joseph who might easily have led this lonely woman to believe that he was going to sleep with her when the house was empty, but then, at the last minute, had a change of heart and decided to take his life into his own hands. And she, hurt and humiliated and worried that somebody might find out, punished him by grabbing his clothing. While everybody else may view the story as a tale of Joseph growing up, of his ultimate decision to do the right thing and resist temptation, or whatever, I can’t help but feel sorry for the nameless Potiphar’s wife. She was just trying to do what men have always done – take advantage of a slave. In the end, Joseph marries an Egyptian woman named Asenath, the daughter of a man who is a priest of the cult of Re. Joseph’s father-in-law’s name is Potiphera. Which perhaps proves Chana’s shrink right – you do indeed end up with just another version of what you rejected. When my daughter asks me what I want for Mother’s Day, I ask her if she’ll show me how to download itunes.