On this passage, which marks the beginning of Golus Mitzrayim (the Exile in Egypt), Chazal comment: The valley (“depth”) of Chevron – Yosef was dispatched based on the deep counsel of Avrohom Avinu who is buried in Chevron, in fulfillment of the prophecy shared with Avrohom that his descendants would be exiled in Mitzrayim. (Sotah 11a, Bereshis Rabbah, Rashi)
Later in the parshah, we read how Tamar stationed herself at “Pesach Enayim”, which Chazal interpret as a reference to Tamar visiting Avrohom’s kever (grave) to pray to Hashem that she merit to bear children who are from Avrohom’s progeny. (Sotah 10a, Rashi on Bereshis 38:14 with Sifsei Chochomim)
Why did Avrohom Avinu need to be referenced in the above cases? It could just as easily have been explained that Yaakov’s sending of Yosef to his brothers commenced Golus Mitzrayim, and that Tamar sought to have progeny from the family of Yehudah (or Yitzchak or Yaakov, or the Avos in general). Why was Avrohom in particular mentioned?
When Hashem related to Avrohom at the Bris Bein Ha-Besarim (Covenant Between the Parts) that B’nei Yisroel would be exiled from Eretz Yisroel, enslaved and then return to thereto as an enriched, emancipated nation, He not only revealed a plan for future events that would transpire; rather, Hashem also taught Avrohom that occurrences which seem patently negative are actually often a necessary part of a larger good. As a result of the suffering in Mitzrayim would B’nei Yisroel call out to Hashem and commit allegiance to Him and to Moshe, and as a result of the avdus (servitude) to cruel Egyptian mortals and the spiritual travails engendered thereby would B’nei Yisroel emerge as committed servants of Hashem and worthy recipients of His Torah. The negative, bitter experience in Mitzrayim was necessary to precipitate the development of K’lal Yisroel as the nation of Hashem.
Why was Avrohom the one whom Hashem advised about Golus Mitzrayim?
Unlike Yitzchak, who was exiled by Avimelech from Gerar and was falsely accused and financially victimized by the Pelishtim, and unlike Yaakov, who was exiled to Charan and tormented and threatened by Eisav and Lavan, Avrohom - from the time that he left Charan until his death – lived in peace with his neighbors. Avrohom had a large gentile following, the B’nei Ches referred to him as a “Nesi Elokim” – Prince of God – and Avrohom was held in the highest esteem by the rulers of Canaan, several of whom he rescued from the four kings. To Avrohom, the notion of his family becoming exiles and slaves was surreal and would have been otherwise incomprehensible; a precipitous descent from royalty to servitude was totally unexpected. However, Hashem shared the prophecy of Golus Mitzrayim with Avrohom specifically because its message was especially impactful for Avrohom: just as Hashem could turn a prosperous, popular and noble family into exiles and slaves in a relatively short time, so could He at once reverse the scenario and transform that same family into a restored, greater and holy nation. The unexpected and severe downturn of Golus Mitzrayim was a mere preparation for the momentous creation of K’lal Yisroel and their receipt of the Torah and establishment of a commonwealth in their Land.
The concept that the negative is often a necessary step in Hashem’s plan for bringing about the positive rests upon the concept of Hashem’s mastery of all and His ability to manipulate events as He desires – God’s omnipotence. Avrohom, who lived as a ben chorin – a free, unfettered and undisturbed person – more than the other Avos, was the most appropriate one to be instructed of Hashem’s master plan to cause centuries of enslavement and torment of B’nei Yisroel, which was required to engender the emergence of a great and holy nation of towering spiritual leadership. Hashem’s omnipotence in this chain of events, bringing B’nei Yisroel to the depths and raising them up to a pinnacle, was most striking for Avrohom, when compared with the other Avos, due to his position and the prestige of his family within society.
Since Avrohom is identified with this yesod (foundation of belief) that what appears to be negative may actually be part of a larger plan for ultimate good, he is referenced when Yosef was dispatched to find his brothers in Shechem. That event led directly to Yosef’s sale as an eved (slave) and Golus Mitzrayim, yet the association of it with Avrohom signaled that it was part of God’s greater scheme for goodness.
So, too, did Tamar daven at the kever of Avrohom, as she was about to commit an act that appeared to be immoral, yet was done for the sake of ultimate good, for from her relationship with Yehudah did future Jewish kings and Torah leaders arise.
This is the message of Avrohom and the reason why his name is invoked in the cases of Yosef and Tamar.
When faced with what seems to be trouble, our Mesorah dictates that we try to see it as part of Hashem’s larger, overall plan for ultimate berachah and good.