OU Torah Insights ProjectParshat Vayeishev
Commanded by his father, Yaakov, to locate his brothers in Shechem, Yosef treks there from Chevron. But Yosef does not find them in Shechem. At that point, he could have returned to his father, but "a man discovered him...wandering in the field."
"What do you seek?" the man asked him.
Yosef responds, "I seek my brothers. Tell me please, where are they pasturing?"
The man replies, "They have journeyed on from here, for I heard them say let us go to Dosan."
With this information, Yosef finds his brothers and thus begins the story of his capture and sale, igniting the story of the Jewish enslavement in Egypt.
Who was this man who altered the course of Yosefs, and Klal Yisraels, destiny? Rashi quoting the Midrash explains that this man was the angel Gavriel.
The Ramban explains that this encounter is recorded to teach us that Hashem mandates even the seemingly innocuous events in Yosefs life.
Before he met this "man", Yosef had dreams of greatness. He was to become Yaakovs successor, the next in line of the Patriarchs. And up until this point, his life seemed to be heading in a predictable direction toward this goal. But this "man" altered the course of his predictable life and sent him on a tortuous journey that included being thrown into a pit, sold into slavery and imprisoned in an Egyptian dungeon.
"G-ds decree is true and mans efforts are false," the Ramban writes, as it says in Mishlei, "There are many thoughts in a mans heart, but the counsel of Hashem will stand." An individual might exert much energy trying to fulfill his visions of grandeur and dreams of greatness, but ultimately his future is determined by the wishes of Hashem.
This encounter is recorded in the Torah to teach us a lesson that while it is important for individuals to contribute their own efforts in their endeavors, ultimately everyones destiny is determined by Hashem. It is this ability to see Hashem as the source behind ordinary, everyday events that Yosef himself learns and exemplifies.
When Pharaoh finally releases Yosef from his cell, and asks him to interpret his dreams, Yosef acknowledges, "It is not me [who will respond to you], G-d will respond as to Pharaohs welfare."
Years later, when his brothers come to Egypt to purchase food, Yosef divulges his true identity to them, saying, "G-d sent me ahead of you to be a provider," and adding, "It was not you who sent me here; it was G-d."
The unpredictable pattern of Yosefs life, which began with an unassuming meeting of this mysterious "man" teaches us a critical lesson: one must see the Hand of Hashem in lifes everyday experiences.
It is perhaps this reason why we always read about the life of Yosef on Shabbos Chanukah, for this message is also the message of Chanukah. As the prophet Zechariah explains, the message of the menorah is that success comes "not by strength and not by might but by My spirit, says G-d."
Both the life of Yosef and the celebration of Chanukah leave us with the same essential challenge: to see through ordinary events, to recognize miracles in the seemingly non-miraculous.
Rabbi Ari Berman
Rabbi Berman is associate rabbi of the Jewish Center and rosh mesivta at the Stone Beit Medrash Program of Yeshiva University in New York City.