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A Godsend

By: Rav Yonatan Horovitz

The Torah does not waste words. This is a familiar concept and one which allows us to make deductions from episodes which are included in the Torah as opposed to others which may have been ignored. An example of such is found in this week's parsha, Vayeshev.

Ya'akov sends Yosef on a mission to visit his brothers who were shepherding the family flock in the fields of Shechem. Yosef finds that his brothers are not in Shechem but rather in Dotan. The Torah describes how he arrives at his final destination:

Then a man found him, and behold, he was straying in the field, and the man asked him, saying, "What are you looking for?" And he said, "I am looking for my brothers. Tell me now, where are they pasturing?" And the man said, "They have traveled away from here, for I overheard them say, 'Let us go to Dothan.'" So Joseph went after his brothers, and he found them in Dothan. (Bereishit 37:15-17)

What is the significance of this exchange? Why is it important for us to know how Yosef found his brothers? On looking for an answer to these questions, we may focus on one of two factors; the person with whom Yosef interacted or the places to which he and his brothers went. We will focus here on the identity of the mystery man. Readers are invited to consider the significance of Shechem which is discussed numerous times in Sefer Bereishit prior to this event.

Rashi quotes Midrash Tanchuma and informs us that the above mentioned "man" was non other than the angel Gavriel. If this is the case, we are being told that Hashem Himself made sure that Yosef found his brothers. By sending an angel to guide him, it seems clear that Hashem was directing Yosef to his brothers. Perhaps it is this event, amongst others, to which Yosef refers when he finally reveals himself to his brothers. Sensing their anguish as they consider how Yosef may avenge the wrongdoing towards him, Yosef states:

But now do not be sad, and let it not trouble you that you sold me here, for it was to preserve life that God sent me before you. For already two years of famine [have passed] in the midst of the land, and [for] another five years, there will be neither plowing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to make for you a remnant in the land, and to preserve [it] for you for a great deliverance. And now, you did not send me here, but God, and He made me a father to Pharaoh, a lord over all his household, and a ruler over the entire land of Egypt. (Bereishit 45: 5-8)

Yosef acknowledges God's hand at many stages during the various episodes that befall him. However, the above pesukim refer specifically to the point at which the brothers sold Yosef. This occurred just after he arrived at Dotan, which was a result of his having received directions from the "man". By stating that this was part of a Divine plan, Yosef appears to be attributing Divine qualities to this passerby or in others words, as Rashi suggests, positing that he was an angel.

It is interesting to note that Rashi quotes a verse from Sefer Daniel to support his contention that this man was Gavriel:

While I was still speaking in prayer, the man Gabriel, whom I saw in the vision at first, approached me in swift flight about the time of the evening offering. And he enabled me to understand, and he spoke with me, and he said, "Daniel, now I have come forth to make you skillful in understanding. In the beginning of your supplications, a word came forth, and I have come to tell it, for you have desirable qualities; now contemplate the word and understand the vision." (Daniel 9: 21-23)

In the context of Daniel's prayer, Gavriel appears to him to help explain the vision that he had seen. However, Gavriel also describes Daniel as one who has "desirable qualities" which will allow him to "contemplate and understand the vision". There are many parallels between Yosef and Daniel and we will not discuss them all here. However, there is a clear comparison in these pesukim between the two. Daniel, earlier in the book, has demonstrated himself to be an interpreter of dreams. The angel Gavriel is now confirming this trait and telling Daniel that he can employ this wisdom to understand the vision described in that very chapter.

Yosef, too, is known as one who interprets dreams. We can assume that, on his way down to meet his brothers, he was thinking about his dreams, the sheaves of wheat, the stars, moon and sun. What was their significance? How did the dreams affect the siblings' relationship? As Rav Elchanan Samet points out, the interpretations recorded in the Torah of Yosef's dreams were offered by his brothers who were not known for their abilities to interpret dreams. Yosef may have (correctly) understood them differently. It is at this point that Gavriel enters the scene and informs Yosef not only of where he can find his brothers but also, as the parallel to Daniel suggests, that his assumptions about his dreams are indeed correct. He has been given Divine qualities to interpret dreams and these will serve him well on his future endeavors.

Thus far we have focused on Rashi's opinion that this man was an angel. Ibn Ezra briefly comments on this passuk and simply states: "By way of p'shat (plain meaning) this was one of the passers by". Why does Ibn Ezra feel the need to state that this was a mere passerby? It would appear that Ibn Ezra is offering an alternative to Rashi's opinion. This was no angel; he was just a regular fellow who happened to have been in the area, had noticed Yosef's brothers and seen where they had gone. But if this is the case, why would the Torah dwell on this seemingly unimportant detail? We suggest that Ibn Ezra is not in fact arguing with Rashi. He too believes that this man was designated by God to direct Yosef in a certain direction. We need not identify him as an angel. He was simply a regular man, who was there at precisely the right time, with precisely the right information. Was that a coincidence? No, he was sent from God.

Ramban emphasizes this very idea. He explains that when Yosef did not find his brothers at Shechem, he had every reason to return to his father. Rather than allowing this to happen, Hashem sent Yosef a guide to ensure that he reached his brothers - "our sages referred to this when they identified these men as angels for not for nought is this episode recorded but to inform us that the will of God will prevail". (Ramban, Bereishit 37:15) In other words, Chazal identified the man as an angel, but that is less significant than understanding that he was an emissary of God, irrespective of his official status.

The differences and similarities between the two explanations cited above may also help us solve an oft asked question about Chanukah. Why is it that there is no mention of the miracle of the oil in the Al Hanissim prayer which we recite in our amida and birkat hamazon?

The obvious distinction between the miracle of the oil and the military victory is that the former is an overt miracle whilst the latter could be attributed to tactics, motivation or skill of the Hasmonean fighters. We do not ignore the incredible miracle of the oil which lasted for eight days. However, whilst all acknowledge that as a miracle from God, there is a danger that the military victory could be explained in natural terms, leaving Hashem out of the picture. By focusing on the military victory in our teffilot we are forced to recognize that our triumph over the Greeks was due not to our superior tactics but rather a result of Divine assistance.

This could be the message of the Ibn Ezra. Even if our parsha's mystery man was not an angel but merely a passer by he still was sent by Hashem.

Shabbat shalom,

Rav Yonatan


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