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Vayeishev 5766-2005

“The Vast Majority of the Time, G-d Rules the World”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

Unbeknownst to all of the characters who play significant roles in parashat Vayeishev, G-d is diligently working behind the scenes, making certain that His divine plan will be fulfilled. In fact, the disharmony that rages in the home of Jacob is really G-d controlling events so that the promise that He made to Abraham at the Covenant between the Pieces (Genesis 15:13) “Kee ger yee’yeh zar’ah’chah,” that your seed shall be strangers, will come to fruition. This divine script will lead the Jewish people out of Canaan so that they may experience the previously prophesied exile, enslavement, persecution, and ultimately redemption.

While all human beings are granted freedom of choice, and most of life is not preordained, there are certain times that the Al-mighty takes control so that His divine plans will be fulfilled. The story of Joseph and his brothers is nothing less than the fulfillment of that divine plan that was recorded in Genesis 15.

Rashi finds an immediate allusion to the divine plan in our parasha within the sentence that describes Jacob sending Joseph to find his brothers. Scripture states in Genesis 37:14, “Va’yish’la’chay’hoo may’ay’mek Chevron,” and he [Jacob] sent him [Joseph] out of the valley of Hebron. Asks Rashi, but Hebron was in the mountains? Responds Rashi: The reference here is not to the physical place known as Hebron, but to the “valley,” meaning the “depths” of the righteous man who was buried in Hebron, namely Abraham. The “Valley of Hebron” is not a physical place, but a reference to G-d’s mysterious prophecy to Abraham.

Therefore, it was not at all coincidental that Jacob sent his son Joseph to check on his brothers. It was, in fact, an essential part of the divine plan that would lead the people to Egypt, where the prophecy would be fulfilled.

The role of providence in Joseph’s journey is confirmed and concretized when Joseph arrives in Shechem seeking his brothers.

The brothers had been seriously “bent out of shape” by the unfairness that resulted from their father’s favoring Joseph. They therefore used the opportunity to graze their flocks as an excuse to escape from their very difficult home environment, and proceeded to journey to the one place where they truly felt unified–the city of Shechem. It was in Shechem that the brothers defended their sister Dinah’s dignity, and slaughtered the entire citizenry who had conspired and/or participated in the rape of their sister.

Joseph is now wandering in a field in Shechem searching for his brothers. There he is found by a certain man, an “eesh.” The man asks him, saying (Genesis 37:15): “Ma t’va’kaysh?” What do you seek?

This encounter is not at all coincidental. Joseph, a Jewish boy who has traveled all the way from Hebron to Shechem, is wandering in the fields, looking for his brothers. He meets a man. Joseph does not speak to the man, it is the “man” who suddenly initiates a conversation and asks Joseph, “What do you seek?” Joseph tells the man that he seeks his brethren. (Genesis 37:16) “Ha’gee’dah nah lee, ay’fo haym ro’im?” Please tell me where they are shepherding the flocks? Incredibly, the man responds (Genesis 37:17): “Nah’soo mee’zeh, kee sha’mah’tee om’rim, nayl’chah Doh’toy’nah.” The man not only tells Joseph that his brothers have already left Shechem, he even tells Joseph that he overheard the brothers say, “Let us go to Dothan.”

Of the hundreds, possibly thousands, of people in Shechem, Joseph encounters a particular person, a man who initiates a conversation with Joseph and asks him what he seeks. And this one man just happened to overhear Joseph’s brothers saying that they are going to Dothan. This cannot be a coincidence! And it is not a coincidence.

Our sages say that this mysterious character, this “man” who initiates conversation without waiting to be asked and knows all the answers, is not simply a passerby. He is an angel, a divine messenger. Rashi states that the “man” was the angel Gabriel, who had been delegated to make certain that the divine plan of the Covenant between the Pieces would be fulfilled.

The role of providence in the story of Joseph, and the role of the mystery man in setting the divine plan on track, brings to mind a pithy statement attributed to Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner who said in Yiddish, “Roobah, d’roobah, der Ribono-Shel-Olam feert der velt,” the vast vast majority of the time, the Al-mighty runs the world! Obviously, this statement was made tongue in cheek, in order to underscore that the Al-mighty does indeed run the world at all times.

That the Al-mighty runs the world at all times is confirmed by the end of the story of Joseph. Joseph has already revealed himself to his brothers. They are terribly concerned that Joseph will avenge their cruel behavior toward him. In Genesis 45:8, Joseph says to his brothers: “Lo ah’tem sh’lach’tem o’tee hay’na, kee ha’Eh’lo’kim,” it was not you who sent me to this place [Egypt], but G-d.

While people have free choice, G-d runs the world. And while most of life is not preordained, those events that are turn us into actors who must follow the divine script. As we see in parashat Vayeishev, G-d’s will and G-d’s plans are inexorable!

May you be blessed.