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Va’yeshev - Who Was that Man?

The Torah portion of Vayeshev begins the story of Yosef and his brothers and the events which ultimately led to the descent of the nation of Israel into Egyptian exile. When Yaakov sent his son Yosef to check out this brothers and their flocks (37:14), it was a mission which was the first link in the chain of events.

Upon close examination of the Torah portion we find that there is a very specific turning point, a specific moment that changed everything for all time. It was the moment that a person found Yosef and pointed him in the direction to find his brothers. This happened not naturally, but as part of Hashem’s plan.

Even though he was fully aware of the tension between his sons, Yaakov sends Yosef to check out his brothers and their flocks (37:14). Yosef accepts the assignment. Yosef also knew that this might be dangerous for him, but despite this he was ready to fulfil his father’s wishes.

Yosef looks for his brothers, but can’t find them. He is about to give up when suddenly a man appears before him who instructs him where to find them (37:15-16). The man shows Yosef the way; Yosef meets with his brothers and what happened is what happened; from that point begin the events of his sale and descent into Egypt, followed by the descent of all the tribes and eventually in the servitude of the nation of Israel.

Who was the mysterious man that Yosef met? The role this man plays in this story can’t be underestimated. This man is hugely significant. Think about this: If Yosef would not have met him, the whole Egyptian exile would not have happened! So, who was he?

Some commentaries such as the Ibn Ezra maintain that he was an ordinary man, a simple passer-by.

However, Rashi cites the Midrash that this was the angel Gabriel who Hashem sent specifically to lead Yosef, though all his suffering, down to Egypt. The Torah alludes to this by the words ‘and a man found him,’ instead of ‘and Yosef found a man.’ The meaning is clear: it was the angel who found Yosef. Hashem had a plan and brought it together.

So there are two explanations. Either the man was an ordinary man, a passer-by who happened to be at the right place at the right time, or he was angel.

But open up your hearts in the deepest way:

What if the two explanations are one and the same? Any person we encounter might really be a Heaven-sent angel. Hashem sends angels to every person, who can be manifest as a regular person. Maybe we don’t even notice. But receiving the message correctly depends on the receiver; not everyone can see the angel in the person standing in front of us. The singularity of Yosef was his ability to see Hashem’s hand in everything, in everyone he met, and in everything that happened to him, he saw Hashem’s guiding hand, as he later told his brothers when they were finally reunited: “G-d has sent me ahead of you to insure your survival…” (45).


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