As we gather this morning for our Annual Meeting, the parshat hashavua or weekly torah portion for us and the rest of the Jewish world is Parshat Vayeshev. Vayeshev, which takes up chapters 37 through 40 of the Book of Genesis, introduces the story of Joseph and his brothers which will take us through the next four weeks, up until the end of the Book of Genesis.
This week as preparations were under way for our meeting today, I found myself continually coming back to one particular detail in the parasha. Jacob has instructed Joseph to go find his brothers who seem to have been away with the flocks longer than expected. And at Genesis 37:15-16 the Torah reports:
וַיִּמְצָאֵהוּ אִישׁ, וְהִנֵּה תֹעֶה בַּשָּׂדֶה; וַיִּשְׁאָלֵהוּ הָאִישׁ לֵאמֹר, מַה-תְּבַקֵּשׁ. וַיֹּאמֶר, אֶת-אַחַי אָנֹכִי מְבַקֵּשׁ; הַגִּידָה-נָּא לִי, אֵיפֹה הֵם רֹעִים.
A man found him wandering in the field, and the man asked him “What are you looking for?”. And he [Joseph] said, ‘I seek my brothers – Please tell me where they are tending the flock?”
The man then tells Joseph that he heard Joseph’s brothers talking about heading of to Dothan. Joseph then heads on after them, and we never here again anything about the this mysterious man whom Joseph encountered.
Many of the traditional midrashim and Torah commentaries identify this unidentified person who finds Joseph wandering in the field as an angel. For example, the 11th century commentator Rashi, reiterating earlier midrashim, comments on the words וַיִּמְצָאֵהוּ אִישׁ (A man found him), to say:
זה גבריאל [שנאמר (דניאל ט כא) והאיש גבריאל
This is [the angel] Gabriel, as it is said “And the man Gabriel” (Dan. 9:21).
We can draw a couple of lessons from this brief incident in Torah:
One such lesson comes if we focus on the idea of this mysterious person being a divine being sent by God to guide Joseph on his way. Viewing the Torah text this way, it teaches us that we should always have faith, that even in the most difficult or confusing or stressful times, that, God is, in the words of the siddur --- hameychin metzadei gaver. [ the One who guides the steps of each person.]
When we attend services at Temple, and when we engage in our own personal spiritual practice throughout our lives, we can have faith that this divine guidance exists.
Our task then is to quiet ourselves and center ourselves sufficiently so that we can discern that guidance. May our membership in this kehillah kedoshah, this holy congregation, strengthen us in our own journeys, especially when we, like Joseph, are “to'eh basadeh” (“wandering in the field.”)
Another kind of lesson comes when we think of the man whom Joseph encounters as simply that, an ordinary איש (“ish”), an ordinary person. Viewing the Torah text this way, it reminds us that each one of us, in each of our mundane activities, in each of our seemingly inconsequential encounters with one another, might have a profound affect on another person without even realizing it -- just as that unidentified person in our parasha had on Joseph. This reminds us that we must always be caring, sensitive and thoughtful in all our encounters with one another. We really do at times function as “angels” in one another’s lives. May our membership in this kehillah kedoshah, this holy congregation, continue to provide us with ample opportunities to help guide one another and to expand the realm of holiness in the world.