The great saga of Joseph’s life begins in this week’s reading. Jacob has a deep attachment to Joseph and he favors him as the child of Rachel. He spends more time with Joseph than with his other sons and is not at all subtle with his favoritism. Joseph’s brothers resent this and they begin to dislike Joseph. The rift between Joseph and his brothers grows deeper when Joseph relays his dreams to them, dreams of superiority over his brothers and of royalty.
It was, perhaps, immature of Joseph to relay these dreams to his brothers, effectively boasting of his destiny. It also shows a great degree of naivete in Joseph. He seems oblivious of his brothers’ hatred toward him despite no attempts on their part to conceal it. Should Joseph have turned down his father’s request to visit his brothers? And Jacob? Could he not see what was happening? His father Isaac had shown similar favoritism to Jacob’s brother, which Jacob had to work hard to overcome. One would hope that Jacob would have learned from the errors of his father.
Joseph accepted his father’s mission to travel to his brothers and report about their welfare. Upon seeing his approach his brothers conspired to kill him. They wished to finally be rid of this ‘dreamer’ who was such a pain in their sides and in fact was a mortal danger to them (see seforno commentary). First Reuben intervened, insisting that they not kill him directly, rather allow him to die on his own in a pit. Then Judah recommended selling Joseph as a slave to passing merchants rather than kill him.
By selling him into servitude Joseph’s brothers were ensuring that Joseph’s dreams would never materialize. They would never be forced to subjugate themselves to a slave and they would never have to bow before him. Little did they know that their actions were hastening the fulfillment of the dreams. Joseph’s destiny of rising to power in Egypt was set into motion by that very sale into servitude.
There is an expression that ‘man proposes and God disposes.’ We can try our hardest to do what we think we want. Ultimately God sees to it that what is needed is done. Things happen in good time, not necessarily in the time frame we set for them.
We know the end of Joseph’s story. Despite being a slave he was very successful. He was thrown into prison in Egypt and that too was a step up the ladder of his rise to power. The stage was slowly set and the stars aligned for Joseph’s meeting with the Pharaoh and the display of his talents which would precipitate his ascendancy. It took a dozen years, and it put Joseph through great trials, but the pieces all fell into place.
However, the saga does not end with Joseph’s rise to power. All of the drama is for a bigger purpose, for the eventual enslavement of Jacob’s family in Egypt.
“And [God] told Abraham, You shall surely know that your descendants will be strangers in a land not their own; they will enslave them and oppress them for four hundred years.” (Genesis 15:13)
Joseph’s meteoric rise to power was just a small part, designed to set the stage for the rest of the family to descend to Egypt. When Jacob sent Joseph to his brothers the verse states: “And he sent him from the valley of Hebron.” Rashi questions this wording. Hebron is known to be on a high part of land, not a valley. Rashi therefore explains that when Jacob sent Joseph off it was the beginning of the fulfillment of the deep counsel of Abraham who was buried in the cave of Machpela in Hebron.
Our perspective is extremely limited to a time frame we can envision, which is at most a generation. God’s perspective takes all of history in a panoramic view, covering many hundreds, sometimes thousands of years.
We know that Lot was saved when Sodom was destroyed. Our perception is that Lot was spared in consideration of Abraham. Our sages state that a great individual was destined to come from Lot, 800 years later. Ruth was a descendant of Lot through the line of Moab. Because of her eventual existence Lot was allowed to live. To take into account something almost a millennia away is beyond our ken of understanding. But this is the way the world is run.
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