The story of Yosef and his brothers is one of the most confusing episodes to study in the Torah. How these great men could dislike someone as great as Yosef, and how Yosef could be so naïve to bring such hatred upon himself, are two of the more pressing questions in this story. Another big question is whether Yaakov realized how big the problem was, and what he tried to do about it. We will touch on that subject this week.
The second aliyah begins, “וַיֹּאמֶר יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶל יוֹסֵף הֲלוֹא אַחֶיךָ רֹעִים בִּשְׁכֶם לְכָה וְאֶשְׁלָחֲךָ אֲלֵיהֶם” “And Yisrael said to Yosef, ‘Your brothers are shepherding in Shechem. Go, and I will send you to them…” (Bereishis 37:13). Yaakov asks Yosef to go and check on his brothers and see how they are doing. If Yaakov knew how much the brothers disliked Yosef, this is a terrible idea! Not only is he sending the one person that they cannot stand, he’s sending him to check on them! This is a recipe for disaster. To his credit, Yosef immediately says that he will go.
The Ohr HaChaim explains that Yaakov knew that there were issues between his sons, and therefore, he sent Yosef with extra protection. The pasuk writes that Yaakov tells Yosef to “go” to his brothers, and that Yaakov will “send” him to the brothers; the explanation behind this double sending is that first Yaakov told Yosef to go, and then he put the extra protection on him. What was this extra protection?
Chazal teach us that שלוחי מצווה אינם ניזוקים, someone on a mission to do a mitzvah will not come to any harm. When Yaakov “sent” Yosef to his brothers, he gave him the mitzvah of Kibud Av to protect him from any harm the brothers would want to do to him.
However, another question arises from this explanation. If Yosef was doing a mitzvah, then how was he sold as a slave? Wasn’t he protected from anything bad? The first answer is that since at the end of the day, everything turned out great for Yosef, he became the ruler of the most powerful country in the world, the fact that he was sold and mistreated at the beginning is not considered that he was harmed.
Another answer the Ohr HaChaim gives, is that Yaakov told Yosef to go to Shechem specifically, to check on his brothers. When Yosef arrived there, the brothers had already moved on and Yosef went to follow them. At that point, Yaakov’s protection ran out and Yosef was exposed. Yosef assumed that his father’s protection would follow him wherever he went for the mitzvah, but this was not so.
This last answer seems a little too convenient to actually be true. Let’s say Yaakov had been more general in his directions instead of being specific, let’s say Yosef had decided not to follow his brother’s from Shechem, what would have happened then? The answer is that Hashem needed something very specific to happen; he needed Yosef to get down to Mitzrayim in order to set things up so that when Yaakov and the family arrived years later, everything would be ready for them. If this exact order of things hadn’t happened, Hashem would have figured out another way of doing it. But at the end of the day, we see from this parshah that, ‘Man plans and God laughs.’ No matter how much Yaakov wanted to protect Yosef, and no matter how badly his brothers wanted to harm him, the only thing that was going to happen to Yosef was what Hashem had planned for him.
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