Rabbi Berel Wein
Rabbi Berel WeinCourtesy

The entire narrative of the story of Joseph and his brothers, as he sent off the Jewish people to Egyptian society, slavery and ultimate redemption, is meant to illustrate to us the guiding hand of Providence in human affairs.

There is no question that all of the participants in this dramatic narrative acted according to their own wishes and wisdom. Yet the confluence of all of these conflicting personalities and ambitions leads to the desired end of the fulfillment of the prophecy and promise of God to Abraham about the future fate of the Jewish people.

This principle, that man proposes but God disposes is one of the basic beliefs of Judaism and is vindicated, for good or for better, throughout the history of the Jewish people and humankind generally. All of the twists and turns of daily and national life, the seemingly random and inexplicable events that assault us on a regular basis, somehow have a purpose and a goal. They help us arrive at the situation and circumstance that God’s destiny has provided for us.

The difficulty in all of this is that very rarely is this pattern revealed or are we aware of it. The Lord told Moses that ‘you will see my back, not my face.’ We see things much more clearly in retrospect than in the ability to judge present events and somehow predict the future.

All of the dreams of Joseph will be fulfilled but no one could have imagined at the onset of the story how they could have been fulfilled and under what circumstances, of both tragedy and triumph, they would come to be the reality of the narrative of the story of Joseph and his brothers.

Of all of the brothers, Joseph seems to be the one that is most aware that he and they are merely instruments in God’s plan. The rabbis teach us that Joseph was distinguished by the fact that the name of God never left his lips and that he always attributed events to divine providence and God’s will.

That is why Joseph is seen as the main antagonist to Eisav, for Eisav always attributed events to random chance and to human action and power. We will see later that this was also the main contest between Pharaoh and Moshe. Pharaoh continually maintained that the troubles of the Egyptians were coincidence and that all of the blows that he sustained were due to circumstance and nature. Even when his wise men stated that the finger of God was pointing at him, he refused to admit that it was the divine presence that was driving Egypt to destruction.

We also live in a world where many see the events that surround us as being mere happenstance, random events engendered by human beings. However, Judaism knows better and teaches better and we are therefore confident that all of the processes ordained for us millennia ago will yet be completely fulfilled. There is a divine hand that guides the affairs of mankind.

Shabbat shalom

Rabbi Berel Wein