Active Human Incentive and Divine Processes

Parshat Vayigash – Rabbi Eliezer Shenvald

In our parsha, the story of the sale of Yosef comes full circle. Yosef reveals himself as the viceroy to the king of Egypt and send a message to his father that he is alive. So ended the most difficult period for Yaakov's family, when Yosef was thought to be missing, Yaakov was tortured by the thought that the worst had happened, and the brothers hid the terrible secret of the sale in their hearts.

With this closure, several principles related to active human incentive and Divine ways are clarified. This is one of the fundamental issues in the world of the man of faith.

The brothers initiated the sale of Yosef because of their own motives, but G-d turned the events to good, and broadened their scope from a localized intra-family conflict to a worldwide event: "And now, don't be upset or angry that you sold me to this place, since G-d sent me here ahead of you for sustenance… And G-d sent me before you to give you a refuge in the world and to keep you alive for a great salvation. And behold, it is not you who sent me here, but the Lord, and He placed me as a father to Pharaoh and a master over his house and a ruler in all the land of Egypt." (Bereshis 45:5-8) In the next parsha we will read: "And you intended evil against me, G-d intended it for good, in order to do for this day, to keep a great populace alive." (Bereshis 50:20)

The man of faith is required to be involved in the leadership of the world. He is not supposed to be a passive observer, standing on the sidelines and watching the world progress only by Divine providence. He must "act with G-d" and utilize human reasoning to identify, to the best of his ability, the aim of the Divine guidance of the world, in order to take initiative and find a way to integrate into G-d's plan and do his part. However, sometimes human wisdom misconstrues the Divine plan. This misinterpretation can lead to a contradiction between G-d's plan and human incentive.

There are those who say that the sale of Yosef came about as the result of Yaakov Avinu's incentive to begin the family's permanent settlement in Eretz Israel, the process which will lead to the establishment of the kingdom of the Jewish nation in Eretz Israel. This differs from Avraham and Yitzchak who lived in the land as sojourners, and didn't set up foundations for the settlement of the family and the nation. "The Torah says: "Vayeishev Yaakov" - And Yaakov settled - and not "And Yaakov resided" as is written (regarding Yitzchak) "his father's residence." The Torah informs us with this expression that Yaakov thought to settle permanently in the land, whereas his fathers didn't. About his father (Yitzchak) was written "reside in this land" and about Avraham was written "And Avraham resided" – they knew that their dwelling would not be permanent, "that your descendents will be strangers" beforehand "in a land which is not theirs" and "the fourth generation will return here." And Yaakov thought that maybe he could settle permanently now and establish his home there. 'And G-d's wisdom and His decree will be upheld,' and the issue of (the sale of) Yosef led to the descent to Egypt, to uphold G-d's wisdom and His decree." (Drashat Even Shuyib, parshat Vaheishev)   

The Midrash explains that Yaakov reasoned that the time had come for this, since (he thought that) the prophecy of exile revealed at the Covenant between the Pieces had already been fulfilled, and there was no need for another exile. "And Yaakov settled"- Rabbi Elazar said: what does 'and Yaakov settled' come to tell us? That Yaakov thought: G-d told Avraham that his sons will be strangers. Behold, I was a stranger for twenty years in the house of Lavan, enslaved to tending his sheep. And since he saw that Eisav went to live in a different city, Yaakov said that this fulfilled the slavery of four hundred years, and his mind was at peace.  

G-d said, "My thought is deeper that your thoughts", and immediately brought upon him a plot through Yosef… When did He bring this upon him (Yaakov)? When he "gave up" on the exile to Egypt and his mind was at peace, as is written: "And Yaakov settled." (Midrash from a manuscript – Torah Shleimah Bereshis 37,1)

In our parsha it becomes clear that the Divine plan was different, and purpose of the sale of Yosef was to "return" to G-d's original plan.

In our parsha another principle is clarified: mistaken identification of the Divine plan is liable to cause man to relate to the plan as negative only because of its outward appearance, despite the fact that under the surface it paves the way to a positive end. "And indeed, you must know a great preface, that truly G-d never despises His creations, and never leaves or neglects the world. But when it appears as if He has abandoned the world, then to the contrary, He is renewing goodness in His world, and His wonders and thoughts are constantly and exclusively for the improvement of the world and not for its detriment; but He deeply conceals Himself and the world seems as if it is abandoned, and men suffer the punishment of their sins.

And our Sages said regarding Yaakov Avinu of blessed memory (Bereshis Rabbah 91, 10): 'And Israel said: why did you do this evil to me?' (Bereshis 43:6) Raish Lakish said in the name of Rav Hama Bar Hasa: Yaakov never made an idle statement except here. G-d said: I am elevating his son to rule in Egypt, and he says 'why did you do this evil to me?' This is what is written (Yishayahu 40:27): 'my way is hidden from G-d…' Because all the time that Yaakov was grieving over Yosef's absence, G-d was only 'pulling the strings' to bring Yosef to power and sustain Yaakov peacefully. But since this was deep wisdom, grief swept over Yaakov." (Ramchal, Da'at T'vunot ch. 146)

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