A Man Found Him
The following three parshiyot tell us the ever-fascinating story of Joseph and his brothers. The drama is played out on two planes: the human and the Divine. While our parsha says "And he (Jacob) sent him out from the valley of Hebron" (Genesis 37:14) later Joseph states it otherwise when he says (Genesis 45:8) "It was not you who sent me here, but God." We see the two parallel perspectives - the human actions are but a shadow of the Divine will. The following verse illustrates this same idea. We will see how Rashi, Ramban and Ibn Ezra interpret the verse.
"And a man found him and he was wandering in a field and the man asked him 'what are you seeking'?"
And a man found him - RASHI: This is [the angel] Gabriel, as it says (Daniel 10:21) "and the man Gabriel."
Can you see why Rashi comments here? What is bothering him?
WHAT IS BOTHERING RASHI?
An Answer: An important assumption of Torah interpretation is that while the Torah records historical events, it does not record every detail. If a detail is indeed recorded, no matter how trivial it may appear at first glance, we assume that it is significant.
That is what's bothering Rashi here. Why mention the incidental event that Joseph got lost and a man found him? It would seem that what is important in this story is just the fact that he, Joseph, came to his brothers and they sold him into slavery and he ended up in Egypt. This was the beginning of the Egyptian Exile. Why the need to tell us about "the man who found him"?
How is Rashi's comment an answer to this question?
An Answer: Rashi's comment that this stranger was the angel Gabriel informs us that the Divine hand was at work here. Joseph wasn't just strolling along on his own – a Divine angel was guiding him, guaranteeing that he would, in fact, reach his brothers and not return home to Jacob.
Two other major commentaries voice their opinion about this "man" who helped Joseph reach his brothers.
IBN EZRA: "According to p'shat, this was a passerby."
We see how the Ibn Ezra stresses that the simple p'shat is that this was an ordinary human being passing by, not an angel.
But then we can ask what Rashi implicitly asked: Why does the Torah need to tell us such a trivial piece of information?
RAMBAN says the following:
"...Scripture mentions this at length in order to relate that many events befell him (Joseph) which could properly have caused him to return, but he endured everything patiently in respect for his father. It also informs us that the Divine decree is abiding, while man's efforts are worthless. The Holy One, blessed be He, sent him (Joseph) an unwitting guide in order to bring him unto their (the brothers') hands. It is this which the Sages intended when they said that these "men" (Hebrew "ishim") were angels, for these events did not occur without purpose but rather to teach us that "the counsel of Hashem will endure."
THE RAMBAN'S INSIGHT
The Ramban has deepened our understanding with this comment. His comment is, in a way, a brilliant combination of both the Ibn Ezra and of Rashi's comments. It also offers an important insight into the Sages' statement that these men were angels.
The Ramban explains that the man here was an ordinary man (a passerby) yet he was unwittingly fulfilling God's design. He was actually "sent" by God to guide Joseph, though he himself was not aware of the significance of his actions. In Hebrew the word "malach" means both angel and messenger. Because every "malach," human or supernatural, is God's messenger activated to implement His will on earth.
The Ramban's comment gives us an insight into Rashi's simple one-word comment "Gabriel." It is quite possible that Rashi, as the Ramban, saw this man as a human messenger of God, but in order to convey the Divine significance of his actions, Rashi calls him Gabriel – an angel.