click here to jump to start of article
Join Our Newsletter

Join 400,000 Aish subscribers
Get Email Updates




Vayeshev(Genesis 37-40)

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.

Genesis 37:15

"And a man found him and he was wandering in a field and the man asked him 'what are you seeking'?"

 

RASHI

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?

Your Answer:

 

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?

Your Answer:

 

UNDERSTANDING RASHI

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 LESSON

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.

 

Shabbat Shalom,
Avigdor Bonchek


Published: December 17, 2005

Give Tzedakah! Help Aish.com create inspiring
articles, videos and blogs featuring timeless Jewish wisdom.

Visitor Comments: 6

(6) Moshe Shore, January 6, 2013 7:54 PM

A Man Found by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek

Reference on Rashi comment is Daniel 10:21 . I think it should be Daniel 9:21. Please let me know.

(5) S hunt, December 9, 2012 7:35 AM

Spelling

If I remember correctly the reason Rashi said Gabriel was his knowledge that the word used to indicate a man when spelled in this way always refers to Gabriel. Aish. I also believe that the correct source from Daniel is 10 5, but I am unable to verify that now.

(4) Mordechai Bendon, December 8, 2009 5:24 PM

Rashi's message is clear.

First of all, (3) please try not to speak in such harsh tones. It is unbecoming of of a Yid. Rashi specifically does not say malach but only "Ze Gavriel", bringing the source in Daniel that Gavriel is referred there as "HaIsh" - a man. It is interesting that Rashi does not say "Hu Gavriel" but "ze'. This could be that Rashi is refering to the speciific task that Gavriel has. It could well be that Rashi's position is similer to Ramban, just in more concise terms. If we analyse all the cases where Chaza"l tells us that Gavriel is sent there is a definite pattern indicating a singular task. First Gavriel brings destruction and suffering. However that eventually leads to salvation and redemption. Malach Gavriel destroys Sedom but saves Lot who fathers Moav which produces Ruth which enables David HaMelech to be born, the ancestor of Moshiach. Malach Gavriel (Meggilah 12b) is sent to cause Vashti to not go to the party which leads to her execution which leaves the door open for Esther to be queen and thereby save the Jewish people. There are more examples but for brevity, applying the same pattern to Yoseph. Gavriel comes in order to direct Yoseph to his enslavement and suffering in Egypt. We know that this is part of Hashem's plan that Yoseph should become second to the King and eventually bring salvation to Yaakov's family. This is why I believe Rashi tells us that it was Gavriel. One other cute thing. We usually translate Gavriel as Gavar-El = the strength of G-d but its possible to translate it as Gever-El = a person of G-d. Indeed there ias bo reason why a flesh and blood person cannot act as a malach of Hashem. In the end it is irrelevant whether "HaISh" was a spirit in a white gown or a human flesh and bone. The message of Gavriel is the important thing here.

(3) Anonymous, December 7, 2009 7:30 PM

Rashi is specific; why throw in doubts?

Bsd"S The author ends the lesson with, "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." That is NOT what Rashi says, "It is quite possible...". It is my long-held opinion that unless Rashi has something definitive to say, he says nothing. But here he brings a posuq from Dani'eil, that the man is Gavriel, as his proof. Where Rashi is specific, why voice your own doubtful opinion? He is known to have had Ru'akh HaQodesh; are you?

(2) Anonymous, November 28, 2007 8:55 PM

btw a note on the commentators

In a case where it's Rashi versus Ramban, Rashi is always right, no exception. In a case of Ramban versus Rambam, Ramban is right almost all the time, with occassionally the Rambam taking the charge. And the Rambam is occassionally right over Rashi. G-d bless everyone. Amayn. Amayn. Amayn!

See All Comments

Submit Your Comment:

  • Display my name?

  • Your email address is kept private. Our editor needs it in case we have a question about your comment.


  • * required field 2000
Submit Comment
stub
Sign up today!