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Vayeshev 5783 ~ December 16, 2022

Lisa and I have always enjoyed taking our kids to theme parks throughout the East Coast. Even when they became young adults, watching them enjoy the different rides and exhibits brought a sense of satisfaction to what was so beautiful about being a parent.  And while our children loved the Disney theme parks, they also knew that we would only go to them every other day. Afterall, at that time there was Sea World, Universal, as well as the hotel pool.

One day, while watching our kids make friends at the pool (when they were six and three years of age) Lisa turned to our then youngest Cory (now our middle child) and asked: “So what is the name of the friend you are playing with at the other end of the pool? It looks like you are having a great time with him.” To both our surprise Cory turned to us and declared: “I don’t know his name.  And why do I need to? Tomorrow he will be gone, and so why do I have to remember his name?” Needless to say, that story has taken on its own mileage and to this day we all remember and get a good laugh from it.  At the same time, to this day it is Cory who remembers everyone by name.

The Torah has a similar reality. If one reads through the many stories, one will find that the names of only significant individuals are revealed. And yet, in our reading for this Shabbat, Vayeshev, one individual who dramatically changed the history of Joseph and of the Jewish people, is only referred to as an “ish,” a “man.” As we recall the story, Joseph was sent by his father Jacob to find out where his brothers were. According to our Etz Hayim Chumash, a modern scholar notes that the eleven brothers were in Dothan, and that Dothan was not the pastures and fields where they should have been, tending to the flock. It was a city, and they had taken out from their duties, as an entire group, “to explore the pleasures of the city.” Joseph would not have found, then, where they should have been, so the Torah shares with us that he came upon a man who asks him “What are you looking for?” Maimonides suggests that the reason that no name was mentioned was the fact that this man was actually an angel, sent by God, to insure “that Joseph would not give up on his mission when he could not find his brothers immediately.” (Etz Hayim page 229).

My friend, Rabbi Jack Moline, once wrote:

“Think about it for a minute. If this mystery man had given the wrong directions, or if he had said "I don't know," or if he had sent Joseph home, the rest of the Bible wouldn't have happened-no Moses, no Exodus, no Torah, no Promised Land, no King David, no Akiva, no Maimonides, no Einstein, no Andy Samberg, no you.

And so it is worth asking, "Who was that man?"

I like to tell people that there is no such thing as a coincidence. They credit me with great faith in God's plan for humanity, that the Holy One has put everything in motion for a purpose. And I do not apologize for that sleight of hand.

But the fact is, I am not quite that pious. When I say that there is -- such thing as a coincidence, I mean that there is an explanation for everything in this world-good, bad, or indifferent. The football bounced into the hands of the defense because of the trajectory of the throw and the angle of the receiver's fingers. You got a particular grade because of how well (or how not so well) you prepared. Your loved relative contracted a terminal illness not as punishment, but because the combination of genetics and marriage choices and the environment conspired to make him susceptible to it. Like the butterfly that flaps its wings and becomes the main actor in chaos theory, nothing is incidental, and therefore nothing is coincidental. Everything counts.”

But, do we need to know the name of this man who pointed Joseph in the correct direction? Would it make any difference to us today? Similar to my son Cory’s sentiment, I do not think so. It is always nice to place a name with a person and something kind they have done. Yet, at the same time, just being able to point someone in the correct direction, or guiding them in a moment when they need our assistance, without their knowing our name, that is something special as well. And that one act, while it may be done anonymously, is as important to not only that individual’s life, but how it impacts on their next moment or action, that is significant.

It should also be noted, that our Torah reading for this Shabbat, Vayeshev, always coincides with the arrival of Chanukah. So let me take this moment, on behalf of the Beth El staff, our Executive Board and myself,  to wish you a chag urim sa’meach,  A Happy Festival of Lights.

Shabbat shalom and in advance, Happy Chanukah.

Rabbi K

Tue, May 28 2024 20 Iyyar 5784