by Rabbi Yaakov Menken
"They [the brothers] sat down to eat bread, and they lifted up their eyes,
and they saw; and behold, a caravan of Yishmaelites was coming from Gilad,
bearing various spices, going to descend to Egypt." [32:35]
Rashi, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, asks a straightforward question: why does
the verse bother to describe the cargo? Does it make a difference?
The answer, Rashi explains, is to tell you the benefits given to righteous
people. Normally, the Arab caravans would carry kerosene and resin, which
have a bad smell. For Yoseph's sake, this one happened to be carrying
pleasant spices, so that he wouldn't need to suffer the bad odor.
In common language: huh?
Yoseph goes out to meet his brothers. They turn on him, strip him of his
coat, and throw him in a pit. A snake could bite him at any moment - but he
can pray to G-d to be rescued from the pit. But when his brothers take him
out, it is only in order to sell him! He is about to be carried off into
slavery, hundreds of miles away. And Rashi says, because he's a righteous
person, the people carrying him into slavery are carrying sweet-smelling
spices. What sort of wonderful benefit is this? Would Yoseph even notice the smell?
The answer, as offered by Rabbi Asher Rubenstein, shlit"a, is that whether
or not it was of any importance - G-d gives a person exactly, precisely
what's needed. For whatever reason, Yoseph needed to go down to Egypt not
as a prince, but as a slave - and to enjoy elevation, downfall, and then a
rise to prince-hood while he was there. This was all part of the Divine plan.
But there was no need for Yoseph to experience a bad odor. He had no
transgression which he might be moved to correct with this mild punishment.
The odor would not better enable him to fulfill his destiny or elevate
himself spirituality. So he was given only what he needed - and the same is
true for every person.
There's another angle here as well. It looked pretty bad for Yoseph, going
from the pit into slavery. When the situation was so terrible - perhaps
that was exactly the time to recognize a small signal that G-d was still
with him. He was a righteous person, and G-d wasn't rejecting him.
When everything looks bad, we often only need to look around us more
carefully to see the good parts. Perhaps the best way to find the light at
the end of the tunnel, is to look for its reflection on the walls.
Text Copyright © 1996 Rabbi Yaakov Menken and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is the Director of Project Genesis.