Vayeishev – Not All Tests Are Passable

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The beginning of this week’s Torah portion of Vayeishev tells of the story of Yosef being sold down to Egypt. The Medrish Pirkei DiRebbe Eliezer (perek 38) adds some interesting insights into the storyline: “Rebbe Yishmael says that every youngest son is most beloved by his father, as it says, “And Israel loved Joseph more than all his sons, because he was a son of his old age” (Breishis 37:3). But was Yosef really the youngest wasn’t Binyamin? Rather because [Yaakov] saw through prophecy that he will in the future be a ruler he therefore loved [Yosef] more than all the other brothers and they had great jealousy over him.” The Bayis Hagadol, (a commentary on this medrish and also known as the Beur Maspik,) adds that since Yosef will be a ruler in the future and will support and take care of Yaakov in his old age, that is why he was considered “a son of his old age.”

When Yosef’s brothers convened a court to deliberate whether it was halachically right to kill Yosef for either trying to kill them or, at the very worst, for destroying their Olam Haba, “Reuvain said to them, ‘Don’t murder him, rather throw him into this pit in the desert and he will die there.’ They listened to him, snatched Yosef and threw him into the pit…” What did Reuvain do? He went and sat on top of a hill with the intent to go down by night and take Yosef out of the pit. The nine brothers were sitting around in one place, united with one heart and one idea, and then a caravan of Yishmaelites passed by them and they said, “Why don’t we sell him to the Yishmaelites”. They took him to the edge of the desert and Yaakov, his father, did not hear from him again. They sold him to the Yishmaelites for 20 silvers and each one of them, (including Reuvain) bought shoes for themselves for two silvers each… They said we should make a pact that no one should tell Yaakov Avinu what happened until everyone agrees unanimously to divulge what happened, and anyone who breaks the pact would be excommunicated. Yehuda said to them, ‘Reuvain isn’t here and a pact with excommunication can only go into effect if there are ten.’ What did they do? They had Hashem join the group to make up ten and they declared the pact of excommunication. Reuvain came that night to take Yosef out of the pit and did not find him there. His initial reaction was telling them ‘You killed Yosef, and I was going to come back!’ They told him about what happened and about the pact of excommunication and Reuvain fell silent. Hashem also was silent because of the pact and did not tell a thing to Yaakov, though it writes (in the last pasuk of perek 147 in Tehillim,) ‘He relates His Word to Yaakov,’ but this matter He did not relate to Yaakov, therefore Yaakov did not know what happened to Yosef and he said Yosef must have been torn apart.”

The Bayis HaGadol says that to understand on a simple level why Hashem participated in such a thing, the Mizrachi explains that there was a tradition from the brothers’ forefathers that in the future they would go down to Egypt through the sale of one of the tribes. For this reason, Hashem didn’t want to reveal this secret, for if He would have revealed this to Yaakov, Yaakov would have sent people after him to redeem Yosef, and the decree of the bris bein habisarim would not have been fulfilled. And since all the brothers’ actions were to fulfill the decree of Hashem then Hashem ‘was not able to’ reveal what they did. Once they saw that Hashem agreed to what they were doing and that this was His Will, there was no better partner in these circumstances. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
It would seem that the brothers realized selling Yosef was part of the destiny of the Jewish People as Hashem told Avraham by the bris bein habisarim, as it says, “And He said to Avram, “You shall surely know that your seed will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and they will enslave them and oppress them, for four hundred years. And also the nation that they will serve will I judge, and afterwards they will go forth with great possessions” (Breishis 15:13, 14). Since this was part of the destiny of Jews, Hashem went along with the plan and Yaakov thought Yosef was killed by a wild animal, because Yaakov would have foiled the destined plans if he would have found out what had happened.
Why couldn’t Hashem tell Yaakov what actually happened, instead of Yaakov living through the misery of thinking his most beloved son was killed? Where is Yaakov’s belief and trust in Hashem? He surely also knew the tradition stemming from his grandfather, Avraham, of what was destined to happen and he also knew through prophesy that Yosef would one day become a leader. So why couldn’t he at least put two and two together and believe that this was all part of Hashem’s master plan, decreed by Hashem Himself to Avraham, and possibly Yosef would wind up becoming viceroy in Egypt and they would eventually leave with much wealth as promised by Hashem?

It would seem that Yaakov’s love for Yosef was so strong that he would not have been able to accept that this was a decree from Heaven and he would have redeemed Yosef, as the quality of natural choice in the world, which would have thwarted the plans of Jewish destiny. But since Hashem does not give a test which is impossible for a person to pass, and Yaakov, based on a miniscule level of emotional sensitivity would not have been able to pass this test of his faith in Hashem, verses his love for his son, therefore Hashem kept it secret from Yaakov to let destiny unfold.