The Right Person at the Right Time

December 11, 2020
By Beth Mordecai
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The Right Person at the Right Time

Sometimes even the smallest interactions have the greatest impacts. This is one of the best lessons that my teachers have taught me about the rabbinate. One kind word, a friendly head nod or well placed hand shake can sometimes make all the positive difference in a person’s experience. Conversely, one sarcastic remark or perceived slight can produce quite the opposite effects. I suspect that we have each had moments when someone offered us a kindness and it made our day so much better.  We may never know who those people are but they become part of our story.

Joseph experiences this phenomenon in this week’s parashah. Asked by his father to go check on his brothers, Joseph is unable to find them in the fields of Schem. Luckily there happened to be a man in the field. Joseph asked him “I am looking for my brothers. Tell me please where they are shepherding?” The man told him to go towards Dotan and lo and behold, he found his brothers. It sure was lucky that he was in that field at that moment exactly when Joseph needed directions! Who was this man and how did he know where the brothers had gone?

Rashi, relying on a rabbinic Midrash, tells us point blank that this “man” was actually the angel Gabriel. Full stop. Ibn Ezra however, (11th-12th century Spain) as he often does, disagrees with Rashi. He says that the “simplest way to understand the verse is that he was just another lost traveler [and not an angel as Rashi says].  So was he an angel or not? Does it make a difference? Thankfully, Ramban, Moshe ben Nachman from 12th century Spain, comes to the rescue and gives us a way to navigate this question.

He says that when the Rabbis identify various people as angels in the Midrash they do so to express “that the story was not a coincidence. Rather God’s plan always comes to fruition.” In other words, whether this person was an angel or not is beside the point. The point is that this encounter happened for a reason. In this case, the Rabbis connect the remainder of the story of the Jewish people to Joseph meeting this man in the field. Without the man in the field our story would have been entirely different.

Each encounter in our lives can be viewed as random or as nothing short of God working in our lives. Each of us has to judge that for ourselves. But each moment of human connection could be an opportunity to consider that question What would it mean to live our lives as if everything was random? What would it mean to walk the world thinking that God could intervene at every moment? What are the moments in our lives that really matter and which ones are simply fleeting.

I leave you to ponder those questions this Shabbat and I will close with one more. How can each of us be that “man in the field” for someone else this coming week? How can we be the right person at the right time?

Shabbat Shalom

Category : Rabbi Rabbi's Journal Shabbat