“A man came upon him” Genesis 37:15


“A man came upon him” Genesis 37:15

On life’s journey, we encounter many people, some whose name is known to us, others who will remain anonymous, and all have the potential to be the “supporting actors of our life”, as Rabbi Dan Moskowitz, senior rabbi of Temple Sholom in Vancouver, calls them.

Joseph, on the instruction of his father, travels to Shechem to look for his brothers but cannot find them. While searching, he is found by a man, only called by Torah as ha-ish, “the man”, who directs him to his brothers.

Who is this unnamed man, this mysterious ish that Joseph encountered? For the commentator Ibn Ezra, a very pragmatic answer is that he is just a man going on his way. For Rashi, he is the angel Gabriel. For Ramban, he is a passer-by but who has been sent by God, thus fulfilling the role of a messenger.

The Midrash (Bereishit Rabbah 75:4) teaches that Rabbi Yannai said he was met by three angels/malachim, “and a man found him” (vayimtza’ehu ha-ish); “the man asked him” (vayishalehu ha-ish)” and “the man said” (vayomer ha-ish).

According to Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, an angel/malach taught Joseph that whenever he finds himself wandering on life’s paths, when his soul is confused, he should remember to clarify for himself what he really wants and yearns for. Then he will be able to return (to the path), he will first make clear to himself that which he truly seeks. In other words, this man is actually Joseph’s inner voice, because we can also be our own supporting actors.

As we begin our celebrations of Chanukah, there are many explanations given as to the symbol of the light: our ability to bring light and warmth at a dark time of year to those who need it, a symbol of the resilience of our people. And I would like to offer one more:

We are taught in the Second Book of the Maccabees that Chanukah is actually the festival of Succot but delayed.

At Succot, it is customary to invite ushpizin, honoured guests into our succah, people who have inspired us, who are dear and meaningful to us, be they alive or not. As we light each candle at Chanukah, I would like to think that it is an opportunity to honour those supporting actors in our life, honouring their words and actions which have impacted us, to share their teachings and their lessons.


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