As they sat down to eat their meal, they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. Their camels were loaded with spices, balm and myrrh, and they were on their way to take them down to Egypt. — Genesis 37:25
The Torah portion for this week, Vayeishev, which means “and he lived,” is from Genesis 37:1—40:23, and the Haftorah is from Amos 2:6—3:8.
Life has a way of taking us down some very unfamiliar roads. We might end up somewhere we never thought we would be, and we feel like it’s all a big mistake. However, as we learn from this week’s Torah reading, God knows exactly where we are going and precisely where we need to end up. No matter how things may look, God is always on the throne and everything is as it should be.
Imagine for a moment that a small child has fallen asleep in a car and wakes up to find a stranger driving it. The child is afraid. He thinks that he might have been kidnapped and that something is terribly wrong. The stranger tries to reassure the child, but the child refuses to calm down. Finally, the driver pulls over and hands the boy a bag of food so that he might eat. When the child opens the bag, he finally believes that he is in good hands. The lunch is the same exact lunch that his mother has packed him every day of his life. The child realizes that his mother must have packed the lunch and that she knows exactly where he is. Everything is all right.
In this week’s Torah portion, Joseph is sold into slavery. Scripture informs us that the Ishmaelites who bought Joseph were transporting good-smelling spices. The Jewish sages explain that usually Ishmaelite caravans contained bad-smelling spices. However, God caused a miracle for Joseph’s sake, and on this particular day, had them transport good-smelling spices instead.
The sages teach that God was sending Joseph a message. We can imagine Joseph’s state of mind as his very own brothers sold him into slavery. He must have been thinking that it was all a terrible mistake. This couldn’t possibly be God’s plan for him! And yet, God sent him a sign. God sent the unusual occurrence of good-smelling spices on a usually unpleasant Ishmaelite caravan in order to reassure Joseph that God was right by his side. As confusing as things seemed, God was still running the show. He knew exactly where Joseph was and precisely where he was going and was letting him know everything would be all right.
Know today that the challenges that we have in our lives are no surprise to God. He’s not sitting up there scratching His head wondering how we got where we are in life. God is orchestrating everything and He knows the plan. Sometimes, if we pay attention, we may just see a sign – an unusual occurrence, a good break, an extra kindness. God is telling us that He is right by our side and that everything will work out right. We are in good hands — God’s hands.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President