Parshas Vayeishev - The nes of Yosef's survival in the pit

The passuk says in this week’s sedrah (37:24)

וַיִּקָּחֻהוּ וַיַּשְׁלִכוּ אֹתוֹ הַבֹּרָה וְהַבּוֹר רֵק אֵין בּוֹ מָיִם

And they took him and they threw him into the pit and the pit was empty, it had no water in it.

The Medrash Tanchuma comments on this passuk

"וְהַבּוֹר רֵק אֵין בּוֹ מָיִם": "אמר רב כהנא, דרש רב נתן בר מניומי משמיה דרב תנחום: מאי דכתיב (בראשית לז) "וְהַבּוֹר רֵק אֵין בּוֹ מָיִם". ממשמע שנאמר: "וְהַבּוֹר רֵק" איני יודע שאין בו מים? אלא מה תלמוד לומר "אֵין בּוֹ מָיִם" - מים אין בו, אבל נחשים ועקרבים יש בו."

If the passuk says, the pit was empty, we know it contained no water. Why does the passuk say “It had no water in it”? This teaches you that it contained no water, but it did contain snakes and scorpions.

Thus it was a nes that Yosef survived in the pit.

The Medrash Rabbah says (100:8)

וַיָּשָׁב יוֹסֵף מִצְרַיְמָה הוּא וְאֶחָיו וְכָל הָעֹלִים אִתּוֹ לִקְבֹּר אֶת אָבִיו אַחֲרֵי קָבְרוֹ אֶת אָבִיו. וַיִּרְאוּ אֲחֵי יוֹסֵף כִּי מֵת אֲבִיהֶם וַיֹּאמְרוּ לוּ יִשְׂטְמֵנוּ יוֹסֵף וְהָשֵׁב יָשִׁיב לָנוּ אֵת כָּל הָרָעָה אֲשֶׁר גָּמַלְנוּ אֹתוֹ. וגו' רבי יצחק אמר הלך והציץ באותו הבור א"ר תנחומא הוא לא נתכוון אלא לשם שמים והם לא אמרו כן אלא לו ישטמנו יוסף ויצוו אל יוסף לאמר אביך צוה וגו'

“When Yosef and the brothers returned to Mitzrayim, the brothers were afraid that Yosef would hate them and take revenge for selling him. Why did they think this? Rabbi Yitzchak and Rabbi Tanchum explained that when Yosef was returning to Mitzrayim he looked into the pit that the brothers had thrown him into. The brothers thought that he was remembering what they had done to him, however Yosef had looked into the pit in order to make the berachah of שעשה לי נס במקום הזה.”

  • Why did the brothers not understand that Yosef looked into the pit in order to make a berachah?

The Meshech Chachmah explains as follows:

The Avudraham says (ספר אבודרהם פרק שמיני ברכת הראיה, השבח וההודאה)

הרואה מקום שנעשו בו נסים לישראל כגון מעברות ים סוף ומעברות הירדן... צריך ליתן שבח והודאה למקום בא"י אמ"ה שעשה נסים לאבותינו במקום הזה...

כתב ה"ר אשר מלוניל הא דמברכין בין אניסא דרבים בין אניסא דיחיד דוקא בנס שהוא יוצא ממנהג העולם או מדרך התולדה כגון מעברות הים ומעברות הירדן והדומה להם... אבל נס שהוא מנהג העולם ותולדתו כגון שבאו עליו גנבים בלילה ובא לידי סכנה וניצל וכיוצא בזה אינו חייב לברך שעשה לי נס במקום הזה... ובחנוכה לאו משום מעשה דיהודית מברכין שעשה נסים אלא משום פך השמן שהיה חתום בחותמו של כהן גדול ולא היה להדליק אלא יום אחד ונעשה בו נס והדליקו ממנו ח' ימים...

“The mishna says, ‘If someone sees a place where nissim were performed for klal yisrael such as the crossing of the Yam Suf and the crossing of the Yarden, has to make a beracha of שעשה נסים.’

Rabbeinu Asher from Lunil says that you only make a beracha on a nes when the nes went against the laws of nature, like the crossing of the Yam Suf and the crossing of the Yarden, and similar occurrences.

But for a nes which occurred within the laws of nature, such as where he was attacked by bandits and he was saved, or he came into some other danger and he was saved, he does not make a berachah.

The reason that we make a beracha on the nes of Chanukah is not because of the nes of Yehudis but is rather because of the nes of the jug of oil that was sealed with the seal of the kohen gadol which only contained enough oil to burn for one day and a nes occurred and they lit from it for eight days.”

Although the Avudraham differentiates between a nes that occurs within the laws of nature and a nes that occurs outside of the laws of the nature, it would appear that there is still a grey area which is not covered by this differentiation. For example, the Avudraham says that in a case where someone was saved from bandits, presumably by soldiers or other rescuers, that this not a nes galuy, because the events occurred within the boundaries of teva.

However, what is the halacha if someone was attacked by bandits, and then he was saved by the bandits being struck down by a meteorite? Would you say, since meteorites are a naturally occurring phenomenon and since it is possible for someone to be hit by a meteorite, therefore this is a nes that occurred within teva. Or would you say that since there is no probability that such an occurrence should happen so fortuitously, that we see the revealed Hand of Hashem, and he should make a beracha on the nes?

The Meshech Chachmah explains that halacha depends on the person’s level of bitachon. If a person would consider their life ended barring a nes, and then an event occurred which saved them, then this is classified as a nes on which he should make a beracha. However if a person was in a difficult situation and still trusted that Hashem would save them, and then they were saved, then this is not classified as a nes on which the person should make a beracha. Since the person did not think that it was outside the reasonable bounds of the way in which Hashem intervenes in the running of the world that they would be saved, therefore his being saved cannot be construed to be a nes galuy.

Hence it is possible that the same event would occur, and one person who is less of a baal bitachon would make a beracha, because he would see the event as a nes galuy, whereas someone else who is on a greater level of bitachon, would not make a berachah, since for him it was not unreasonable that the event occurred.

For the brothers, who had never exercised their bitachon in Mitzrayim, it was a nes galuy that Yosef became a king in Mitzrayim. However, for Yosef, who had demonstrated his bitachon against the power of Mitzrayim by fleeing Potiphar’s wife and by being successful in prison there, it was reasonable that Hashem should intervene to such an extent that he would become a king.

Therefore according to the brothers, Yosef could make a berachah on the nes of becoming the king, and he did not need to look into the pit to see a place where a nes galuy had occurred, in order for him to make a berachah. Therefore they concluded that he had looked into the pit in order to remind himself to take revenge. However Yosef himself could not make a beracha on becoming king, and therefore he looked into the pit so he could make a berachah.

Which is why the brothers misunderstood Yosef’s intentions in looking into the pit.


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