Scents of Appreciation by Yoni Levine


Parashat VaYeishev deals with the sale of Yosef. After the brothers throw Yosef into the pit and decide what to do with him, the Torah states, “VaYeishevu LeEchol Lechem VaYis’u Eineihem VaYir’u VeHinei Orechat Yishme’eilim Ba’ah MiGil’ad UGmaleihem Nose’im Nechot UTzri VaLot Holechim LeHorid Mitzraymah,” "And they sat down to eat bread, and they lifted up their eyes and looked, and behold, a company of Yishme'eilim came from Gilad with their camels carrying aromatic gum, balm, and ladanum, going to carry it down to Mitzrayim" (BeReishit 37:25). Why does the Torah deem it necessary for us to know what the camels were carrying?

Rashi, quoting the Mechilta (BeShalach 2:5), teaches that the Torah is informing us of the reward for the righteous. Usually caravans to Egypt carried kerosene and resin used for fuel, which had unpleasant odors. However, the caravan which carried Yosef to Mitzrayim had pleasant-smelling spices because of his righteousness. Yosef was not subjected to the unpleasant odors on his journey to Egypt.

At face value, such reward would seem to be little consolation for Yosef. He was being sold as a slave by his brothers. How would something as minor as pleasant-smelling merchandise on the caravan taking him to Mitzrayim ease his tragedy? The answer is that this was a subtle hint from Hashem to Yosef, a message to him that all was not lost - that he should appreciate the Hand of Hashem that guides his life and supplies him with minor pleasures to enhance his life. This is a sign that all that happen to someone has a divine purpose; nothing is meaningless.

This is an important lesson for anyone undergoing a difficult life situation. Upon facing painful experiences, we might make an excuse to become lost in self-pity and despair. It is easy to focus solely on what is going wrong with our lives and not to focus on all the wonderful things that Hashem does for us. However, we need to sniff out the pleasant-smelling odors, so to speak. Be aware of any positive aspects. Don't ignore anything that you can possibly appreciate. These minor satisfactions are messengers of Hashem. It is important for a person to always look at things in a positive manner, and even when in the lowest of the low, as Yosef’s descent to slavery and Egypt really was, a person should allow his himself to look at a bad situation positively, and not think that Hashem is making his life terrible and that nothing is good in his life. We should learn to see every situation as a means to help you reach our ultimate potentials in this world, just like Yosef did.

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