One of the central stories of Parashat VaYeishev is Mechirat Yosef, the selling of Yosef. The Midrash states that as the brothers see Yosef approaching, they organize a Beit Din and decide that Yosef is a Rodeif, one who is trying to kill and therefore should be killed. However, Reuven steps in and proclaims that they should not kill him; rather, they should throw him into a pit. Reuven, planning on returning to the pit later to rescue Yosef, suggests this alternative. The brothers then follow Reuven’s suggestion, throw Yosef into the pit, and contemplate what they should do with him. The Pasuk states (BeReishit 37:25), “VaYeishevu Le’echol Lechem VaYis’u Eineihem VaYir’u VeHinei Orechat Yishme’eilim Ba’ah MiGil’ad U’Gmaleihem Nose’im Nechot U’Tzri VaLot Holechim LeHorid Mitzraimah,” “and they sat down to eat bread…and behold a company of Yishme'eilim came from Gilad with their camels carrying spices, balsam, and birthwort.” While the mentioning of the Yishme’elim seems necessary, their camels and possessions do not; why must the Torah include what the camels are carrying, and what is its significance?
Rashi (ad. loc. s.v. U’Gmaleihem Nose’im...) explains that usually caravans carry kerosene and resin, which are used for fuel, and smell very bad. In contrast, the caravan on which Yosef is placed has different items. Hashem, not wanting Yosef to have to smell such stenches, places him specifically on this caravan. This interpretation, however, raises another question. Yosef is being sold to Egypt, away from his family, with nothing whatsoever; how could a good smell possibly console him?
The answer lies within Rashi’s interpretation itself. Rashi states that a good smell can console Yosef even though Yosef’s current predicament seems horrible. Rashi’s comment hints to Yosef’s important characteristic of being able to see the hand of God in all situations, even bleak ones. Yosef demonstrates this trait in other instances as well. For example, Yosef sees the hand of God while in the house of Potifar, while in prison, and while interpreting Paroh’s dreams. Yosef is also able to see God’s hand during his good times, such as when he is Mishneh LeMelech, the second-in-command of Egypt.
The Chafetz Chaim asks why, in Birkat HaChodesh, we ask Hashem for Yir’at Shamayim, then for Osher VeChavod, and then again for Yir’at Shamayim. He explains that we first ask Hashem for Yir’at Shamayim, and then for Yirat Shamayim after we have Osher VeChavod. This repeated request is for Yirat Shamyim when our lives are going well and also when our lives are not going well.
It is easy to ignore Hashem’s involvement in difficult times, but we must remember that Hashem has a reason for everything He does. In addition, many people forget about Hashem even when they prosper, believing that their success is due only to their hard work. Although human effort is important, everything, including the ability to do hard work, comes from Hashem. As Jews, it is our job to act like Yosef, who sees Hashem’s hand in all of his life experiences.