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What's in a Name?

By: Rabbi Jason Knapel

There are two themes in the Parsha that at first glance might seem contradictory but in essence are complimentary to each other and in fact form a basis for our hashkafa within Yahadut.
When Yaakov sends Yosef down towards the brothers to check on them, Yosef goes in the general direction of the brothers but is not exactly sure where to find them. The Torah tells us he chances upon an “ish”. Yosef ask the “ish” if he has seen the brothers and the “ish” responds they are in Dotan. What is the purpose of the Torah telling us this episode with the “ish”?  Why do we have to know how Yosef found the brothers? Rashi explains that the “ish” was really a malach (Gavriel) who was sent to make sure that Yosef found the brothers.
The message that Chaza”l are giving us is that Hashem was acting behind the scenes during the entire incident with Yosef and his brothers. Hashem was making sure that all the parties would meet up and that the confrontation was going to happen. In other words Hashem’s hand was moving history.
In another incident we see a somewhat opposite idea. Yehudah has relations with Tamar without knowing who she is and then when Tamar becomes pregnant he orders her to be killed. She is silent and does not say that it is Yehudah who is the father. She sends him a cryptic message that he is the father and he publically admits that he is wrong and that she is right – he takes full responsibility for his actions and thereby carves out his destiny as the true future leader for the Jewish people. Yehudah teaches us that we must take responsibility for what we do – it is we who control our actions and thereby our fate.
How do these two ideas work together? Is it that we control our destiny or is it Hashem? Are we the ones taking action or is it really Hashem who is leading us along like a puppet on a string. I am not sure of the answer and for many years have heard many ways to answer the question. I think (and it is only a thought) that in actuality it is both. From our point of view we have to do what we must to shape our lives and destinies. We cannot rely on the idea that it is all in the hands of G-d and whatever he wants will happen anyway so therefore I will be passive about my fate and destiny.
On the other hand we must realize Hashem has a grand design for the world - we are part of that design and we do have an important part to play in the design but ultimately it is Hashem who is the director and it is Hashem’s plan. It is He who leads us to certain situations and then hopes that we make the decisions that will advance Hashem’s cause in the world.
This is a great responsibility as well as privilege. We are part of something much bigger than ourselves and yet would be incomplete without us. We are ambassadors of Hashem in this world to make sure that the world follows the divine plan. Each one of us has an important role to play in shaping our destiny and the destiny of Hashem’s world-  may we all be zocheh to live up to our responsibilities as Yehudah did and to see Hashem’s hand as He guides us through history.