by Harav Mordechai Greenberg
Nasi HaYeshiva, Kerem B'Yavneh
Rashi, based on the Midrash, comments (Bereisheet 37:14):
He sent him from the depth of Hebron. But Hebron is on a hill! ... Rather, from the deep plan of that tzaddik (Avraham Avinu) who is buried in Hebron, to fulfill what was said to Avraham in the covenant between the pieces (brit bein habetarim), "Your offspring shall be aliens in a land not their own."
Clearly, Chazal do not mean that Yaakov knew where this errand would lead. Yaakov very much feared the descent to Egypt, and when he set out to meet with Yosef, G-d had to encourage him, "Have no fear of descending to Egypt." (Bereisheet 46:3) Rather, Chazal hint here to an important principle in Jewish philosophy. The Divine master plan is preordained, just that its implementation is generally carried out by man, through his own free will. Divine Providence often makes use of human actions to advance its plans, and sometimes it even leads man, in a hidden way, so that he will advance its goals.
The exile in Egypt was the result of the hatred and jealousy between brothers. Chazal warn us: "A person should never favor one child amongst the children. Because of two selaim's worth of fine material (for the striped cloak) that Yaakov gave Yosef more than the rest of his sons, his brothers became jealous of him, one thing led to another, and our forefathers descended to Egypt." (Shabbat 10b) Everyone knows, though, that this process does not begin in Parshat Vayeishev, but rather in Parshat Lech-Lecha, in the decree of bein habetarim. We wait to see how the Divine plan will materialize. Indeed, Chazal say that Yaakov deserved to go down in iron chains (i.e., by Divine decree), but G-d had compassion on his honor and brought his son down as King of Egypt, so that Yaakov would descend in honor. They give the metaphor of a cow that does not want to go to slaughter, so a calf is led before her, and she is drawn after it.
Indeed, the tribes complained about the fact that they were involved against their will in the execution of the Divine plan. On the pasuk, "Why Hashem do you let us stray from Your paths, letting our hearts become hardened from fearing You: Return for the sake of Your servants, the tribes of Your heritage" (Yeshaya 63:17), Chazal comment: When You wanted to -- you placed love in their hearts; and when you wanted to -- you placed hatred in their hearts. (Bereisheet Rabbah 84:17) The Netziv explains: To love -- in the episode of Dina; and to hate -- in the episode of Yosef. In these two episodes they sinned and were punished, despite the fact that they were not worthy of such action, were it not that Divine Providence desired that it should be so. Therefore, He aroused in their hearts at that time a great hatred and a great love.
Chazal express this idea vividly on our parsha (Midrash Tanchuma Vayeishev #4):
"Yosef was brought down to Egypt." (Bereisheet 39:1) That is what Scripture states, "Go and see the works of Hashem, He is awesome in deed (alilah) toward mankind." (Tehillim 46:9) R. Yehoshua b. Karcha says: "Even the awesome deeds that you bring upon us you bring with a pretext (`alilah)...
What is this comparable to? To a man who wanted to divorce his wife. When he planned to go to his house, he wrote a Get and entered his house with the Get in his hand. He sought a pretext to give her the Get. He said to her, "Pour me a cup to drink!" She poured for him. When he took the cup from her, he said to her, "Here is your Get!" She said to him, "What did I do wrong?" He said to her, "Leave my house, because you poured me a lukewarm cup." She said to him, "Did you know beforehand that I would pour you a lukewarm cup that you wrote a Get and brought it with you?!"
Similarly, it says about Yosef, "His brothers saw that it was he whom their father loved most," etc. G-d sought to fulfill the decree of "Know with certainty," and brought as pretext all these things, so that Yaakov should love Yosef, his brothers would hate him, they would sell him to the Yishmaelites, who would take him down to Egypt, and Yaakov would hear that Yosef is alive in Egypt, and he would go down with the tribes -- and they would be subjugated there.
This indicates that the brothers' hatred was not the cause for Israel's descent to Egypt, but the opposite is true. The need to descend to Egypt caused that the brothers should hate Yosef. "He sent him from the depths of Hebron -- from the deep plan of that tzaddik who is buried in Hebron.
This principle brings us to the difficult issue of the contradiction between Divine knowledge and free choice. Yet, the Netziv writes about this (Ha'amek Davar 3, 14):
This wonder is the famous question regarding knowledge and free choice. The well-known resolution is G-d's statement: "My thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not My ways." (Yeshaya 55:8) Thus, not everything that we find incomprehensible is incomprehensible to Him. It is clear that this is so.