- Written by Ari Kayser
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Yaakov Avinu told Yosef to go see how his brothers were doing down in Shchem. So Yosef went, and found a man who was lost on the way. The man asked “What do you seek?” to which Yosef replied “I am looking for my brothers, tell me where they are shepherding”. The man replied “They went from here and I heard them saying ‘Let us go to Dotan’”. Our Sages tell us that this man was the angel Gavriel.
We know that angels are sent with only one task to perform, and that every time they appear, it represents a different facet of the same task. Gavriel’s mission is as his name states: to show the might and strength of Hashem. We see this, for example, when he was sent to destroy the city of Sodom. It would also seem that there is an important principle that only when there is a large force going against the will of Hashem would it be necessary to send an angel to counter against that force.
If so, the question is twofold: what was the force in our case which was going against Hashem’s will that required the sending of such a “powerful” angel as Gavriel? And more, Gavriel ended up directing Yosef to his brothers in Shchem causing him to then be sold as a slave to Egypt, which most commentaries hold to be the beginning of the exile of the Jewish people, so why would Gavriel do such a thing in the name of Hashem?
To understand the answer, we need first to understand a principle which the Maharal from Prague discusses (Netzach Yisrael chapter 1). He quotes a Mishna in Pirkei Avot which states that every thing has a place. In deeper philosophical terms the “place” is a necessary requirement for the possible existence of that “thing”, in other words it gives life, so to speak, to the thing in question. We see this in science that all objects occupy space, it is a necessary requirement of all objects in existence. That is, in fact, why Hashem Himself is called HaMakom, the Place, as He creates a space for things to live and thus gives life to all things. The Maharal continues and says that the laws of nature dictate that things will naturally return to “their true place”, as not doing so would necessitate an inability to exist. Just like a plant in the ground gets its life-sustaining nourishment from the earth below it, if it were uprooted, it would begin to decompose; so too, any creation in the world serving its purpose is being nourished by its life-giving source, its place, and if uprooted to another place it would not be able to sustain itself. The Jewish people, who were promised eternal existence, but currently find themselves in exile, must therefore return to their true place eventually. Thus the biggest proof of their future redemption is the very exile itself!
With this principle, we can begin to understand our passage above. The strong force going against the will of Hashem that required the might of Gavriel to oppose it, was that of the Satan. The Satan tried to prevent Yosef from reaching his brothers, because he realised that this would lead to their selling him, eventually causing all the Jewish people to go down into exile in Egypt, and if that happened they would surely be redeemed (as explained by the Maharal). The redemption of the Jewish people would represent an even closer relationship to Hashem than had they not experienced the hardships of the exile at all. Therefore the Satan wanted to prevent the whole process from taking place! As a result, Hashem sent the angel Gavriel to counter this force and directed Yosef to his brothers and eventually into exile, as through the process of exile and the ultimate redemption, the Jews would have attained an even higher relationship and connection with Hashem.
Another clue to this great show of force that the angel Gavriel had displayed through his exchange with Yosef, is seen in an analysis of the words he spoke. Firstly he said “Ma tevakesh?” (What do you seek?), and then two verses later “Nas’u mi’zeh ki shamati omrim nelchah Dotanah” (They went from here and I heard them saying ‘Let us go to Dotan’). Gavriel said nine words in total (note: some of the words are written in full and others with letters “missing”). The numerical value of all the words Gavriel spoke, adds up to exactly 2,800 which is the value of koach (28), meaning strength, multiplied by one hundred, to show what a tremendous force of strength was at play here. What seems like a meaningless exchange of words at first glance, was in fact a very significant encounter. It could also be noted how great the opposing force of the Satan must have been to require this huge counter-force of Gavriel. This shows the extent to which the forces of evil in the world will go to prevent the Jewish people from attaining a deeper relationship with Hashem. It also shows just how important a relationship with Him must be.