In this week’s Torah portion, Vayeishev (Gen. 37:1 – 40:23) Jacob’s older sons are pasturing their father’s flocks at Shechem, and Jacob sends Joseph, his favored son, out to join them. He can’t find them, and is wandering in the fields when he sees a man who asks him what he is looking for. He says he is looking for his brothers and the man says, “I heard them say they were going to Dothan”. Joseph went to Dothan, and we know the rest of the story. His brothers take his coat of many colors from him, throw him in a pit to die, and he is picked up by a traveling band of traders who bring him to Egypt. So begins the history of the Israelite people in Egypt, which will end with exodus, redemption and revelation, and the eternal covenant between God and the people of Israel.
Without the unnamed man who Joseph met in the fields of Shechem these crucial events may never have come about. Maimonides comments that he was no ordinary man, but an angel sent to make sure that Joseph completes his task. Like Joseph, we don’t know where our journey will lead. We may not recognize the angels along our path who guide our destiny. We are even less likely to recognize when we act as an angel for another person.