Parashat Vayesheb: The Benefits of Misvot
We read in Parashat Vayesheb the difficult story of Yosef and his brothers. The Torah describes the enmity that the brothers felt toward Yosef, and their decision to sell him as a slave. Among the many questions that have been asked regarding this incident is how God allowed Yosef to suffer harm when, at his father’s behest, he traveled to Shechem to check on his brothers. Our Hachamim taught us a famous rule known as "Sheluheh Misva Enam Nizokim" – people do not suffer harm while involved in performing Misvot. When a person goes to do a Misva, Hashem grants him special protection from harm. The question thus arises, how could Yosef meet this tragic fate, of being thrown into a pit and then sold into slavery, when he was fulfilling the Misva of honoring parents? His father instructed him to visit his brothers, and he obediently complied. Why was he not granted God’s protection? What happened to the rule of "Sheluheh Misva Enam Nizokim"?
The Or Ha’haim (Rav Haim Ben-Attar, 1696-1743) suggested an answer that is very relevant to our lives. He explains that in truth, Yosef did not suffer harm as a result of this Misva. Although he was sold as a slave, this sequence of events ultimately turned out to be a great blessing. It was decreed that Am Yisrael would endure exile in a foreign land, and as a result of Yosef’s sale as a slave in Egypt, Beneh Yisrael moved to Egypt under the protection of the Egyptian government, as Yosef rose to the position of viceroy. And, because of Yosef, grain was stored in Egypt ahead of the years of drought, thus ensuring that Beneh Yisrael would be supported during this harsh period. Yosef himself tells his brothers later in Sefer Bereshit (50:20) that although they intended to cause him harm, Hashem worked it out for everyone’s benefit. Thus, Yosef’s experiences are entirely consistent with the principle of "Sheluheh Misva Enam Nizokim." Although he suffered short-term harm, in the long-run, his Misva of obeying his father yielded enormous benefit for himself, his father and his brothers.
We know situations where, unfortunately, a person was struck by tragedy as a result of a Misva. Such incidents can pose a enormous challenge to one’s faith in the value of Misvot. The story of Yosef must remind us that Misva performance is always to our long-term benefit. We cannot always understand how, just as Yosef likely could not understand how his status as a slave in a foreign land would prove beneficial. But we must retain our faith under all circumstances that Misvot are beneficial. "Sheluheh Misva Enam Nizokim" – people involved in Misvot will always benefit from the Misvot they perform. Somehow, in the end, the Misvot will prove to have been to their benefit, even if in the short-term this benefit cannot be seen. We can draw inspiration and encouragement from the remarkable story of Yosef, bolstering our faith in the ultimate value of Misvot, even when we cannot immediately recognize this value.