The Torah tells that as Yosef journeyed from Chevron to check on his brothers, as Yaakov had instructed, an unnamed man found him “wandering about in in the field” (37:15), and the man asked Yosef what he was looking for. Yosef said he was looking for his brothers who were shepherding their herds, and the man directed Yosef towards Dotan. Rashi, citing the Midrash, comments that this mysterious man was, in fact, an angel, who had apparently been sent by God to direct Yosef to his brothers.
Rabboteinu Ba’alei Ha-Tosafot cite those who add that when the Torah describes this angel as finding Yosef “wandering about in the field,” it means that he informed Yosef about Benei Yisrael’s future exiles. Yosef’s “wandering” on that occasion foreshadowed not only the upheavals and instability that he was about to begin experiencing personally, but also the upheavals and instability of the numerous Jewish exiles, the first of which – the Egyptian enslavement – was beginning to unfold at that time.
What significance might there be to this symbolism of Yosef’s “wandering about in the field,” which represented the Jews’ “wandering” in exile?
Rav Dov Weinberger, in Shemen Ha-tov, suggests focusing on the question which the angel posed to Yosef: “Ma tevakesh” – “What are you looking for?” Rabboteinu Ba’alei Ha-Tosafot perhaps sought to remind us that even in the throes of exile, even as we deal with the hardships and challenges of living in an unredeemed world, we must try to remain focused on our ultimate goal and purpose. Even when it might outwardly appear that we are “wandering about” aimlessly, lost and without purpose, we must ensure that we are, in truth, living with the clear aim and objective of serving our Creator. At all times, even in periods of adversity, we should ask ourselves, “Ma tevakesh,” and conduct our lives with a sense of direction, meaning and purpose.