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Torah Tuesdays with Hennie Black- Parshat Vayeshev




In this week’s Torah portion of Vayeshev, Yaakov asks his son Yosef to check on his brothers who are shepherding in the fields.

The brothers are filled with jealousy for Yosef, as he was his father’s most beloved son. Yosef also dreamt several dreams that he shared with his brothers, foretelling that he was destined to rule over them. Because of this, the brothers’ jealousy grew to the point that they wanted to kill Yosef, and they began to plot his demise as they saw him approaching them in the fields.

Reuven, the eldest brother, suggested that they throw him into a pit instead of killing him, “Don’t shed any blood. Throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but don’t lay a hand on him.”

Reuven hoped to come back later when his brothers were not around, take him out of the pit, and bring him back safely to his father, Yaakov. But unfortunately his plan did not work out.

When Reuven returned to the pit, he saw that his brother was no longer there! While the brothers feasted a way off, a band of Midianite merchants passed by the pit and heard Yosef’s screams. They pulled him out and sold him to a Ishmaelite caravan. Reuven, believing that Yosef has died, ripped his clothing in mourning.

What should Reuven’s legacy be? Should his good intentions redound to his credit or not? It is true that he wanted to save Yosef, but ultimately he failed to accomplish his mission. The Midrash tells us that had Reuven known that his future legacy could have been different; had he known that the Torah would have recorded that he, in fact, saved Yosef, he would have “carried him [Yosef] back to his father on his shoulders.”

Is the Midrash saying that Reuven may have been motivated to take a different course of action if only he knew how much publicity and exposure he would get? While this motivation hardly seems noble, the truth is if we think about how history will record our actions, we would likely behave differently today.

Perhaps if Reuven understood that he had an important and positive role in the unfolding of Jewish history, his entire thought processes would likely have been different. If Reuven saw himself as a part of the larger Jewish story, he may have been more inclined to do more.

Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks z”l shares his thoughts about what could have been: “If only Reuven had known what we know. If only he had been able to read the book.  But we never can read the book that tells of the long-term consequences of our acts.  We never know how much we affect the lives of others.”

We do not know the outcome of our life’s story. The truth is we live each and every day without thinking about the long term impact we may have. We do not think about the butterfly effect of our actions, as we carry out the mundane actions of our ordinary lives.

The more we think we matter and the more we think about the long-term consequences of our actions, the more confidence we will have to do the right thing and be a light unto others. 

Eventually, we will all look back on our lives and reflect upon our legacy. How did we impact the world? How will our story be recorded? Let us write a story that we would be proud to read.

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