Parshas Vayaishev '08

This weeks Parsha is Parshas Vayaishev. In the Parsha we read of the tragic episode of Joseph and his brothers. The Torah tells us that at first the brothers decided to kill Joseph. (Genesis 37:20) (Obviously the brothers were not a band of low-life murderers. Rather, based on Joseph’s recounting of his dreams to them, they felt he had the status of one who was trying to kill them, for which they had every right to protect themselves. See Sforno 37:18) Reuven spoke up and saved Joseph. He told them, “Let us not be the ones to strike him. Let us put him in the pit that is before us”, - saying so in order to save Joseph and later bring him back to Jacob. (Genesis 37:22) The Medrash makes a famous comment regarding this episode. “A person should always do a mitzvah full heartedly. If Reuven would have known that the Torah would write regarding him, “and Reuven heard and saved him from their hands”, he would have carried him on his shoulders to his father.” What does the Medrash mean to teach us? Was Reuven doing this mitzvah for approval ratings?

Rav Eliyahu Meir Bloch, the late Rosh Yeshiva of the Tels Yeshiva, offered the following explanation: We find that many periods of history are described in but a few words in the Torah. On the other hand, there are small periods of time that are described in the Torah at great length. In the life of Abraham and Moses we find entire periods of time that are barely discussed. Other periods of their life are dwelled upon in very great length. The reason for this is because only the Torah knows exactly how to determine how important any specific deed or time period are. When Reuven came to save Joseph, he knew that he was doing something good. However, he did not realize at all just how special this moment would be considered for eternity in the Torah. The proclamation “And Reuven heard and saved him from their hands” was an eternal statement of utmost importance to Reuven’s deed. If Reuven would have realized this, he would have added something to this mitzvah. The lesson the Medrash is teaching us is that every good deed that we do may contain consequences of eternal dimensions. Although it may not be evident to us as we do it, we should feel its special significance and unique value.

In the commentary Siach Yitzchak, another thought is offered. Many times a person does a mitzvah, but isn’t really sure if he or she is really doing the right thing. When Reuven decided to save Joseph, he was going against the consensus of his brothers, that Joseph deserved to be put to death. Although he decided to save him, the fact that there was a possibility that perhaps Joseph shouldn’t be saved, made him feel that it was good enough to just put him into the pit. If he would have known that it was absolutely the will of Hashem that Joseph be saved, he would have carried him to Jacob on his shoulders.

This feeling, he explains, constantly presents itself to us whenever we do a mitzvah. Often when we do a mitzvah, we do it with only part of our energy. If we would realize how precious and priceless every mitzvah we do is, the excitement and energy we would have for the mitzvah would be truly astronomical. This is what the Medrash means – when we do a mitzvah, we should do it with our whole heart – with all the excitement and joy that we feel when we do the most special thing in the world.