This Shabbos we read Parshas Vayaishev. In the Parsha we read of the story of the struggle between Joseph and his brothers. The Torah tells us that the brothers wanted to kill Joseph. The commentators explain that while there was a root of feelings of jealousy that motivated them to feel this way, they did feel that they were justified in their actions. They reasoned that Joseph, with his dreams and tale bearing to his father about them, was trying to kill them and had the status of a rodeph – of someone who is chasing someone to kill them. A rodeph is put to death to stop him from killing the person he is chasing. The brothers felt that they had the right to kill Joseph to stop him from trying to kill them.
When Reuven, the oldest of the brothers, heard of their plans, he decided to save Joseph. “And Reuven heard (of their plans) and he saved him (Joseph) from them” (the brothers). (Genesis 37:21) He told them to throw Joseph into a pit instead of actively killing him, intending that to return to the pit later and take him out. The Medrash tells us that “if Reuven would have known that the Torah would write about him that he (Reuven) heard of this plot and saved him, he would have carried him to safety on his shoulders”. What does this mean? Was Reuven doing what he did just to get credit for it?
Rav Eliyahu Meir Bloch, the late head of the Tels Yeshiva, offered a beautiful thought. When we look at the history offered in the Torah, there are stories that are described at great length, while there are entire periods spanning many years that are not mentioned at all. For example, while the Torah tells us at great length about the lives of Abraham and Moses, there is barely a mention of what went on in their life from when they were teens till they were over 50. We can’t measure how important certain episodes are that need to be taught to us, and what is not needed. When the Almighty decided to record an incident in the Torah, He showed us that this incident is important for us to know about for eternity.
When Reuven decided to save Joseph, he felt that this was the right thing for him to do. However, he had no idea what importance this would be given in the Torah - to the point where it would be recorded there for eternity. If Reuven would have known how important the Torah considered the act he was doing, he would have treated it in a more special way. The Medrash is trying to teach us a lesson in how we look at our own deeds. Rather than thinking that we are simply doing something nice, we have to realize that the things we do are being recorded for eternity.