Parshas Vayeishev begins perhaps the most difficult story in the Torah, Yosef being sold into slavery by his brothers. Why Yosef antagonized the brothers, why the brothers believed they were justified in selling Yosef, why this was necessary in order to get Yaakov to go to Mitzrayim, are just some of the questions that require an explanation. But during all this, there is a detail discussed in Chazal that reveals an amazing idea.
When the brothers began to deal with Yosef, they first decided that he deserved to be killed (again, another question that requires an explanation). However, Reuven stepped in and stopped them. “וַיִּשְׁמַע רְאוּבֵן וַיַּצִּלֵהוּ מִיָּדָם” “And Reuven heard, and he rescued him from their hand” (Bereishis 37:21). He convinces them to instead throw Yosef in a pit where he would die of natural causes instead of directly by their hands. However, pasuk 22 reveals to us that his intentions all along were to come back later and rescue Yosef himself. The medrash discusses this and explains that this shows us that a person should perform every mitzvah with a full heart and true intentions. If Reuven had known that for this small act of placing Yosef in the pit, Hashem would write this deed in the Torah and give Reuven credit for saving Yosef’s life, he would have carried Yosef back to Yaakov on his own shoulders (Vayikra Rabba 34:8). Meaning, he would have had even truer intentions and a bigger heart.
Rav Yaakov Kaminetzky asks a simple question on this medrash. Was the only reason Reuven would have carried Yosef back in order to receive more prestige by having his actions written in the Torah for everyone to see? Let’s say Hashem wouldn’t have written it down, didn’t Reuven still have an obligation to do more to save his brother?
When Reuven saved Yosef, he thought he was saving his brother’s life, a great act in of itself. However, if he would have brought him back home, he could have prevented the entire family from going down to Mitzrayim! He didn’t realize this simple action could have historical consequences. If he would have understood the potential of this situation, that this small act justified a pasuk in the Torah, and an even bigger act would have had an even bigger generational impact, of course he would have done even more! It’s not about the honor that comes with being mentioned in the Torah, it’s about the understanding of your place in history and what your actions mean.
Continues Reb Yaakov, the same is true nowadays. Even though nothing can be added to the Torah, it doesn’t mean that our acts don’t have value; that they don’t have the potential to change the world. The medrash ends by saying that now that there are no prophets to write down the good deeds of the Jews, Hashem, Eliyahu, and Mashiach write them down. When Mashiach comes, they will be told publicly in order to inspire the nation. Every good deed is accounted for, and every deed done by a Jew can shape the future of our nation. So why settle for a small act? Even the smallest acts have value; maximize the intent of the act in order to maximize the impact on the Jewish People.
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