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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Vayeshev

Parashat Vayeshev

Intentions Count

Reuven beseeches his brothers not to kill Yosef; Maybe he really wanted to save his brother?; wasn’t Yaakov fulfilling his parents’ request that he go find a wife? - so why was he punished for it?;
Dedicated to the memory of
Amram son of Sultana
Intentions count. That seems to be one of the themes of Vayeshev.
At his father’s behest, Yosef goes looking for his brothers in Shechem. He knows it’s a dangerous assignment, and when he sees his brothers aren’t there, he could have returned home and told his father he couldn’t find them. Instead, he persists until he finds "the man," an angel, who directs him to Dotan. (Rashbam)

Reuven beseeches his brothers not to kill Yosef, proposing that they throw him into a pit instead. The Torah tells us that his intention was to come back later and rescue him and Rashi says that his motive was to evade blame (since he was the first-born). The Maharshal asks, Why doesn’t Rashi give Reuven the benefit of the doubt? Maybe he really wanted to save his brother?
Answer: If Reuven’s intentions had been so lofty he, and not Yehuda, would have received the most favorable blessing from Ya’acov.

When the brothers show their father Yosef’s bloody cloak, Ya’acov concludes that Yosef has been killed and begins a period of mourning that lasts 22 years. Rashi says that Ya’acov’s 22 years of mourning were a consequence of the 22 years he spent with Lavan, when he did not honor his parents. But wasn’t he fulfilling his parents’ request that he go find a wife?
Rabbenu Bechaye answers: If his motive had been solely to find a wife, he would have taken Leah and returned home immediately. In staying longer to acquire Rachel, he showed that his real intention was not meeting his parents’ demands, but his own needs.

Whether the mitzvah is respecting our parents or yishuv Eretz Yisrael it is critical that we examine our motives and make sure that they are not excuses for not doing what the Torah demands of us.

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