If I Had the Chance to Do it Over...

In life we strive to make the best choices based on our insight, experience, and projection of the outcome of our decisions. Yet, if we do not take care in these decisions, we can miss important opportunities that we might never have again.

In Parsha Vayeshev, the Joseph narrative is perplexing, surrounded by jealousy, perceived favoritism, and deception. The verses say in black and white terms that the brothers despised Joseph because of his multicolored tunic as well as his sharing his dreams of grandeur.

                                                                                                                                                                Genesis 37:4-5

וַיִּרְא֣וּ אֶחָ֗יו כִּֽי־אֹת֞וֹ אָהַ֤ב אֲבִיהֶם֙ מִכׇּל־אֶחָ֔יו וַֽיִּשְׂנְא֖וּ אֹת֑וֹ וְלֹ֥א יָכְל֖וּ דַּבְּר֥וֹ לְשָׁלֹֽם וַיַּחֲלֹ֤ם יוֹסֵף֙ חֲל֔וֹם וַיַּגֵּ֖ד לְאֶחָ֑יו וַיּוֹסִ֥פוּ ע֖וֹד שְׂנֹ֥א אֹתֽוֹ׃

And when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of his brothers, they hated him so that they could not speak a friendly word to him. Once Joseph had a dream which he told to his brothers; and they hated him even more.

When Joseph arrives at the scene of his brothers, they actually conspire to kill him. However, the eldest brother Reuben stands up and proposes an alternate plan:


וַיֹּ֨אמֶר אֲלֵהֶ֣ם  רְאוּבֵן֮ אַל־תִּשְׁפְּכוּ־דָם֒ הַשְׁלִ֣יכוּ אֹת֗וֹ אֶל־הַבּ֤וֹר הַזֶּה֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר בַּמִּדְבָּ֔ר וְיָ֖ד אַל־תִּשְׁלְחוּ־ב֑וֹ לְמַ֗עַן הַצִּ֤יל אֹתוֹ֙ מִיָּדָ֔ם לַהֲשִׁיב֖וֹ אֶל־אָבִֽיו׃

And Reuben said, “Shed no blood! Cast him into that pit out in the wilderness, but do not touch him yourselves”—intending to save him from them and restore him to his father.

This was quite strategic and sensitive of Reuben, but his plan did not pan out. He was too late:

When Reuben returned to the pit to rescue Joseph, he was gone, as the other brothers already sold him into slavery. Reuben was horrified and cried out:                       

Genesis 37:30

וַיָּ֥שׇׁב אֶל־אֶחָ֖יו וַיֹּאמַ֑ר הַיֶּ֣לֶד אֵינֶ֔נּוּ וַאֲנִ֖י אָ֥נָה אֲנִי־בָֽא׃

“The boy is gone! Now, what am I to do?”

Despite the fact that Joseph eventually becomes the viceroy of Egypt and rescues his family and civilization from a world famine, Reuben will forever remembered for the fact that he did not rescue his brother. He returned to the pit just a bit too late.

How can relate this concept to our lives? Do we embrace opportunities to help our brothers and sisters in distress with eagerness? Or do we get to it when we get to it?

The Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey and the Jewish Federations of North America nationally are there instantly when the call of our brothers and sisters is heard. Whether in the Ukraine, in Israel, or locally, Federation is there because people like you hear the call and answer generously so we can take care of those in need.

Thank you for being there and not only following Reuben’s lead with great intentions, but also for stepping up with alacrity.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Epstein
Community Scholar in Residence