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Parsha Vayeishev

11/29/2018 07:30:37 PM

Nov29

In the shevatim’s nefarious plot to murder their brother Yosef, there are two leaders who protect Yosef and ensure that he is not murdered- Reuven and Yehuda.  In the words of the Torah, Revuen heard and saved Yosef from their hands, clearly showing that Reuven saved Yosef with his initiative of throwing Yosef in a pit.  In Vayikra Rabba, the Midrash says that had Reuven known that the Torah would write And Reuven saved him, he would have lifted Yosef on his shoulders and returned him to Yaakov.  There are different ways of interpreting the value of this Midrash, but perhaps another Midrash can shed light on the motivation for Reuven’s actions.  

In our Parsha, Bereishis Rabba writes that Reuven saved Yosef because he was pleasantly surprised to find himself included in Yosef’s dreams.  After Reuven sinned in Vayeitzei with switching his father’s bed to his mother’s tent, he felt rejected and disconnected from the holy family of Yaakov.  In fact, his guilt led him to believe that he was destined to be eternally spurned from Judaism, but that all changed when Yosef’s dream referred to 11 stars bowing to Yosef.  While the rest of the shevatim were incensed by Yosef’s dream, Rueven was overjoyed to find himself included with the shevatim and was not upset by the context of the inclusion.  

Every human being desires to be better than they actually are, and wishes to act in commensurate way with their ideal values, but sometimes, this proves to be a formidable task.  One key variable in motivation can  be the way we value what we are doing, and this simple shift in attitude can make it much easier to perform the way we’d like.  The more we think we matter, the more it matters to us and the more motivated we become to do the right thing.  It is fascinating to note that in the Hebrew language, the word for significance and the word for thought are the exact same root- חשׁב.  The relativity of importance and significance creates that it is our thoughts that dictate the value of anything around us, and what we regard as important is therefore now valuable.  This is true in real economics, but also true in spiritual economics of how we regard and ascribe value to anything we do.  We are ultimately worth what we think we are worth.  In the Midrash’s point that Reuven would have done so much more had he known the Torah would write about it, the idea is not that Reuven was motivated by what people would say about him, but rather that Reuven did not realize just how important he was.  Had he known that his actions would be analyzed and that he was acting as a leader and role model for the future, he would have ascribed greater value to his actions and found greater motivation. 

In this light, it can be said that the Midrash’s point that Reuven saved Yosef because he found himself included in the 11 stars was not that Reuven was grateful necessarily to Yosef, bur rather that Reuven discovered newfound self-worth and confidence to matter when he heard himself included.  Instead of taking his esteemed status for granted, Reuven had felt the bitter pain of rejection from mattering, and once he rediscovered that he did matter and in a big way, he found new rushes of motivation to act accordingly.  Whether it was intentional or not, Yosef showed Reuven that he mattered again, and that is the greatest gift one can receive.  There are many different methods and approaches for educators and leaders to motivate other people, and perhaps the simplicity of this message is lost on the world at large.  Our minds and thoughts tell us whether we matter or not, and this mindset is the number one source for confidence and courage to do what we wish we could do.   

Sun, March 24 2019 17 Adar II 5779