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Good Intentions are Never Wasted
Reuven tries to rescue Yosef from the other brothers...
"And Reuven heard, and he saved him (Yosef) from their (the brothers') hands. And he (Reuven) said, 'Let us not smite a soul'. And Reuven said to them, 'Do not spill blood! Cast him into this pit which is in the desert, but do not harm him.' In order to save him from their hands, to return him to his father." (37:21,22)
Rashi explains that the concluding words, "In order to save him from their hands, to return him to his father," were not said by Reuven. Rather, these are the Torah's words, testifying to Reuven's intention to save Yosef from his brothers, and return him to his father.
There is a lesson in this for us: The pure, good intentions of Reuven were not realized. He failed to return Yosef to his father. Even twenty-two years later, when Yosef was finally reunited with his father, it was accomplished without Reuven's help. Yet, good intentions are never lost. True, Reuven's plan failed. Still, if not for Reuven, Yosef would have been killed. So important are good intentions, that the Torah explicitly writes of Reuven, "And he saved him from their hands."
G-d has His own Ways to accomplish His Will. But we, too, must try and intend to do good. Though it may appear that our intentions and our actions are fruitless, it isn't so! Good intentions are never wasted! (Sfas Emes Vayeshav, 5636)
This same parsha also teaches us not to 'get carried away' with ourselves. The Midrash (Ruth Rabba, 5:6) says, "Had Reuven known that the verse would state 'And he saved him from their hands', he would have carried Yosef on his shoulders, to his father."
Reuven's intentions were so pure that they were worthy to become a verse in our holy, eternal Torah. Yet he was unaware of any special greatness with this intention (for had he known, he would have carried Yosef to his father).
How unlike us! Nothing we have done was ever recorded in the Torah. Still, when we occasionally do something we think is good, it goes straight to our heads! Let us learn from our great predecessors the quality of being unpretentious. (Sfas Emes Shvu'os 5650)
A wealthy Jew once decided to spend Shabbos in Posen, and to attend the drosha of Rav Akiva Eiger, zt"l. Erev Shabbos, at the mikveh, he found that his wallet had been stolen. Looking around the rather empty room, he saw a small man, and asked him, "Did you see anyone search my clothes?"
"No," the small man answered.
"Then you took my money!" the man accused.
"Take money?" the small man replied, astonished. "The Torah says 'Thou shalt not steal!'"
Despite a good shaking, the small man continued to plead his innocence.
It wasn't until Shabbos morning, when 'the small man' walked up the steps of the dias to deliver his drosha, that the wealthy man realized his terrible mistake - he had accused and attacked none other than the gadol hador, Rav Akiva Eiger! After the drosha, overwhelmed with shame and embarrassment, the man approached Rav Akiva Eiger to beg forgiveness. But seeing him, Rav Akiva Eiger, raised his hands protectively, and pleaded, "Please don't hit me. I told you the truth! I didn't take your money!" The thought of being asked to forgive this man who had mistreated him so badly, never occurred to Rav Akiva Eiger, because he felt no indignation towards him.
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