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I TOLD YOU SO

by Rabbi Yossi Lew    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

For most people, winning an argument is an important accomplishment. There is a definite feeling of elation and joy when a belief or theory is substantiated by successfully withstanding a challenge.

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For most people, winning an argument is an important accomplishment. There is a definite feeling of elation and joy when a belief or theory is substantiated by successfully withstanding a challenge. However, gloating and bragging about this victory is, at best, unprofessional. The famous "see I told you so" phrase is the last thing a person wishes to hear after being defeated.

It is puzzling, therefore, learning in this week's Torah portion the reaction of Reuben to his brothers as they are being pressed by their (unrecognizable) brother Joseph. When the brothers realized the impending disaster befalling them in Egypt, they attributed their current travails to the unfortunate incident of selling their brother Joseph as a slave some twenty-two years prior, and expressed obvious distress and regret for this. Reuben, the eldest of the brothers, remarks by saying, "Did I not tell you not to commit a crime against the child, and you would not listen!" (Genesis 42:22). This comment seems to be a cruel and demoralizing response. What is Reuben trying to accomplish after the brothers have accepted responsibility for their misdeed? Is he trying to add salt to their wounds?! We must conclude that with his words, Reuben was attempting to guide his brothers to true repentance and regret.

The understanding of this lies in the explanation of teshuvah - repentance and return: True repentance can only be accomplished through a person's genuine feeling of regret and penitence, devoid of external factors. If, for example, a person corrects his ways due to a misfortune in life, once the misfortune is removed or forgotten, there is the tendency for the iniquity to return, since the removal was due to a factor which no longer exists. If the sin has the possibility of reoccurring, it cannot be considered true repentance and regret.

This concept can be taken a step further: True repentance must also include the recognition that the actual infraction was something the person chose to do with his own free will. If one can "blame" his infraction on anything other than his own shortcomings, he cannot genuinely regret his sin, since the sin is not really "his". "It's not my fault". Only when the person realizes and recognizes that the sin was due to the fact that he chose to commit it, is he ready to truly regret it.

Reuben was conveying to his brothers that the regret they expressed by accepting the blame for the sale of their brother was a result of a misfort une that was befalling them, not due to a true feeling of regret. Therefore, Reuben refers them back to what he told them at the time of the sale about the grave sin they were committing. Reuben was thus implying that their repentance must be consequential of their recognizing their grave sin in their selling of Joseph, not due to the effect of an external factor, namely their current situation in Egypt. Furthermore, they had to also acknowledge that the infraction was their responsibility. Therefore, in addition to the mandatory feeling of regret, Reuben reminded them that at the time of the sin he had told them "not to commit a crime against the child" and they would not listen. This implies that they chose, through their own free will, not to listen to him and to commit this sin. Only with this knowledge could they truly repent.

There is an interesting connection between this idea and this time of year, Chanukah, and especially to those of us "from! ! Dix ie". Repentance and return, teshuvah, introduces the phenomenon of renewal, because Hashem has given the person the ability to overcome any mistake and error of his ways, and to renew his commitment to Him. This is also a fundamental message of Chanukah. After the Jewish people were faced with a challenge against their spirituality and commitment to the Torah, as well as a physical challenge, they were able to overcome all difficulties through their unyielding and unwavering commitment to Hashem and His Torah. With perseverance, obstacles of mountainous proportions can be victoriously overcome.

The editors of the publication you are currently reading have also been down a similar path. They have persevered through many challenges and difficulties, only to present and publish a publication which carries and teaches holy words of Torah to multitudes of people. As we study this week's portion which opens with the words "Vayehi mikeitz shnatayim yamim - and it was at the end of two years," may Hashem b less them, as they conclude their first two years, with continued blessing and success in all they do.

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Rabbi Yossi Lew is a rabbi at Congregation Beth Tefillah, youth coordinator at Chabad of Georgia, and a teacher at the Greenfield Hebrew Academy Middle School.

You are invited to read more Parshat Mikeitz articles.

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