> Weekly Torah Portion > Intermediate > Reflections

True Confession

Mikeitz (Genesis 41:1-44:17 )

by Rabbi Yehoshua Berman

When Yosef's brothers descend to Egypt to buy food, Yosef recognizes them and carries out the necessary steps to see his dreams from long ago come to fruition. He imprisons Shimon and demands that the brothers bring Binyamin down to Egypt.

Upon experiencing this very difficult situation, the brothers express themselves by saying, "Indeed, we are guilty over our brother (Yosef) that we saw his emotional anguish when he begged us [to take him out of the pit] and we didn't listen. Therefore has this tribulation befallen us (Gen. 42:21)."

Upon hearing this, Reuvein (who had not participated in the sale of Yosef, and had intended on coming back later to remove Yosef from the pit and bring him home) says, "Didn't I tell you [then] not sin against the lad and you didn't listen, and also his blood behold is being demanded [by Heaven] (Gen. 42:22)."

At first glance, Reuvein seems to be saying, "I told you so! See?! This is what happens when you don't listen to me!" If that is the case, though, it would be very difficult to understand. Think about it, what is the point of saying "I told you so"? It doesn't help anything now; it is just to emphasize that "I am right, you were wrong, and you ought to feel terrible about it, so there!" Not exactly an expression of the height of character refinement. Certainly, it is most unreasonable to posit that Reuvein, the bechor of Yaakov Avinu, would indulge in such purposeless "sticking-it-to-them".

Furthermore, why does Reuvein express himself by saying "and behold also his blood is being demanded"?

As such, it would seem that Reuvein is most definitely not engaging in purposeless and immature "I told you so" behavior. Rather, he is directly responding to what he sees as a serious flaw in the brothers' feelings of remorse over what they did to Yosef.

In last week's parsha it says, "And they took him, and they threw him into the pit...and they sat to eat bread (37:24,25)." While Yosef - stripped of his clothing(1) and vulnerable to snakes and scorpions - was pitifully crying and begging them to have mercy on him, they sat down to a meal! They didn't just sell Yosef into slavery; they did it in a very cruel manner. They made themselves completely insensitive and immune to Yosef's intense suffering.

So, when Reuvein heard them saying, "Indeed we are guilty over our brother that we saw his anguish when he was begging us [to let him out] and we didn't listen," he understood that they were only remorseful for the cruelty with which they carried out the sale of Yosef. But for the actual doing away with him they were not remorseful, because they still maintained that it was necessary to do so and that Yosef deserved it.(2) Therefore, Reuvein rebuked them by saying, "Didn't I tell you [then] not sin against the lad ... and also behold his blood is being demanded." In other words, Reuvein was saying to them, "You guys just don't get it! It's not just the cruelty with which you did it for which we are all suffering now. Rather, it is also the actual doing away with him itself for which Hashem is punishing us. You must recognize this and repent the whole sordid episode; not just the cruelty with which you did it." (3)

Reuvein's statement, then, was crucially important. He was trying to instruct them to do proper teshuvah, repentance, and not to allow themselves to indulge in self-deception at any level.

This carries a very pertinent message for all of us. Inevitably, in the course of our lives, we make mistakes and we do things that are wrong; whether in the realm of interpersonal relationships or our relationship with God. Often, when the negative consequences of our actions begin to surface, we have no choice but to confront the fact that we "messed up somewhere". Nonetheless, human nature is such that we greatly dislike admitting fault. So, even when we are forced to admit our guilt, we have a strong tendency to minimize that confession as much as we possibly can.

This of course is a serious problem, because it prevents us from properly doing teshuvah and fully rectifying our wrongdoing. It is not easy, but when those introspective moments come (and we hope that they come even without having to suffer Heaven-sent repercussions!) we need to try our best to do some brutally honest soul searching, and develop the maturity whereby we can confess to ourselves, our fellow man, and to God - the full extent of our wrongdoing. And that, of course, is the greatest tool that will enable us to bring about a complete healing from that wrongdoing.


1. See Ohr HaChaim.

2. See Sforno and Ohr HaChaim on Parshas Vayeishev, 37:18-20.

3. See Sforno 42:21,22. This could very well explain why it is that the Asarah Harugei Malchus had to occur as a kaparah for the aveirah of the brothers. Perhaps even until the very end they never fully repented their actual wrongdoing of selling Yosef. In fact, at the end of Parshas Vayechi all they said is, "Your father commanded...please bear the iniquity of your brothers and their sin," but they never explicitly admitted that they were wrong, and they never directly asked for forgiveness.



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