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Was that the best choice?

12/18/2019 04:51:29 PM


You know how it feels when you miss a bargain because you are dragging your feet on a decision? Personally, I know I have missed a cheap flight or two because I was waiting to figure out what my final plans for a trip would be. As the proverbial saying goes, “the early bird catches the worm.” Yet, whenever I hear that phrase, I also hear the echo of my childhood friend who would add, “Yes, but the second mouse gets the cheese!” Knowing when to act immediately or when to wait is not always clear. Sometimes we should think before we speak, and other times we must speak up immediately. Other times we regret when we did things too hasty, or when we sat on our hands and missed our chance.

In Parhat VaYeshev, Reuben and Judah have to decide whether to wait or to act immediately. When the brothers initially see Joseph and plan to kill him, it is Reuben who convinces them to instead throw him in a pit. Our sages teach that he was thinking that he can come back to retrieve his brother when they are not paying attention. Reuben thus buys his time and delays his true rescue of Joseph. However, Judah doesn’t think this is enough. Unbeknownst to Reuben, our sages imagine that Judah too is trying to save Joseph’s life by selling him to the slavers. “What do we gain by killing our brother and covering up his blood?” Instead, Judah seizes the opportunity, acts in the moment, and the rest is history.

If Judah’s intuition was right, then Reuben didn’t really have time to spare to double back to save his brother. However, if Reuben’s intuition was right, then Reuben could have returned to save his brother, saving the family a lot of grief. As the story continues, it is clear through their later interactions with Joseph that they will feel guilty and wonder how things could have played out differently. Ironically however, it is Joseph who alone understands that it is not worth vexing over these decisions. “Although you intended me harm, God intended it for good.” In other words, the story of life will unfold how it unfolds and you can’t sweat every decision.

As we are presented with opportunities, we will often not know whether seizing them is the right move. Some of these choices will be monumental with the power to change our life’s trajectories; like the choice that led Joseph on his path. However, it is unfair for us to judge our past selves and the choices we made yesterday, or in years past. We can only do the best with the information we have in that moment, and hope that everything will turn out the way it is supposed to, as it now rests in God’s hands.

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