When a person turns himself around, regrets his past and does good, that is such a powerful act that his sins become merits. – Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish
It’s important to live in the moment, to move with the times, and for Jews, this means looking to the weekly Parsha for advice and inspiration. This week, we read Parshas Vayeishev, which tells the story of Yossef, the son of Yaakov, who is cast into a pit by his brothers and sold into slavery. In this remarkable story, his eldest brother, Reuben, attemps to save him, and fails. I was thinking about this episode when I came across Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish’s quote. I linked the two in my mind with the concept of performing a mitzvah for the wrong reason. Reuben didn’t attempt to save his brother out of the goodness of his heart. It was a self serving attempt at helping him, because he was worried about being punished. But no matter his reasoning, he did the right thing. It has been said that performing a mitzvah one does not understand out o habit is acceptable, for eventually one will come to love the mitzvah and do it for the right reason, and I feel that this is similar to Reuben’s dilemma. At the end of the day, all that matters is doing good. Although Reuben hated his brother and initially conspired against him, his repentance, although it was on a small level, redeemed him, as we learn from Rabbi Shimon.