Teshuvah: Accepting Personal Responsibility

December 11, 2015 at 6:45 AM , , ,

“…And they said to one another, “indeed, we are guilty for our brother, that we witnessed the distress of his soul when he begged us, and we did not listen. that is why this trouble has come upon us.” and Reuven answered them, saying, “didn’t i tell you, saying, ‘do not sin against the lad,’ but you did not listen?” – Bereishis 42:21-22

וַיֹּאמְרוּ אִישׁ אֶל אָחִיו אֲבָל אֲשֵׁמִים אֲנַחְנוּ עַל אָחִינוּ אֲשֶׁר ר רָאִינוּ צָרַת נַפְשׁוֹ בְּהִתְחַנְנוֹ אֵלֵינוּ וְלֹא שָׁמָעְנוּ עַל כֵּן בָּאָה אֵלֵינוּ הַצָּרָה הַזֹּאת וַיַּעַן רְאוּבֵן אֹתָם לֵאמֹר הֲלוֹא אָמַרְתִּי אֲלֵיכֶם לֵאמֹר אַל תֶּחֶטְאוּ בַיֶּלֶד וְלֹא שְׁמַעְתֶּם – בראשית מב, כא-כב

In the troubles they encountered in Egypt, the sons of Yaakov saw a form of divine retribution for heartlessly selling their brother Yosef into slavery many years earlier. The Torah tells us that upon hearing his brothers admit to their guilt, Reuven reminded them that they had been well aware at the time of the sinfulness of their actions, but had proceeded with Yosef’s sale undeterred:“Didn’t I tell you, saying, ‘Do not sin against the lad,’ but you did not listen?”

With his words of rebuke, Reuven was not merely rubbing salt on his brothers’ wounds; he was guiding his brothers to a true and complete teshuvah, repentance, for the sale of Yosef.

Complete teshuvah requires that the penitent make a genuine decision to change, to the extent that “He [G-d] who knows the hidden will testify concerning him that he will never return to this sin again” (Rambam, Hilchos Teshuvah 2:2). The penitent must therefore fully acknowledge the wrongfulness of his actions, and wholeheartedly choose to never return to such behavior. Conversely, if one’s teshuvah is motivated by external factors, such as the negative consequences that he is suffering because of his sin, his remorse does not reflect a genuine change of attitude toward his past choices in and of themselves.

Parashat Mikeitz

In addition, in order to wholeheartedly and unequivocally abandon his behavior of the past, one must acknowledge and take full responsibility for his willful decision to sin. Otherwise, he cannot sincerely commit never to choose that path again.

Now, the troubles that befell Yosef’s brothers in Egypt brought them to regret their cruelty to him. Reuven therefore responded to their regret saying that such remorse was not enough. “You must recognize the inherent evil in the act of selling of Yosef,” said Reuven, “which I have stressed to you all along, even before our current situation. Moreover, you must acknowledge that you were fully aware at the time about the wrongfulness of your actions, yet you willfully chose to sell him.”

Once the brothers heard and internalized Reuven’s words, their teshuvah could be complete.

—Likutei Sichos, vol. 30, pp. 198-202


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