When Your Best Isn't Good Enough - Parshat Vayeshev

Have you ever experienced this kind of situation that no matter how hard you try, things just aren’t going the way they should? And has this ever led to a feeling of angst, despair or frustration? I know I have. And it isn’t always pleasant either.

So when I read the sub-plot of Reuven in this week's parsha, I could barely begin to imagine his suffering. After Yosef's brothers agreed to throw Yosef into a deep pit, an idea Reuven suggested so that he could secretly rescue him later, the brothers decided it would be better to simply sell Yosef. When Reuven returned to the pit and saw that Yosef was missing, you can almost hear him ripping his clothing in anguish. He had tried to save Yosef's life and now Yosef was missing!1 The commentaries offer differing approaches as to what his anguish was about. They include, among others, as the source of his anguish: not wanting to see his father's pain,2 wondering what Yosef will think of him3, concern that he would have to lie to cover up what happened4, and not being able to live with himself that he wasn’t strong enough as the eldest son to stand up to his brothers.5 Either way, Reuven suffered. At the moment he suggested the idea, he thought he was doing his best. How distressing it must have been when he realized his best simply wasn’t good enough.

In our daily lives we unfortunately come across situations like this all too often. The distress may even be appropriate. Is it appropriate then also to move on? To not get stuck there in that anguish? Do we need to continue to feel that guilt and let it fester like an infection? Of course, we need to take responsibility for our actions. That does not include, though, beating ourselves up for misjudgments or outright mistakes. As Dr. Viktor Frankl writes, "Man is free to take a purely fatalistic attitude toward his past, or to learn something from it. It is never too late to learn—but neither is it too soon…6" One ought to take an attitude about past behavior, no matter how ashamed I may be or how guilty I may feel, that will be helpful in order to be able to move forward even when we messed up royally.

We have the ability to use our own resources to view our actions responsibly. We can, for the purpose of learning, detach ourselves from our past action and analyze it in order to prevent such mistakes in the future - especially in this kind of situation when we were trying to do good and it somehow backfired on us. This will empower us and let us move away from despair and futility towards a better, more responsible attitude.

In memory of my mother Hentcha Leah bat Yitzchak Lipa, hk"m


  1. Bereishit 37:21-30
  2. Rabbi D. Z. Hoffman
  3. Chata"m Sofer – first possibility
  4. – second possibility
  5. Rabbi Samson Rephael Hirsch
  6. Frankl, Viktor E.. The Doctor and the Soul: From Psychotherapy to Logotherapy (p. 78). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Have A Great Shabbat!laughing

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