July 20, 2024
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“Here comes Yosef, that self-righteous annoying little tittle-tattler,” his brothers say as they notice him off in the distance bringing them provisions. “We’re nowhere near home, nobody will ever know. Let’s just kill him and pretend he never showed up.”

“You can’t be serious!” screams Reuven. “Murder your own flesh and blood? Are you out of your mind? After begging and cajoling, they agree to a compromise: Throw him into a snake-infested pit and let God determine his fate. Somewhat relieved, Reuven leaves the group and wanders off to take care of personal matters, thinking that he’ll come back when his brothers have gone and rescue Yosef.

Meanwhile, an Ishmaelite caravan is passing by. Yehuda suggests, “Let’s sell him as a slave to these folks. That way, we don’t need to kill him. His life will be miserable enough.”

Sometime later, Reuven returns to the pit, only to find it empty. “I should never have left him!” he cries.

***

Today’s daf discusses various conditions a groom might have attached to his betrothal and whether they invalidate the marriage ceremony. What if he claimed to be a tzadik, a righteous man, yet his public track record called that assertion into question?

״עַל מְנָת שֶׁאֲנִי צַדִּיק״—אֲפִילּוּ רָשָׁע גָּמוּר—מְקוּדֶּשֶׁת, שֶׁמָּא הִרְהֵר תְּשׁוּבָה בְּדַעְתּוֹ

If one says to a woman, “Be betrothed to me, on condition that I am a tzadik,” then even if he was known to be completely wicked, she is betrothed. For perhaps, suddenly in his mind, he mentally repented.

This Gemara is often cited as a powerful reminder of our ability to turn over a new leaf in an instant. Even if your life has gone down the wrong path for many weeks, months or years, all you must do is make the mental decision to recalibrate your actions—and immediately, your status changes. Everyone else might believe that you are a terrible sinner, but you and God know that you are actually a tzadik.

Do you still need to submit your past to the atonement process? Undoubtedly. But think of it like this: Let’s say you’ve just come back from a three-day hike in the mountains. Your clothes are all dirty and you look awful. You shower and change and then jump into the car to take your bag of dirty laundry to the cleaners. At that point, are you clean or dirty? Clean, of course. Does that imply you don’t need to do anything more? No, it doesn’t. You still need to wash your dirty clothing. The fact that you are perfectly clean doesn’t negate the necessity of cleansing the garments you sullied.

It is often said that the wicked are filled with regret about their decisions in life. The Baal Shem Tov (Besht) asks: Our Gemara states that one can do mental teshuva in an instant, so if the wicked are filled with regret over their actions, then why are they still deemed wicked? He answers that the regret referred to is not remorse over sinful behavior, rather decisions they made that didn’t turn out the way they were hoping for. Not religious choices, but worldly matters.

Here’s how life works, explains the Besht: Everything that transpires in the world is directed by Divine providence. Even the major life decisions we make are in the hands of Heaven, as the Torah declares, “Remember Hashem your God that He is giving you strength to do valor.” Onkelos translates strength as advice, meaning that any worldly accomplishments we achieve are the result of Hashem’s guidance toward the path of success. Consequently, one should never regret any decision he made because it was not actually his own decision, but God’s “interference.” Regret, in this context, is synonymous with a lack of faith. That’s the meaning of “the wicked are filled with regret.” Any regret, by definition, deems a person wicked. After all, the ill-fated decisions weren’t theirs to make. We only get to choose between good and bad behavior, as our Sages teach, “Everything is in the hands of Heaven, except for fear of Heaven.”

The Baal Shem Tov’s teaching is powerful and liberating. Too many people live with a plethora of regret over how their lives might have played out had they only chosen a different path. Perish those wicked thoughts! The path you think you chose was not your decision at all. God advised you to make that “choice.” To obsess over the “what ifs” is to deny Divine providence.

What if you’d gone to medical school? What if you’d married that other person? What if you’d taken that job? What if you’d chosen a different doctor? What if you’d sent your kids to a different school? What if you’d made that investment? What if you’d bought that house? The good news is: All those scenarios are impossible. They weren’t even options. Therefore, you should have zero regret for the path you took, regardless of how things turned out.

Reuven wasn’t responsible for his disappearance from the scene when Yosef was sold. That was God’s orchestration. For the path of life is already predestined. How could he have anticipated Yosef’s sale? If he felt a pull away from the scene, it was because God was pulling him in that direction. Reuven should have harbored no regrets for his absence. It simply wasn’t his choice.

Everything is in the hands of Heaven… except for fear of Heaven. Whatever life God has chosen for you will be the path you sojourn. Nevertheless, “fear of Heaven” means that you get to choose whether to bring Him along for the ride. May you live a life of no regret!


Rabbi Dr. Daniel Friedman is the author of The Transformative Daf series, infusing every day with an inspirational Torah message for life. He is the founder of Teaneck’s Center for Torah Values and teaches at Landers. Volume 15 is now available at www.transformativedaf.com!

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