“Did anyone see my stapler?” Berachah called out from her bedroom.

There was no answer. Berachah continued to search through her drawer. Frustrated, she stomped into the kitchen where her mother was preparing dinner.

“Mommy, I can’t find my stapler anywhere! I bet Mindy used it and didn’t put it back. She always takes my things without permission.”

“Please try to calm down, Berachah. Go tell Mindy that I want to see her. Please speak nicely to her, and let me handle this,” her mother said.

Soon enough, it was clear. The day before, Mindy had indeed borrowed Berachah’s stapler, but it fell and broke so she threw it away. She was very sorry.

“Mindy,” asked her mother gently. “Why are you sorry?”

“I really shouldn’t have taken it without permission. I won’t do it again,” Mindy blurted out earnestly. “And I’m very sorry it broke.”

“But Mindy, it happened yesterday. When a person is really sorry about something they did, they shouldn’t wait until it’s found out and they get into trouble. If they wait, it seems that the reason they are sorry is only because someone found out, or because they got into trouble. When we do something wrong, we must take responsibility and do teshuvah for what we have done. We should do teshuvah because inside we feel we have done something wrong, not because we can get into trouble.

“We can learn this lesson from this week’s parshah. When Yosef’s brothers went to Egypt to buy food and saw how much trouble they were getting into, they realized that it was because of what they had done to Yosef. They felt very sorry and said: ‘It’s our fault.’ That sounds like they are doing teshuvah, right?”

“Right then and there, Reuven tells them: ‘I told you that you shouldn’t have harmed Yosef, didn’t I? And you didn’t listen!’“

“Mommy, that’s not very nice. All the brothers are really feeling sorry and they’re doing teshuvah. Why is Reuven making them feel even worse? It sounds like he’s just rubbing it in!”

“That’s just what I was getting at, Mindy. Obviously, Reuven is not just trying to upset his brothers. Quite the opposite. He is the oldest, and feels he should guide them and help them.

“Reuven knew that they had to do real teshuvah. Real teshuvah means that a person is truly sorry about what he did; he’s not sorry just because of the trouble it caused him. But the brothers said: ‘It’s our fault... and that’s why we’re getting into all this trouble now.’

“Reuven was teaching them that it’s the realization that they did something wrong that should bring them to teshuvah, and not the trouble and hardship that their mistake caused.”

(Adapted from Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXX, pg. 201ff)