Your client, friend or sister comes to you, agitated and at her wits’ end.

She immediately begins, “How can I make my husband stop procrastinating and become more responsible? All my pleading and reminding does not help!”

The question might be about their neighbor, adult child or best friend. They might ask about something life-threatening, like, “How do I get them to stop acting out in a dangerous addiction? They are destroying their lives and won’t listen to anyone!”

It might be of a different nature, as in “How do I make them have healthier boundaries and be less controlling?”

But in these scenarios, the issue is someone else’s behavior.

Stop them right there and ask them the following question: Can you really change anyone else? And even more importantly, is it your job to fix anyone else?

Apparently not.

There is a touching scene described in the Torah, where the two brothers, Joseph and Benjamin, stand crying on each other’s shoulders. The commentaries explain that Joseph was crying because he saw that in the future, Benjamin would have two temples built in his tribe’s portion of the Holy Land, but they would be destroyed. Joseph was shedding tears over his brother’s future losses. At the same time, Benjamin knew that in Joseph’s future territory, there would be a Tabernacle built that would also ultimately not last. He was sobbing for his brother’s future loss.

The question is: Why? Why are they crying about each other’s tragedy, rather than their own?

The answer1 is that these brothers are setting an example for the difference between how to react to personal challenges versus how to respond to a friend’s challenge or issue.

If your friend is struggling or experiencing the tragic outcome of a terrible mistake, or even acting in a way that you feel needs fixing, at a certain point all you can do is cry. You can feel pain and compassion, and you can pray for your friend, but you cannot actually make the change they so desperately need to make in their life. Each person is granted free choice, and that includes your spouse, friend or neighbor. You can advise or instruct, but ultimately, the change is their own. That’s why Joseph and Benjamin could only cry for each other’s problems.

If, on the other hand, the destruction or challenge is in your own court, sighing in resignation or shedding a few tears won’t do the job. Crying is very soothing, even healing, but it doesn’t accomplishanything specific. If something needs fixing in your own property, you actually have to do something to fix the problem.

You, and only you, have the power to make changes in your life. As far as their own property was concerned, Benjamin and Joseph could only look inward, and see how they could improve and grow.

Because they knew the truth. That only you can change yourself.

Self-Reflection: Am I redirecting my client to focus on things he or she can actually change in herself?