Some say it’s the thought that counts, but I disagree. I mean, I don’t care if my kids think about behaving nicely or cooperating, I care if they actually do it. And I can tell you that my wife doesn’t care if I think about doing the dishes, she cares if I do them. I know because I’ve tried sitting around and just telling my wife that I thought about doing the dishes. It didn’t work.
In this week’s Torah portion, Vayeishev, we see another example of the thought not counting. When Reuven told his brothers to throw Yoseph in a pit, the Torah specifically tells us that Reuven’s thought was that later he’d save Yoseph from the brothers and bring him back to his father. But when Reuven returned to the pit it was too late; Yoseph was already sold into slavery.
Now, much of the time the Torah just tells us what people said and did, and doesn’t bother telling us their intentions. So when intentions are included, we should take notice. What does the Torah teach us here by including Reuven’s intentions? On one hand, it teaches us that Reuven intended to help Yoseph get home safely to his father, and we shouldn’t judge him too harshly for suggesting to throw Yoseph in the pit. On the other hand it also teaches us that intentions alone weren’t enough. Despite the fact that Reuven thought about getting Yoseph home safely to his father, he didn’t do it. Yoseph was sold into slavery and didn’t see his father for decades. The thought didn’t count. Reuven probably regretted not taking action for many years.
We see that while a thought is important, it’s not enough. We also need action. Good thoughts and follow-through together are what build strong interpersonal relationships and bring success in our personal goals.