The Gemara suggests that a prophet’s purpose was to drive his listeners to repentance and therefore a better life. It is interesting to understand why Hoshea was chosen to rebuke us on Shabbat Shuvah rather than a more major prophet such as Yeshayahu or Yechezkel.
Chazal teaches that Hoshea was a descendant of Reuven. The Midrash (Bereshit Rabbah 84:19) says that Reuven was the first person to do Teshuva and that therefore it was appropriate for the prophet associated with Shabbat Shuva to be his descendant.
We see in other earlier places, people that repented such as Adam and Kayin, so why is Reuven considered the first to do tshuva?
The Kotzker Rebbe points to two places that give a reason for Reuven’s tshuva: one for his sin regarding Bilhah in last week’s Parsha and the second in Parshat Vayeshev for not protecting Yosef.
He states that it was understood why Reuven needed to repent for his sin involving Bilhah, but with Yosef he was the one brother who wanted to save him – why is he doing tshuva?
“Reuven said to them, `Do not shed blood! Throw him (Yosef) into this pit in the wilderness, but do not lay a hand on him!’ – intending to rescue him from their hand, to return him to his father.” (Bereshit 37:22)
Rashi explains that the final phrase in this pasuk is not what Reuven says but rather the Torah’s evidence that Reuven had the intention of going back and saving Yosef. Therefore, when he went back to the pit to save Yosef and realised that he was not there, Reuven rent his garments and returned to his brothers saying, “the boy is gone, where can I go?” (Bereshit 37:29-30)
Reuven had good intentions both in protecting his mother and saving Yosef but he was not always aware of the consequences of not delivering on his intentions at crucial times. He was someone who was able to recognise what the right course of action was, tried his hardest to implement them but ultimately did not succeed.
The Kotzker Rebbe explains that Reuven was considered the first to do full tshuva because he did not make excuses unlike Adam and Kayin who tried to evade any responsibility for their actions. Reuven conducted meaningful tshuva knowing he could have done better. The Midrash teaches that if Reuven had known his actions were being recorded, he would have picked up Yosef and taken him home immediately.
Reuven shows us that it is important do the right thing without delay.