The Power of Forgiveness

parasha Shemini 5782

“For today the L-RD will appear to you.” – Leviticus 9:4

Upon the culmination of the inauguration of the mishkan and the kohein into the kehunah, certain offerings were brought. These included an offering to atone for Aaron’s role in the golden calf incident. Commentary notes that the offerings were prepared; however, the fire had not yet descended from the sky; so, Aaron grew concerned. His guilt in the sin of the golden calf compelled him to think that the delay was a sign that he had not been completely forgiven. At this point, Moses and Aaron entered the sanctuary.

While no reason is given in the actual passage found in Torah, commentary offers several explanations. One reason mentioned is that Aaron confided in Moses, concerning his shame about his role in the golden calf incident. He felt that, perhaps, H’Shem was still angry with him. Thus, the two of them entered the sanctuary, in order to pray to the H’Shem to forgive Aaron. When they walked out of the sanctuary after praying, the fire descended upon the mizbeach, consuming the offerings.

The power of forgiveness is such that feelings of resentment may linger until a person forgives another for their trespass. Then, all is washed clean, and renewed in that relationship. H’Shem is a righteous Judge; He does not harbor resentment or grudges against us when we sin; only, inasmuch that He calls us towards teshuvah (repentance) does He wait to bestow His compassion upon us, forgiving us completely for our transgressions. Yet, as human beings, we may harden our hearts towards others, even for perceived slights to our honor, status, or ego. We do ourselves an injustice, by closing ourselves off from others, whom we think have wronged us is some way. Only the cleansing waters of forgiveness that refresh the soul, may bring a restoration to our lives, opening the way to increased camaraderie.

Reuben’s Grief

parashas Vayeishev 5782

“He tried to save him from them. He said, ‘Let us not take his life.” And Reuben went on, ‘Shed no blood. Cast him into that pit in the wilderness, but do not touch him yourselves’ – intending to save him from them and restore him to his father.” – Genesis 37:21-22, JPSN

Reuben had every ill-conceived reason, to oppose Joseph’s ascendancy via the implications of dreams, as well as the lesser ascendancy given to him, as symbolized by his “multi-colored coat.” For, prior to Joseph’s being raised to fill the shoes of the role of the firstborn Reuben had lost the rights of the firstborn, because of his transgression against his father, when he cohabited with his father’s concubine, Leah’s maidservant, Bilhah (1 Chronicles 5:1). Rather, because he was the eldest, he knew he would be held responsible for the fate of Joseph; as a result, his responsibility prevailed over any resentment he might have had towards Joseph, or to his circumstances in general.

He had hoped to rescue Joseph from the pit where had been thrown; yet, when he returned, Joseph had already been sold to the caravan of traders was passing through Shechem. Where did he return from? The Torah does not indicate where he was during that time. Yet, it is obvious that he had left, sometime after Joseph had been thrown in the pit. Where did he go? I would surmise that he left before the brothers sat down for a meal; because, in the plain understanding, how could he eat? The Targum explains further:

“And Reuben returned to the pit; for he had not been with them to assist when they sold him, because he had sat fasting on account that he had confounded the couch of his father; and he had gone and sat among the hills, that he might return to the pit and bring him up for his father, if haply he might avert his anger. But when he had returned, and looked, and, behold, Joseph was not in the pit, he rent his clothes.” – Targum Jonathan on Genesis 37:29, sefaria.org

One implication that may be drawn from the Targum, is that Reuben’s conscience was immediately twinged when he initially heard his brother’s conspiring against Joseph. He had not been jealous of Joseph, who had secured the rights of the firstborn (Berachos 7b). Nor, would he dare take part in Joseph’s demise; so, instead, he fasted in penitence for his past transgression, perhaps, with the intent of gaining some clarity on the situation,, in order to form a response, and plan of action to save Joseph. Even so, he may have been primarily motivated by his having to answer to his father, for whatever fate Joseph would have met. This would account for his words, upon returning to the pit and seeing that Joseph was gone, when he said, “’The boy is gone. Now, what am I to do?’” (Genesis 37:31, JPSN).

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