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).

Heirloom

parashas Vayeishev 5781

(Genesis 37:1 – 40:23)

“And he made him a coat of many colors.”

– Genesis 37:3, JPS 1917 Tanach

The favored son received “a coat of many colors,” that served as a designation that some of the responsibilities of the first born would be placed upon Joseph. Because Reuben had lost the rights of the firstborn, due to an earlier indiscretion, Jacob chose Joseph, who showed both spiritual qualities and intellectual capacities that deemed him fit for that role (Zohar). Yet, his brothers were jealous of this status conferred upon him. When Joseph dreamed a dream, wherein he and his brothers were binding sheaves in a field, and their sheaves bowed down to his sheave that was standing upright, they asked, “Shalt thou indeed reign over us?” (Genesis 37:7-8, JPS). And, he dreamed a second dream, wherein “the sun and the moon and eleven stars bowed down to” him (Genesis 37:9, JPS). This implied that not only his brethren, rather, also his parents would bow down to him. “And his brethren envied him; but his father kept the saying in mind” (Genesis 37:11, JPS 1917 Tanach).

These dreams originated from a divine source; yet, his brothers may have felt that Joseph’s imagination, and ego generated the literal content of the dreams. The latent content, i.e., the meaning of his dreams was clear to them. Inasmuch that his father, Jacob “kept the saying in mind,” this may indicate his recognition that the dreams would one day be fulfilled. For Jacob himself knew very well the power of dreams. Apparently, the spiritual qualities that connected him intimately to G-d, were now manifest in his son, Joseph. Perhaps, this was even a sign that Jacob had made the right decision in choosing Joseph to take on the responsibilities of the first born. Hence, he sent Joseph to check up on his brothers, who were tending sheep in Shechem. “Go now, see whether it is well with thy brethren, and well with the flock; and bring me back word” (Genesis 37:14, JPS).

Thus begins Joseph to set out on a journey that will soon include a major detour, bringing him down to Egypt. For when his brothers saw him, they proclaimed, “behold, this dreamer.” “And it came to pass, when Joseph was come unto his brethren, that they stripped Joseph of his coat, the coat of many colours that was on him; and they took him, and cast him into the pit” (Genesis 37:23-24, JPS). Joseph was sold to traders that were passing by on the main thoroughfare; he was taken to Egypt, where he was sold as a slave.”His feet they hurt with fetters, His person was laid in iron; until the time that his word came to pass, the word of the L-RD tested him” (Psalm 105:18-19, JPS).

“It is good that a man should quietly wait for the salvation of the L-RD.”

– Lamentations 3:26, JPS 1917 Tanach

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