Simchat Torah 5780: Continuing Ramifications for Shevet Reuven Resulting from Reuven’s Aveirah?

Shalom Friends;

Our Simchat Torah vort is being sponsored by Simon and Aliza Baum and family of Ramat Beit Shemesh who dedicate this vort Lilui Nishmas in honor of Simon’s Mother: Chaya Miriam Bas Boruch. To the Baum family, many thanks for your sponsorship and your continued kindnesses.

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Moshe Burt
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Simchat Torah 5780: Continuing Ramifications for Shevet Reuven Resulting from Reuven’s Aveirah?

by Moshe Burt

On Succot, the B’nei Yisrael, as an Am Segula (a nation apart and unique from the other nations), as Hashem’s special, chosen people; we visit, bond, and celebrate our special and unique relationship with HaKodosh Borchu.

In Chutz L’Aretz, we learn that Sh’mini Atzeres is expressed as if one’s entire family, from various venues, are all together and savoring the love, bonding and enjoyment of being together — between each of the parents and their off-spring, the siblings with each other and with their parent(s). And so when it comes time for each to leave to return to their various venues and responsibilities, the parent pleads that the offspring, that the family stay together for one more day. And so Hashem Kovei’yokhel (as He is) Calls to His loved ones — the B’nei Yisrael, whereever they reside, to stay with Him for one more day.

We learn that in Eretz Yisrael, there is one day of Succot Yom Tov, five Chol HaMo’ed days and Hoshana Rabbah and, Simchat Torah — the last day of Yom Tov which contains within it the attribute of Sh’mini Atzeres — is that special time of bonding and expressions of love — Am Yisrael for our Father, our Creator, our eternal and universal King, and Hashem’s special and loving connection to Am Yisrael alone.

Hashem sooo treasures the B’nei Yisrael that after Hashana Rabbah and sealing the fate of the nations in the coming year, He, so to speak, wants to bask in the love and joy of being with and bonding only with B’nei Yisrael. And so, on Simchat Torah, we joyously celebrate the spiritual harvest of our learning of Torah, both written and oral, as we follow the leyning of V’zos HaBracha and the leyning of the seven days of Breish’t in a spirit of bonding with Hashem that is the last day of Yom Tov. And when we make our home in Hashem’s special, designated Land — Eretz Yisrael, the joy of Simchat Torah increases countless-fold for we are with Him in His Very Palace.

It is in the context of Simchat Torah, with its attribute of Sh’mini Atzeres — the bonding of Am Yisrael with our Creator and Eternal King that Moshe, following the tradition which began with Yaakov just before his passing, gave individual Brachot to each of the Shevatim (tribes) of B’nei Yisrael as conveyed in Parshat V’zos HaBrachot.

Last year, this vort provided commentary from Rabbi Shmuel Goldin in his sefer “Unlocking The Torah Text” on Sefer Devarim which discussed the fact that Shevet Shimon is completely omitted from Moshe’s blessings. This vort will focus on possible understandings of Moshe’s Bracha to Shevet Reuven in the context of, or, in contrast with Yaakov’s prophecy concerning his oldest son.

Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, in his sefer “Unlocking The Torah Text” on Sefer Devarim (pages 366-368), provides renderings to English of both Yaakov’s prophecy concerning Reuven and Moshe’s Bracha to Shevet Reuven, as well as commentaries citing Rashi, as cited in Sifrei, the Malbim and other authorities:

Yaakov: “Reuven, you are my firstborn, my might and the first fruits of my strength. Unstable as water, you shall not lead, for you mounted your father’s bed, then you desecrated him who ascended my bed.” (Rabbi Goldin’s rendering of Sefer Breish’t, Perek 49, posukim 3-4)

Moshe: “May Reuven live and not die, and may his population be considered in this count.” (Rabbi Goldin’s rendering of Sefer Devarim, Perek 33, posuk 6)

The first words of Moshe’s cryptic blessing to Shevet Reuven, “May Reuven live and not die,” are puzzling. Does Moshe harbor a specific concern for this tribe’s safety? If so, what are the sources of this concern?

While the specifics of this [Reuven’s] sin are vigorously debated by the authorities, all agree that Reuven’s reactions were impulsive and precipitous, earning him his father’s reprimand, “you shall not lead, for you mounted your father’s bed.” (ibid, Sefer Breish’t, Perek 49, posuk 4)

Centuries later, Rashi maintains, Moshe prays that the tribe of Reuven be spared the continuing ramifications of the grievous sin committed by its ancestor. (Rabbi Goldin citing Rashi, as cited in Sifrei)

…The Malbim… connects the tribe of Reuven’s vulnerability not to a specific sin committed by their progenitor but to a potentially inheritable trait attributed to him… In his blessing to Reuven, the patriarch describes his oldest son as unstable as water. (Sefer Breish’t, Perek 49, posuk 4) …. Over and over again, the Torah chronicles that the firstborn son of Yaakov “rushes like water,” acting with good intentions but failing to consider the consequences of his words and actions. (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Breish’t. Perek 35, posuk 22, Perek 37, posukim 22-29, Perek 42, posuk 37)

As Moshe stands before Reuven’s descendants…, the Malbim maintains, ….he [Moshe] knows that individuals who possess Reuven’s trait of impulsivity will often “lead difficult lives and are wont to place themselves in danger.” (Rabbi Goldin citing the Malbim on Sefer Devarim, Perek 33, posuk 6) Moshe, therefore, prays that the descendants of the original Reuven be spared of the consequences of this trait of impulsivity. He bestows upon the tribe of Reuven the blessings of peaceful, fulfilling lives, protected from danger.

Numerous other authorities, however, reject any direct connection between Moshe’s blessing to the tribe of Reuven and the actions or traits of the tribe’s ancestor who lived 250 years earlier. Moshe’s concerns for the tribe of Reuven’s safety, these scholars contend, are current, concrete and rise out of the tribe’s own decisions and actions. The members of [Shevet] Reuven have exposed themselves to danger as a result of the previously contracted controversial agreement concerning the conquest of Cana’an. In return for permission to settle on the East Bank of the Jordan [the Yardein River] (outside of the original borders of Cana’an), the tribe has contracted, together with the tribe of Gad and half of the tribe of Menashe, to fight in the vanguard [in front of] the army of B’nei Yisrael during the conquest of Cana’an. Leaving their families and possessions behind in the Transjordan, the soldiers of these tribes will return only after the subjugation of the land is complete.

Moshe, therefore, now prays that the tribe of Reuven be protected from the dangers inherent in this agreement, that the warriors of Reuven be spared the casualties expected by front-line soldiers in battle and that the families of these warriors remain safe from attack in their absence. (Rabbi Goldin citing Da’at Zekeinim Miba’alei Hatosafot on Sefer Devarim, Perek 33, posuk 6, Abravanel on Sefer Devarim, Perek 33, posuk 6)

Rabbi Goldin concludes (“Unlocking The Torah Text” on Sefer Devarim, page 368)

Perhaps we can argue that even this controversial decision on the part of the tribe of Reuven to remain in the Transjordan can be traced to the impulsivity inherited from their ancestor, and that this generations-old trait now causes the tribe to choose the fertile land before them in the face of the Divine mandate to settle in Cana’an. The commentaries are silent on the matter, leaving such possibilities to our own consideration.

This author might add a thought to Rabbi Goldin’s concluding comments; namely, that could it be that, bearing in mind the sin of the ancestor of Shevet Reuven, that the tribe, still carrying guilt-feelings, as when Reuven left to serve his father while Yosef was in the pit — returning to find Yosef gone and hearing reports that Yosef was devoured, sought purposely to separate themselves from the other tribes upon settling in Cana’an?

In this track, this author recalls that while discussing the parsha of Yosef in the pit, Rabbi Moshe Ungar, back in Philadelphia, would often relate in a Torah vort that had Reuven rescued Yosef from the pit, he could have carried Yosef on his shoulders back to Yaakov — that such an act could have brought Moshiach.

In addition, when discussing the East Bank of the Yarden, this author finds connection with prime minister Netanyahu’s dramatic erev-election announcement about extending Israel’s sovereignty to Yehuda and the Shomron, including the Jordan Valley. Here’s hoping that this announcement was made sincerely and with all intentions of actualization, not more empty, meaningless pre-election rhetoric.

The Artscroll Stone Chumash translates the opening posuk of V’zos HaBrachot and summarizes the theme of Moshe’s Brachot to the Shevatim (pages 1112-1113):

“And this is the blessing that Moshe, the man of G’d, bestowed upon the B’nei Yisrael before his death.” (Sefer Devarim, Perek 33, posuk 1)

These final words of Moshe are a combination of blessing and prophesy, in which he blesses [the] tribe[s] [individually] according to its national responsibilities and individual greatness.

“And this”…. “V’zos” implies that Moshe’s blessings were a continuation of Yaakov’s [as if to say that the Tribes were blessed at the beginning of their national existence and again as they were to begin life in Eretz Yisrael]. Moshe also used the word “V’zos” when he began his summation of the Torah (Sefer Devarim, Perek 4, posuk 44 in Parshat Va’etchanon) which symbolizes that Israel’s way to achieve the blessings of its Patriarch and Teacher is by studying and observing the Torah.

Moshe praised Hashem and recalled the merit that makes Israel worthy of his blessing.

In these introductory remarks, Moshe incorporated three outstanding merits of Israel: a) Hashem dwells among them; b) They accepted His Torah; and c) They acknowledged His sovereignty. (Ramban)

As religious Jews, we understand that Hashem continuously, instantaneously creates and recreates. And so the eternality of Torah as well as the meaning, actualization and application of Jewish learning and the continuity and constancy of Hashem’s creation are inextricably linked and maximized with Am Yisrael’s connection and presence in our eternal homeland — Eretz Yisrael.

We must take the craving for real improvement, the craving expressed during the Yomim Noraim, to make things right, with a proper synthesis between Tefillah with kavanah (intent) and Torah study, as well as between our Jewish brethren and throughout Am Yehudi into the new year. And at this auspicious time, may all of us have in mind, prominently in our hearts, thoughts, prayers and in our actions, our dear brother Jonathan Pollard — Yehonatan Ben Malka who continues, albeit free from prison incarceration, to suffer the injustices of the US Justice System: via both an exceedingly restrictive probation and prohibition against coming home to Israel after an extraordinarily long prison sentence — that Hashem see to his total release, complete freedom — freedom to care for his wife Esther Yocheved bat Rayzl Bracha who has been diagnosed with cancer, and to return to his brethren in THIS year — sooner than later.

May we, the B’nei Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them and that the twice expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebuilt homes, at government expense; both due to alt-leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized Yassamnik gunpoint. May our dear brother Jonathan Pollard be liberated and truly free — only upon his return home to Israel, and that the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem — as with the return in April, 2019, via Russia, of the remains of Zachariah Baumel, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of five years ago. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and prevent Chas V’Challila the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem Al’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayrah b’yamainu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

L’Shana Tova, Chag Same’ach and Good Shabbos! — may all who read this enjoy a healthy, happy, sweet and prosperous 5780 and every year thereafter to at least 120!
Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.