Parshat Vayechi 5781: The Final Contest to be Yaakov’s Heir-Apparent: Why Was Reuven Passed Over??

Shalom Friends;

This week, our Parshat HaShevua — Parshat Vayechi is being sponsored by Yitzchak and Leyla Gross of Wynnewood, PA to commemorate the Yarhtzeit of Yitzchak’s Mother: Chaya Yita Sarah Bat Aharon. To Mishpochat Gross, many thanks for your sponsorship, your kindnesses through the years in helping facilitate Sefer Torah recycling and for your continued kindnesses.

You can celebrate a Simcha — a birth, a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, a Chassuna or other Simcha event in your life, or commemorate a Yahrtzeit of a loved one, or for whatever other reason by sponsoring a Parshat HaShevua.

Please forward to your relatives and friends and encourage them to sponsor a Parshat HaShevua. And please be in contact with me with any questions, or for further details.

Best Regards,

Moshe Burt
skype: mark.burt3


Parshat Vayechi 5781: The Final Contest to be Yaakov’s Heir-Apparent: Why Was Reuven Passed Over??

by Moshe Burt

Picture an American Presidential campaign: each party’s debates, the primaries, each party’s national convention. Through each party’s raucus debates — imagine the 2016 Republican debates where Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz and others exchanged barbs while contending against now President Trump, or the 2020 Democrat debates when Kamala Harris, Elizabeth “Pokahantis” Warren, Pete Buttigieg, Bernie Sanders and a host of others similarly exchanged barbs with “The Big Guy” Joe Biden.

Rabbi Shmuel Goldin provides context regarding a more hidden struggle for the ascent to leadership of the Jews towards the end of Yaakov’s life in his sefer “Unlocking the Torah Text” on Sefer Breish’t (pages 273-274):

A hidden struggle courses beneath the surface… as… each of Yaakov’s sons strives for a prize of overwhelming responsibility and inestimable value.

….Who, from among the sons of Yaakov, will rise to leadership of the Jews?

Three possible candidates emerge from a crowded field, each a complex figure with strong positive credentials.

1/ Reuven — firstborn to Yaakov; the leadership role is Reuven’s birthright and, thus, his to lose. He, alone amongst his brothers, attempts to save Yosef and return him to his father’s home. (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Breish’t, Perek 37, posukim 21-22)

2/ Yosef — a born leader; Yosef rises to the top of any environment into which he is placed. He becomes a powerful leader who is able to manipulate circumstances and the behavior of others in order to achieve his goals. (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Breish’t, Perek 39. posuk 1 through Perek 47, posuk 27)

3/ Yehuda — powerfully persuasive; Yehuda convinces his brothers to sell Yosef into slavery, rather than allow him to perish in the pit. (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Breish’t, Perek 37, posukim 26-27) Yehuda rises to protect his younger brother, Binyamin, when Binyamin is threatened by Yosef with imprisonment. (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Breish’t, Perek 44, posukim 18-34)

When Yaakov blesses his sons from his deathbed in [our] Parshat Vayechi, he clearly indicates Hashem’s verdict, Yehuda is to be the progenitor of leadership within the B’nei Yisrael. “The septor shall not pass from Yehuda nor legislation from among his descendents until Shilo (the Moshiach) arrives and his will be a gathering of the nations. (Rabbi Goldin rendering to English Sefer Breish’t, Perek 49, posuk 10)

Take note of notes to Rashi’s commentary on Sefer Breish’t, Perek 49, posuk 10 (Sapirstein Edition, “Torah with Rashi Commentary,” page 542, notes 9-11 on Sefer Breish’t, Perek 49, posuk 10):

Note 9: Breish’t Rabbah, Perek 98, posuk 8 and Perek 99, posuk 8 — Sanhedrin 98b discusses Moshiach’s given name. One opinion there adduces our verse to prove that his [Moshiach’s] name is Shilo.

Note 10: Shilo is seen as a form of “his.” The verse indicates that the kingship which is represented by the rod [or as Rabbi Goldin renders as “septor”] will remain with Yehuda until the one to whom “the rod” belongs will appear. (also citing Nachalas Yaakov, Sifrei Chachamim, Matnos Kehunah to Breish’t Rabbah)

Note 11: Targum Onkelos renders, “Until Moshiach will come, for his is the kingship.”

Rabbi Goldin now discusses Reuven and why he is “passed over” (Rabbi Goldin’s term) as leader, despite his seniority and attempt to rescue Yosef from the pit (ibid, page 274-275):

A clue emerges from the message of Yaakov on his deathbed… in Parshat Vayechi: “Unstable as water, you shall not lead…” (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Breish’t, Perek 49, posuk 4)

Careful review of Reuven’s behavior at critical moments reveals that while Yaakov’s firstborn often has the best of intentions, he “rushes like water,” reacting impetuously, without thought for the ramifications of his actions.

After the death of Rachel, Torah states that Reuven has relations with Bilha, his father’s concubine (and the mother of two of Yaakov’s children). (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Breish’t, Perek 35, posuk 22) Some suggest that Reuven felt that Bilha was permitted to him because he viewed her only as his father’s concubine.

The Talmud, however, maintains that Reuven did not actually sleep with Bilha at all. Instead, the Rabbis say, Reuven acted to protect the honor of his mother, Leah. After Rachel died, Yaakov established his primary residence in the tent of Bilha, who had been Rachel’s maidservant… Without his father’s knowledge, Reuven took matters into his own hands and moved his father’s bed into his mother, Leah’s tent. While Reuven’s motives were understandable, his actions were precipitous and impulsive, earning him a reprimand from his father’s deathbed, in which Yaakov rebukes him for this incident: “Unstable as water, you shall not lead, for you have mounted your father’s bed…” (Rabbi Goldin again citing Sefer Breish’t, Perek 49, posuk 4)

At the scene of Yosef’s sale into slavery, Reuven’s does attempt to save his brother. His efforts, however, fall painfully short. Instead of openly challenging his brother’s horrific plan, [he] convinces his siblings that their own design can be more easily achieved by throwing Yosef into a pit. (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Breish’t, Perek 37, posul 22) Reuven, however, gives no thought to the dangers potentially lurking in the darkness of the pit, which according to Rabbinic tradition, was actually filled with snakes and scorpions.” (Rabbi Goldin citing Talmud Bavli Shabbos 22a)

Reuven then mysteriously disappears from the scene, only to return after Yosef’s sale is complete. (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Breish’t, Perek 37, posuk 29) Whatever the cause for Reuven’s departure (the Rabbis offer various suggestions as to why he left), nothing should have been more important than remaining and ensuring his brother’s safety.

The text, in brilliant yet indirect fashion, hints at the incompleteness of Reuven’s attempts to save Yosef by openly stating that Reuven acts “in order to save him [Yosef], to return him to his father. (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Breish’t, Perek 37, posuk 22)

The author recalls that there are also sources indicating the Reuven may have had to leave the scene to return home to serve his father, and that he later returned, after the sale was complete, to find the pit empty and Yosef gone.

Rabbi Moshe Ungar would note, back in Philadelphia — in the Old Country — had Reuven rescued Yosef from the pit and had carried him home triumphantly to his father, that act would have brought Moshiach.

Maybe, over the next couple of years, we can contrast Yosef and Yehuda and gain additional understanding as the Divine choice of Yehuda for Kingship, for Leadership of Am Yisrael for all time.

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 thrice expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebuilt homes, at government expense; both due to alt-leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized Yassamnik gunpoint. Baruch Hashem that our dear brother Jonathan Pollard is now free of his parole and restrictions and can come home to Eretz Yisrael once his ill wife Esther Yocheved bat Rayzl Bracha completes her treatments for cancer. May 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 and a half 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. And may we soon and finally see the total end to the Communist Chinese corona virus pandemic and all like viruses. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nei 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!!!

Good Shabbos!
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.