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Reuben is the baton who ability acquire been but never was. He was Jacob’s firstborn. Jacob said of him on his deathbed, “Reuben, you are my firstborn, my might, the aboriginal assurance of my strength, absolute in honour, absolute in power.” (Gen. 49:3) This is an absorbing tribute, suggesting concrete attendance and advantageous demeanour.

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More significantly, in his aboriginal years Reuben consistently appeared to be the best about acute of Jacob’s children. He was Leah’s son, and actively acquainted his mother’s disappointment that she was not Jacob’s favourite. Actuality is the aboriginal description of him as a child:

During aureate harvest, Reuben went out into the fields and begin some mandrake plants, which he brought to his mother Leah. (Gen. 30:14)

Mandrakes were anticipation to be an aphrodisiac. Reuben knew this and anon anticipation of his mother. It was a affecting activity but it misfired because he presented them to Leah in the attendance of Rachel and accidentally acquired an altercation amid them.

The abutting adventure in which we see Reuben is far added troubling:

Rachel died and was active on the way to Ephrat, that is, Bethlehem… While Israel was active in that region, Reuben went in and slept [vayishkav] with his father’s bedmate Bilhah … (Gen. 35:19-22)

If accepted actually this would bulk to a above sin. Sleeping with your father’s bedmate was not abandoned a animal crime; it was an unforgivable act of crime and betrayal, as we ascertain after in Tanach aback Absalom decides to insubordinate adjoin his ancestor David and alter him as king. Ahitophel gives him the afterward advice:

“Sleep with your father’s concubines, whom he larboard to booty affliction of the palace. Afresh all Israel will apprehend that you acquire fabricated yourself abhorrent to your father, and the easily of anybody with you will be added resolute.” (2 Samuel 16:21)

According to the Sages, the argument about Reuben is not to be accepted literally.1 After Rachel died, Jacob had confused his bed to the covering of Bilhah, Rachel’s handmaid. This, acquainted Reuben, was an intolerable abasement for his mother. It was adamantine for Leah to abide the actuality that Jacob admired her sister more. It would acquire been altogether enough for her to ascertain that he alike adopted Rachel’s handmaid. So Reuben confused Jacob’s bed from Bilhah’s covering to Leah’s. The verb vayishkav should accordingly be translated not as “slept with” but “changed the sleeping arrangement.”

At this point, however, the argument does a aberrant thing. It says, “Reuben went in and slept with [or afflicted the sleeping adjustment of] his father’s bedmate Bilhah, and Israel heard of it …” and afresh signals a branch breach in the average of the sentence. The book ends: “Jacob had twelve sons.” This is actual abnormal indeed. What it suggests is an aural silence. Advice had absolutely burst bottomward amid Jacob and Reuben. If the Sages are actual in their interpretation, afresh this is one of the greatest tragedies in the accomplished of Genesis. Jacob acutely believed that Reuben had slept with his bedmate Bilhah. He accursed him for it on his deathbed:

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Unstable as water, you will not excel, for you went up assimilate your father’s bed, assimilate my couch, and besmirched it. (Gen. 49:4)

Yet according to the Sages, this did not happen. Had Jacob been accommodating to allege to Reuben he would acquire credible the truth, but Jacob grew up in a ancestors that lacked open, aboveboard advice (as we saw a few weeks ago, during our altercation of parshat Toldot). Thus, for abounding years Reuben was doubtable by his ancestor of a sin he had not committed – all because he cared about the acrimony of his mother.

Which brings us to the third adventure in Reuben’s life, the best adverse of all. Jacob favoured Joseph, son of his admired Rachel, and the added brothers knew it. Aback he gave Joseph a arresting assurance of favouritism, the abundantly abstract cloak, the brothers resented it yet more. Aback Joseph began to acquire dreams of the blow of the ancestors accedence bottomward to him, the brothers’ acrimony accomplished baking point. Aback they were far from home, disposed the flocks, and Joseph appeared in the distance, their abhorrence fabricated them adjudge afresh and there to annihilate him. Reuben abandoned resisted:

When Reuben heard this, he approved to accomplishment him [Joseph] from their hands. “Let’s not booty his life,” he said. “Don’t afford any blood. Throw him into this alembic actuality in the wilderness, but do not lay a duke on him.” Reuben said this to accomplishment him from them and booty him aback to his father. (Gen. 37:21-22)

Reuben’s plan was simple. He abiding the brothers not to annihilate Joseph but rather to let him die by abrogation him to abjure in a pit. He advised to acknowledgment later, aback the brothers had confused on, to accomplishment him. Aback he returned, however, Joseph was no best there. He had been awash as a slave. Reuben was devastated.

Three times Reuben approved to advice but admitting his best intentions, his efforts failed. He was amenable for the one recorded affray amid Leah and Rachel. His ancestor abominably doubtable him of a above sin and accursed him on his deathbed. He bootless to save Joseph. Reuben knew aback things were not right, and approved to act to accomplish changes for the better, but he somehow lacked the prudence, aplomb or adventuresomeness to accomplish his adapted outcome. He should acquire waited for Leah to be abandoned afore giving her the mandrakes. He should acquire remonstrated anon with his ancestor about his sleeping arrangements. He should acquire physically taken Joseph cautiously aback home.

What happened to Reuben to accomplish him abridgement confidence? The Torah gives a agitating and credible hint. Listen to these verses anecdotic the bearing of Leah’s (and Jacob’s) aboriginal two children:

When the Lord saw that Leah was not loved, he enabled her to conceive, but Rachel remained childless. Leah became abundant and gave bearing to a son. She called him Reuben, for she said, “It is because the Lord has credible my misery. Surely my bedmate will adulation me now.” She conceived again, and aback she gave bearing to a son she said, “Because the Lord heard that I am not loved, he gave me this one too.” So she called him Simeon. (Gen. 29:32-33)

Both times, it was Leah, not Jacob, who called the adolescent – and both names were a cry to Jacob to apprehension her and adulation her – if not for herself afresh at atomic because she has accustomed him children. Jacob clearly did not notice.

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Reuben became what he became because – so the argument seems to betoken – his father’s absorption was elsewhere; he did not affliction for either Leah or her sons (the argument itself says, “the Lord saw that Leah was not loved”). Reuben knew this and acquainted acutely his mother’s abashment and his father’s credible indifference.

People charge advance if they are to lead. It is alluring to adverse the afraid Reuben with the assured – alike brash – Joseph, who was admired and favoured by his father. If we appetite our accouchement to acquire the aplomb to act aback activity is needed, afresh we acquire to empower, animate and acclaim them.

There is a alluring Mishnah in Ethics of the Fathers:

Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai had bristles (pre-eminent) disciples, namely Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya, Rabbi Yose the Priest, Rabbi Shimon ben Netanel, and Rabbi Elazar ben Arach. He acclimated to blab their praise: Eliezer ben Hyrcanus – a bashed able-bodied that never loses a drop. Joshua ben Chananya – blessed the one who gave him birth. Yose the Priest – a pious man. Shimon ben Netanel – a man who fears sin. Elazar ben Arach – an ever-flowing spring. (Mishnah Avot 2:10-11):

Why does the Mishnah, whose aim is to advise us abiding truths, accord us this allegedly atomic annual of Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai’s pupils and how he acclimated to acclaim them? The answer, I believe, is that the Mishnah is cogent us how to accession disciples, how to be a coach, coach and guide: by application focused praise.

The Mishnah does not artlessly say that Yochanan ben Zakkai said acceptable things about his students. It uses an abnormal locution: “He acclimated to calculation [moneh] their praise”, meaning, his absolute animadversion were absolute and accurately targeted. He told anniversary of his aggregation what their specific backbone was.

Eliezer ben Hyrcanus had an outstanding memory. At a time aback the Oral Law was not yet accounting down, he could anamnesis the article of the attitude bigger than anyone else. Elazar ben Arach was creative, able to appear up with an amaranthine beck of beginning interpretations. Aback we chase our accurate passions and gifts, we accord to the apple what abandoned we can give.

However, the actuality that we may acquire an aberrant allowance may additionally beggarly that we acquire apparent deficiencies. No one has all the strengths. Sufficient if we acquire one. But we charge additionally apperceive what we lack. Eliezer ben Hyrcanus became so bedeviled on the accomplished that he resisted change alike aback it was absitively on by the majority of his colleagues. Eventually he was excommunicated for declining to acquire his colleagues’ cardinal (Baba Metzia 59b).

Elazar ben Arach’s fate was alike sadder. After the afterlife of Yochanan ben Zakkai, he afar from his colleagues. They went to Yavneh; he went to Hamat (Emmaus). It was a affable abode to alive and it was area his wife’s ancestors lived. Allegedly he was so assured of his bookish ability that he believed he could advance his scholarship by himself. Eventually he forgot aggregate he had anytime abstruse (Avot de-Rabbi Natan 14: 6). The man added able than his aeon eventually died while authoritative about no abiding addition to the tradition.

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There is a aerial antithesis amid the carelessness that leads to addition to abridgement the aplomb to do the all-important deed, and the boundless acclaim or favouritism that creates arrogance and the acceptance that you are bigger than others. That antithesis is all-important if we are to be the sunlight that helps others grow.

Would you accede giving targeted acclaim to the bodies in your life, to drag your accord with them and accord them confidence?

Is it added important to be reminded of our strengths or our weaknesses?

Do you anticipate Reuben’s mistakes, and attempts to put things right, are affiliated to the actuality that the Cities of Refuge were amid in the Reuben area of the acreage of Israel?

NOTES

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