Monday, December 03, 2007

Reuvain's attempt to save Yosef and the written word

I have to take a little break from the hilchos eidus topic to post on a midrash that my wife has a nice pshat in. The Midrash comments, “If Reuven had known that the Holy One Blessed be He was writing about him, ‘Vayishma Reuven vayatzileyhu miyadam,’ he would have carried him [Yosef] on his shoulders to his father.” It seems unconscionable to think that Reuvain, one of the holy shevatim, was motivated by a desire for personal fame and that knowing that his deeds would be recorded would have made any difference in how he acted. So what are we to make of Chazal’s anlysis?

My wife already set me up by linkng here for my take, but I’m not sure I have a good pshat. The Shem m’Shmuel suggests that once the brothers came to agreement, there was good reason to assume that their unanimous decision was the ratzon Hashem. Just like once a Rav paskens “mutar” or “asur” one can act on his advice without pains of conscience or doubt, so too, once the brothers came to agreement, there was no reason to hesitate. So why did Reuvain have second thoughts?

While the brothers planned, a bas kol (as Rashi cites from Chazal) declared that G-d in fact had a different plan, “nireh mah y’hiyu chalomosav”. Apparently Reuvain was stirred by this bas kol that echoed in his mind or heart, but which his brothers were deaf to. He was unsure what to make of it – the bas kol did not demand the return of Yosef to his father (perhaps return to his father would only impede the realization of the dreams), but it did not allow him to sit passively while Yosef was harmed.

Had Reuvain known what the Torah would record – that there was a clear ratzon Hashem concurring with his effort to save Yosef - he undoubtedly would have gone above and beyond the efforts he made and would have certainly brought Yosef home.

I think the lesson here is as follows: The Midrash does not mean that Reuvain would have acted differently from his natural inclination had he known his deeds would be recorded, but quite the contrary –Reuvain had an innate desire to save Yosef which he forced himself to restrain. Only had he been aware that the Torah confirmed his interpretation of ratzon Hashem, would he have deviated from his brothers’ psak. (If you look up the Midrash in Rus Rabbah I am not sure this explains the other cases).


  1. anon18:44 AM

    I have heard Rabbi Frand explain the medresh in a similar fashion that you did and he applied to the two other cases in Rus Rabbah (Aharon and Boaz).

  2. Anonymous7:22 PM

    I think both posts miss the essence. It is not about what would be written or reward, it is realization of the import of the deed. "had he realized it would be recorded" means had he realized the chashivus of what he was doing. This seems straightforward.

  3. The Midrash deliberately contrasts recorded deeds with those unrecorded for posterity - ayen sham. To simply say Reuvain did not realize the importance of saving Yosef when the Torah explicitely attributes to him this motivation seems unlikely.