“Reuven returned to the pit and behold Joseph was not in the pit, so he rent his garments” Genesis 37:29 ACCORDING to the Torah, Reuben missed the entire episode of the sale of Joseph. So where had he been? Rashi, quoting the Midrash, curiously refers to an earlier episode.
The sages explain that Reuben had sinned against his father by changing Jacob’s sleeping arrangements. While Joseph was being sold, Reuben was preoccupied in repenting for this sin.
There is a point to the apparent connection made by Rashi between this and the earlier incident, as Rav Soloveitchik elaborates.
The tribes of Israel were all giants of great spiritual stature but they saw in Joseph a threat. Our sages say that they took him before a Beth Din, a rabbinical court, composed of the greatest judges of the day, namely themselves. This court found him guilty and condemned him to death.
What did they do so wrong, asks the Rav: surely we should follow the maxim that the judge can only rule according to the evidence set before him?
Their sin, he goes on to explain, was that they did not ask. There was an halachic authority superior to them: Jacob their father and teacher. He should have been consulted over such an important issue, yet he was not. The brothers took the law into their own hands.
This very sin had been perpetrated initially by Reuben. It was he who had led the brothers to believe they could do without guidance, when he decided to alter his father’s sleeping arrangements. Now when he finds Joseph gone, Reuben is bereft, for he realises how he had misled his brothers to sin the very same sin he was busy repenting for.
Rashi’s lesson is clear: we too must seek guidance rather than take spiritual matters into our own hands. We must approach halachic authorities on all relevant matters and, above all, learn to ask questions. RABBI CHAIM KANTEROVITZ