VAYESHEV

The Jewish Chronicle - - JUDAISM -

“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

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