Nu, before we begin Parshas Vayishlach, let’s quickly chazir (review) some of last week’s highlights. Yankif met his bashert, one of them, at the well. He kissed her, cried, fell in love, worked for seven years to get her, got married, discovered in the morning that he chapped the wrong sister, finally married the girl he fell in love with one week later, married the handmaidens of both sisters – themselves also sisters- for a total of four wives (2 full sisters and two half-sisters), sired 11 boys and one girl, was a successful shepherd, got ripped off by his shvindler (con artist) of a father-in-law, and left town with his entire family. Nu, let’s see what Vayishlach has to offer and it’s quite a bit.
Also before we begin, a shtikel shout-out to the heylige Oisvorfer who is out this evening celebrating 25 years of marriage to the same eishes chayil, also editor in chief: yikes!!
Vayishlach features: war games, kidnapping, rape, murder and efsher a shtikel incest, oy vey. What it doesn’t feature is nachas from the kinder, none at all, nebech. Last year, the Oisvorfer covered the entire Dina mayseh (incident), avada oisvorfs like you, want to read that again and space permitting efsher (maybe) we’ll get back to this amazing story of rape and revenge a bit later. If not, you can visit www.oisvorfer.com and check out the archives, zicher cheaper than buying a magazine in a brown paper bag, if you chap. Lommer ober unfangin (let’s instead begin with another shocking story that takes place towards the end of this week’s dizzying parsha.) This one involves Reuven, Yankif’s bechoir (first born) and some meyseh (affair) that he either had or didn’t with stepmother Bilha. Says the heylige Toirah azoy:
|22. And it came to pass when Israel sojourned in that land, that Reuven went and lay with Bilhah, his father’s concubine, and Israel heard [of it], and so, the sons of Yaccov were twelve.||
כב. וַיְהִי בִּשְׁכֹּן יִשְׂרָאֵל בָּאָרֶץ הַהִוא וַיֵּלֶךְ רְאוּבֵן וַיִּשְׁכַּב אֶת בִּלְהָה פִּילֶגֶשׁ אָבִיו וַיִּשְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל פ וַיִּהְיוּ בְנֵי יַעֲקֹב שְׁנֵים עָשָׂר:
Reuven did what? He lay or slept with Bilha, one of Yankif’s wives? Could this be? Say it’s not so please! Are we talking about Rueven, one of the holy shevotim (tribes)? Is there any good news in this? Avada there is: Suddenly your chazerish behavior doesn’t seem all that giferlich, oy vey!
Ober, says Rashi that Reuven did not have sexual relations with his father’s concubine. Shoin! Zicher not the last time someone of importance made such a statement. Did the RBSO chas v’sholom (heaven forbid) have an issue with language or expression? Are the words of the heylige Toirah not meant as written? Does the word “vayishkav” maybe mean that he took her to the movies? Does it have any other meaning in the entire Toirah kulah (anywhere else in Tanach)? Zicher nisht ober Rashi and avada others couldn’t chap (fathom) that Reuven would chap his own step mother and instead dissected the words, and thought about every other possibility until they cleverly came up with a plausible explanation. And though the heylige Toirah says he lay with her, avada Rashi knew better and says that he only lay with her in his heart: he lusted for her. Lusting is avada not lying, and which one of you chazerim hasn’t lusted? Many of you lust daily. Shoin: Ober since he lusted, the Toirah considers the nasty thoughts he had as if he mamish did the act but in reality, he didn’t. Givaldick mamish. Avada this pshat was more pleasing to Rashi and a few others, and avada a much more pleasing image to conjure up vs. that of Reuven bedding his own stepmother. Nu, did he or didn’t he lay with his stepmother? Lommer lernin (let’s learn) or try to without letting your imaginations run wild, chazerim that you are.
Nu, in order to get some better color on what went down here, besides possibly Reueven if you chap, we need to skip ahead a few weeks to the last Parsha of Sefer Bereishes (Vayichi) where Yankif, near death, though some say he never died, gathered his kids for a final round of brochos (blessings) or so they thought. First up was Reuven and this is what we will read.
“Reuven, you are my firstborn, my strength and my initial vigor, foremost in rank and foremost in power” (Bereishis 49:3). As the first born you were worthy of receiving a greater share than your brothers – the kehuna (priesthood) and the kingdom, but because of your “water-like impetuosity, you cannot be foremost” (ibid. 4). Your acting in haste was responsible for that additional share being taken from you and granted to others (the kehuna to Levi and the kingdom to Yehuda). Where do we find your impetuosity? “Because you mounted your father’s bed” (ibid.), referring to the incident related in Parshas Vayishlach: “Reuven went and lay with Bilha, his father’s concubine” (Bereishis 35:22). Seemingly, according to Yankif’s words, not just did Reuven lay with her, he also did some mounting. Nu, efsher he considered her a diamond, ver veyst.
On the other hand…. says the heylige Gemora (Shabbis 55b) and in other places (Midrash Rabba on Vayichi), that whoever says that Reuven sinned is only making a mistake. Is mounting efsher a mitzvah instead? Was it Friday night? In other words: Reuven was totally innocent. At most he was guilty of re-arranging some furniture, namely his father’s bed. Shoin and settled.
And as proof, says the heylige Gemora azoy: R. Shmuel b. Nachman said in R. Yoinoson’s name: Whoever maintains that Reuven sinned is merely making an error, for it is said, Now the sons of Yankif were twelve, teaching that they were all equal. In other words: since Yankif did not disinherit Reueven, he must have been innocent of the charges. Then how do I interpret, “and he lay with Bilhah his father’s concubine?” This teaches that he transposed his father’s couch, and the Toirah imputes [blame] to him as though he had lain with her. Was Reuven not punished for his actions in the incident involving Bilha? Did he not lose the kehuna and the kingdom? Did Yankif not rebuke him? How can Chazal say he did not sin?
And does everyone agree that Reuven, years before Moishe’s Movers, was merely the first Yid in the furniture moving business? Seemingly not and others in the heylige Gemora conclude that farkert (quite the opposite): Reuven did indeed chap (sleep) with Bilha, one of his father’s four wives. Such Yiddishe nachas.
Nu, it would appear that Yankif does not agree with Rashi. On the other hand, could it be that Reuven broke all the furniture while moving it and that Yankif was upset about not having insurance and being reimbursed by Reuven, ver veyst?
Nu, vus-iz-di-intershte-shira (what’s the bottom line) with this Reuven incident? Did he or didn’t he? Ver veyst but there are different approaches and avada different views, depending avada if it was just laying or mounting, if you chap, and let’s taka see what some had to say about Reuven, Bilha and Yankif.
One approach: Reuven did sin ober not to the level of bedding Bilha. In other words: though the heylige Toirah says he did, really he didn’t and we cannot read the words literally. Say Chazal (our wise ones): whoever accuses Reuven of having relations of a sexual nature as described by a literal interpretation of the words in the verse, is mistaken. How could one be guilty and innocent at the same time?
Ober says the Medrish Rabba (Vayichi) something quite shocking. Raboyseyee, this is mamish a quote, check it out. Yankif, now on his deathbed and still smarting from Reuven’s chapping of what belonged to the tata, said this to his son Reuven:
“Reuven, you are my firstborn — you are a bechoir and I am a bechoir (of course after the famous purchase). I was 84 years old and I never saw an accidental seminal emission. And you, ‘and he went and slept with Bilhah’.” It’s epes quite clear that Yankif was still not over the mounting incident and viewed Reuven’s offense as an explicit sexual sin. Yikes! Was Reuven’s ill advised bedroom adventure covered up and swept under the bed? Efsher.
Say some that he entertained the notion of performing such a terrible act but never in fact carried it out. It was lust only. Says another pshat: he never even considered such an action, he was mamish totally innocent and pure. He never had his eyes and zicher not other parts on Bilha and didn’t even lust for her. Instead pshat is like Rashi who tells us that “he disturbed his father’s bed, and Scripture regards him as if he lay with her” (ibid.). What did he taka do? Reuven prevented his father Yankif from moving into Bilha’s tent. What’s pshat? Seemingly, following the passing of Rochel, the one he mamish loved, Yankiff moved his bed into Bilha’s tent, she being the handmaiden of Rochel. Reuven wasn’t happy that Yankif selected Bilha over his mother Leah and took matters into his own hands (possibly causing the accidental emission, if you chap) by moving Yankif’s bed into his mother Leah’s tent. All good.
Why would Reuven move the bed? Said Reuven to himself: if my mother’s sister was a rival to my mother, shall the maidservant of my mother’s sister be a rival to my mother?” (ibid.). Bottom line according to this pshat: Reuven was driven by a desire to defend the honor of his saintly mother ober, Yankif, as we mentioned earlier, still carried a grudge. Ober taka why? Seemingly he was upset that Reuven was only consumed with Leah and her feelings and never considered his father’s feelings. Efsher Bilha had epes special talents and was able to better console him on his loss, ver veyst. In other words: Reuven was guilty of being a mechutzif (wisenheimer) to his father and maybe that’s why Yankif dealt with him harshly on his death bed. Could be, no?
Nu efsher you’re wondering how Chazal can tell us that he was innocent mamish and that “whoever says Reuven sinned is simply mistaken”, so were others? And says the heylige Gemora (Shabbis 63a) that in principle, “a verse never departs from its simple meaning”. Seemingly, though this is mamish a real principle, it seemingly doesn’t always apply, or at least not to everyone equally. That’s another principle. Shoin.
What taka happened, ver veyst. One thing is zicher: the good people who wrote the heylige Gemora were the forerunners of defense lawyers and they went through great pains to vindicate Reuven. And so effective was their defense of Reuven, they were hired to handle another famous scandal -namely the case of Dovid Hamelech and Batsheva- with a similar result. Chazal tell us “whoever claims that Dovid sinned is simply mistaken” (Shabbis 56a). One cannot be guilty of the acts that Dovid is accused of, and still be referred to as “the anointed one of the G-d of Yaakov, and the pleasing composer of the songs of Israel” (Shmuel II 23:1), ancestor of the moshiach whose arrival we eagerly await to come and redeem us in fulfillment of the Almighty’s promises to Dovid.
Wouldn’t it have been easier for the Gemora to conclude that both were guilty but that both did Tshuva? Avada we all know that the RBSO loves people who do tshuva. Moreover, another Gemora (Brachois 34b). tells us that “in the place where baalei tshuva stand, the completely righteous do not stand” Even if Reuven did in fact sin, he repented. Does this not restore him to the righteous level he was on? Can one lay with his stepmother and still be referred to as one of the holy shevotim (Shivtay Ko)? Yes, if he repents!!!
Says the Mishna: when the Toirah was translated into Aramaic during public Toirah reading, the pasuk (verse) describing Reuven’s deed or misdeed was not translated. It was read, but left without TIRGUM so as not to mislead and confuse the people. Grada, the Oisvorfer has been reading this posik for over 50 years and not once was he confused: it states what Reuven did and that’s exactly what was understood. On the other hand, others suggest that it’s pisukim (verses) such as this one that are glaring examples of the need to study the Oral tradition along with the written word; they must go together to chap pshat and to make sense of sometimes shocking and confusing text.
And says the Yalkut Shimoni: Reuven was not only Yankif’s bechoir (firstborn), he was also the “Bechoir LeTeshuva,” the first baal Teshuva (first to repent). And since he made amends with the RBSO, though nowhere are we told how, what, where or when, we protect his honor by not translating the one verse in the heylige Toirah that really casts a poor reflection on his activities in the bedroom. Taka a good enough reason to consider teshuva.
Was he the first real baal teshuva, ver veyst, and certainly others argue that he wasn’t at all the first. Ober says the Kotzker Rebbe: although Reuven was not the first to do teshuva, he pioneered a new form of teshuva. Reuven was the first to do teshuva for what, in his mind, was instead a great mitzvah. He was attempting to defend his mother’s honor, but, in actuality, was committing an aveirah (sin). Even so, when Reuven was told that what he had done was wrong, he accepted his guilt and did teshuva. This type of teshuva takes a lot more strength because the person originally acted with the best of intentions. This is why Reuven is singled out as the first to do teshuva and why Chazal wanted to protect Reuven’s reputation. Gishmak mamish.
Efsher you’re also wondering why Yankif taka opted for Bilha, Reuven’s stepmother instead of Leah his real mother, me too. Was she efsher mamish ugly and so repugnant? She was after all the mother of a bunch of holy shevtim and Dina and did a good job as mother and wife. What did this Bilha have over her? Nu, let’s take a look under the covers.
Rochel nebech passed away during childbirth to Binyomin at the age of 36, Yankif lost the love of his life. He chose to make Bilha his new primary wife ober why her? Who were Bilha and Zilpah? What was their uniqueness that made them worthy of being Mothers in Israel?
Though the heylige Toirah tells us that Lovon was a bad guy, seemingly he still had good kids and so much for yichus (pedigree). The Oisvorfer has told you on more than one occasion: when it comes to yichus, best to make your own! Born from Lovon but from different mothers, Rochel and Leah were raised as primary daughters while Bilha and Zilpah were relegated to lesser positions. Why, ver veyst? Seemingly their uniqueness was their acceptance of their destiny as reflections of their older sisters. Bilha modeled herself after Rochel and Zilpah modeled herself after Leah. What Soroh had hoped to accomplish when she introduced Hogor into her marriage with Avrohom besides efsher a threesome, Rochel and Leah did without aggravation. Hogor refused to subjugate herself to Soroh while Bilha and Zilpah willingly subjugated themselves to Rochel and Leah. They were true “maidservants to Rochel and Leah.” Had they been asked what was their greatest honor in life they would have answered, to be known as the mirror images of their older sisters and mentors. It would mean that they accomplished
Says the Zoihar and who knew more, azoy: “While Leah and Rochel were alive the Shechina (The RBSO’s presence) rested upon them. Following their passing, the Shechina did not depart from the household of Yankif; instead, it rested within the home of Bilha.”
Ober Reuven was young and impetuous and decided to correct what he considered to be an insult to his mother. Rather than consult with his mother; rather than respectfully question his father; Reuven acted on his own well-intended conclusion. In doing so, Reuven revealed a fundamental flaw that was not unique to him. Reuven revealed the tendency of every human to follow the dictates of his own heart and mind. On his deathbed, Yankif turned to Reuven and said, “Your impetuousness in deciding on your own to move my bed from Bilha’s tent to your mother’s tent was a big no-no. Had you only asked either myself or your mother why I had placed my bed in the tent of Bilha rather than the more obvious choice of Leah’s tent, you would have understood that Bilha and Rochel were one and the same and in Rochel’s absence the Shechina had chosen Bilha.
It appears that our forefathers, foremothers and their kinderlach had their challenges, none got by life unscathed. The RBSO loved them all despite whatever personal failings they overcame or didn’t. Reuven’s name, was still carried by the Koihain Godol (High Priest) on one of his garments, despite the Bilha incident and his complicity in throwing his brother into a pit full of snakes (next week). Seemingly, he and many others got second and even third chances. There seems to be hope for many of you as well.
A gitten shabbis-
The Oisvorfer Ruv