The Torah teaches us in this weeks Parash how Reuvein saved his brother Yosef from being killed by their brothers. The Shevatim determined that Yosef was chayav misah since he was “moreid b’malchus” (punishable by death) by virtue of relating the dream where he forsaw that he would be king instead of his brother Yehudah. They thus wished to kill him according to the Halacha of moreid bmalchus.
Here they chanced upon Yosef and were about to kill him, when the pasuk says that Reuven came “Vayatzileihu M’yadam”…he saved Yosef from his brothers. The pasuk then goes on to describe excatly how Reuvein saved Yosef..by suggesting that they throw him into a pit instead of killing him.
There are two questions here:
First, The pasuk tells us that Reuvein saved his brother even before it tells us how he accomplished it. Why? Secondly, the following pesukim tell us that the pit where Reven suggested they throw Yosef was devoid of water (“V’habor reik ein bo mayim”) and Rashi explains that this pauk is coming to exclude and allude to the snakes and scorpions which were indeed found in this pit (as opposed to water). Reuven had to know about this….how does that constitute saving his brother by having him thrown into a pit with snakes and scorpions?
The Ohr Hacahim on this pasuk tells us a beautiful pshat. Reuven was telling his brothers the following message. He said to them, look all of you are “ba’alei Bechira” you have your own free will as intellectual human beings. You have decided and determined that your brother deserves to die according to your understanding. However, perhaps you are mistaken? Perhaps you are arbitrarily taking the law into your own hands in a misguided interpretation of the Halacha… Therefore, his suggestion to them, was to take the element of negios/prejudice, out of the equation, by throwing him into the pit. In the pit, where the snakes and scorpions are, there is no such problem of free will and free choice which might influence a personal decision. Animals are not intellectual beings, they are instinctive. Therefore, Reuven said, if Hashem wants Yosef to be killed and if his death is justified, then Hashem will instruct the scorpions to devour him. If however, his death isn’t justified, then the animals will leave him alone. This answers our second question. Reuven was counting on Hashem to decide the fate of Yosef and therefore was not perturbed by the fact that the pit may have been infested with scorpions.
Incidentally and parenthetically, there is a Gemorah in Maseches Makkos that describes the punishment for witnesses who were falsified in Beis Din. The gemorah says that Beis Din does to them exactly what they tried to do to the person whom they testified against. If they wanted him killed, we kill them etc. The Gemorah however extrapolates from the Pasuk in the Torah where this is learned from, with the following limud. The pasuk says “Kasher zamam La’asos Leachiv”, we do to the false eidim, what they attempted/tried to inflict upon their brother. The gemorah learns from here that “kasher zamam v’lo kasher asah”…we do to them only what they tried to do, but not what they actually did. In other words, if they did not successfully have their brother killed and then they were falsified, then we have them killed instead. However, if beis din at the point that they (the eidim) were falsified, had already killed the person based on their false testimony, and then they are falsified, we do not have them killed. The question is obvious: surely if they were successful in having somebody wrongfully killed..surely, they should also be punished with death!!? Rav Sholomo Heiman Zatzal says a pshat in his sefer. He says that it is not possible that Hashem should have somebody killed by another individual if he truly did not deserve to die. Therefore, in such an instant, where a person gets killed based on false testimony, it is only because Hashem wanted that person to die and therefore, we do not kill the eidim in this scenario, simply because they were carrying out the shlichus of Hashem. Now, assuredly, these eidim are not beacons of light..they will be punsihed ultimately, for being the messengers of Hashem in this regard. However, we do not kill them, since, it was not their individual bechirah that actually had the man killed.
This Gemorah does not contradict the vort of the Ohr Hachaim however. The reality is that people have Bechiro to make actual choices and according to their individual understanding. This was indeed, the case with the Shevatim. Assuredly, if they would have successfully had Yosef killed, then that would have been an indication that Hashem wanted Yosef killed, just like we see in the Gemorah in Makkos. However, Reuven was warning them not to actually make such a choice..not to arbitrarily decide to become Hashems messengers in this regard.
The Seforno over here also adds a beautiful pshat. He says that the way Reven was able to save Yosef, was simply by virtue of insisting and instructing the Shevatim to take a step back and to take a moment to reflect. He explains that in a moment of anger the brothers were liable to act on impulse and kill Yosef in the heat of the moment and in their haste. Often times when we act quickly and impulsively, we make the wrong decision and one which we will ofetn regret later on, when we have a moment to reflect properly…only then, it’s too late.
Reuven was appealing to his brothers to take a step back..to simply break that element of anger and impulsivity which brings haste to a decision…..and in so doing, the pasuk says that Reuven saved his brother even before he offered an alternative suggestion. He broke that crucial element and afforded them the ability to step back and view this objectively.
Interestingly, the Seforno uses Reuven himself as an example of what can happen when we act on impulse and make hasty decisions. Reuven took exception to the fact that Yaakov Avinu decided to live with Bilha after Rochel Imeinu was nifteres. He acted impulsively and switched the beds so that Yaakov would live with his mother Leah instead.
At the end of Yaakov’s life, when he was giving out the brachos to the shevatim, he decided to take away the zechus of Reuven as a bchor to take “pi shnaim” (the double portion of the inheritance usually afforded to the oldest son), as a punishment for his hasty and rash decision to switch the beds earlier (Yaakov admonished him with the statement of “Pachaz kamayim”…your hasty and incorrect decision to act swiftly…like rushing water).
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