A King - Size Mistake
“...foremost in rank and foremost in power. Water-like impetuosity -
you cannot be foremost, because you
mounted your father’s bed...” (49:3,4)
Yaakov rebukes Reuvein for acting in an impetuous manner when moving his
couch to Leah’s tent. As a result of this action, Reuvein loses his right
to the monarchy and Priesthood for
which he was destined. Why does Yaakov condemn Reuvein’s impetuosity?
Would the sin not have been greater
if Reuvein would have acted in a calculated manner? Does acting
impetuously not mitigate the transgression?
The Torah teaches that it is prohibited to remind a penitent as to his
 Reuvein is the quintessential penitent; the Torah relates that Reuvein
was not present when the brothers
sold Yosef, for he had returned to his sackcloth and fasting to atone for
transgression concerning moving his father’s couch. Why then does Yaakov
rebuke Reuvein for a transgression for which he had already been repenting
at least thirty-nine years? Why is the quid-pro-quo for Reuvein’s
the loss of his leadership position in Klal Yisroel?
When repenting for a transgression which we have committed, we very
often focus on the transgression, rather than the character flaw which is
root of the transgression. Yaakov’s intention in rebuking Reuvein was not
condemn him for the transgression for which Reuvein had already repented;
Yaakov was identifying for Reuvein the character flaw which caused him to
commit the transgression, impetuosity. Impetuous behavior is symptomatic
lack of self-control.
This is not the first time we find Yaakov censuring Reuvein for behaving
in a manner which lacks forethought. When the brothers explain to Yaakov
that Yosef has incarcerated Shimon and is refusing to release him unless
bring Binyamin before him, Reuvein offers his own two sons’ lives as a
that he will return Binyamin home safely. Here too, Yaakov admonishes
Reuvein for his foolish suggestion. Clearly, Yaakov is sensitive to
character flaw, his impetuosity.
In addition to effectively controlling his subjects, one of the primary
of a leader is to teach his subjects self-control. For this to be
possible, the leader
must himself project and image which reflects the highest standards of
Therefore, Reuvein, who has displayed that he behaves in an unrestrained
manner, is denied the opportunity to have the monarchy stem from his
descendants. Similarly, the responsibility for the sanctity of the
only be placed in the hands of a person who epitomizes self-control, for
manifests itself wherever self-control is found.
1. 49:4, See Rashi and Ramban
2. Shmos 22:20..
3. 37:29, See Rashi
4. 42:37, See Rashi verse 38 and Ramban
5. Rashi Vayikra 19:2
The Lion's Burden
“And white-toothed from milk” (49:12)
Many commentaries interpret this passage literally, as a description of
Yehuda’s suitability for
royalty, i.e. that he was a man of regal appearance. The Talmud,
however, offers the following homiletic
interpretation: The person who shows the white of his teeth by smiling
affectionately to his fellow man,
has done more good than the person who offers his fellow man milk to
drink. Rather than interpreting
the verse “u’leven shinayim maychalav” - “teeth white from milk”, one
should read “u’levone shinayim
maychalav” - “showing the whiteness of your teeth is more beneficial than
milk”. What is the connection
between the homiletic and literal interpretations? Why should this message
be relayed in the blessing
The Talmud teaches that were it not that Hashem provided for
the animals, each animal would be suited for a particular profession. The
fox would be most competent as a storekeeper and the lion as a porter.
The Maharal explains that the fox symbolizes shrewdness, a trait necessary
for a storekeeper, to convince his customers to purchase his wares.
A lion symbolizes strength, and therefore, is physically suited for the job
of a porter.
It is difficult to understand why the lion, who is the symbol of
sovereignty, the lion being the symbol of Yehudah, would be depicted
as a porter, which is from the least respectable of professions. Chazal
must be teaching us that the unique nature of Yehuda’s sovereignty is
that he is the ultimate servant of the people. Yehuda does not beat his
subjects into submission to fulfill his own agenda; rather, he serves and
caters to the needs of his people, submitting himself to their agenda.
Therefore, the lion is appropriately described as a porter, who is willing
to carry the burden of all those whom he serves.
Yehuda’s nature is aptly depicted in last week’s parsha, when
he is willing to become a slave to Yosef so that Binyamin may go free.
Yehuda sets aside his own personal
agenda for the well-being of another.
The notion of greeting everyone with a genuine smile so that they will
feel appreciated and significant
reflects the same quality portrayed by Yehuda. A person is required to set
aside all thoughts or
worries which trouble him, and relay a genuine sense of joy for the well-
being of another.
1. Rav Saadya Gaon, Bchor Shor, Akeida
2. Kesuvos 111b
3. Kiddushin 82b
4. Chiddushei Agados ibid.