Shabbat schedule - Friday - Shabbat, December 4 - 5, 2015

Halachic Times
Earliest Tefillin (latest of the week): 6:15 AM
Latest Shma (earliest of the week): 9:25 AM

Torah reading: VaYeshev (Genesis 37:1 - 40:23)
Haftorah: Amos 2:6 -3:8

Shabbat Candle Lighting: 4:10 PM
Shabbat ends: 5:14 PM

Shabbat Mevarchim - We bless the New Month of Tevet
Molad for the New Moon: Friday, December 11, 7 :19 & 12/18 AM
Rosh Chodesh Tevet is next Shabbat and Sunday, December 12 & 13



Rueben’s Heroic Act

The rivalry between Joseph and his brothers parallels the rivalries between Cain and Abel; Isaac and Yishmael; Jacob and Esau. Sibling rivalry reaches its nadir when Joseph’s brothers plot to kill him. Joseph was given preferential treatment by their father and had made a point of declaring his superiority to them by recounting his dreams that prophetically predicted their subservience to him.

Just as his brothers are about to administer the death penalty to Joseph (either because they thought he was threatening their lives by accusing them of capital crimes or because they considered him to be a false prophet) Rueben, the oldest brother, intervenes to save his life:

And Reuben heard, and he rescued him from their hand. He said, “We will not strike him mortally!”

And Rueben said to them: “Shed no blood! Throw him into this pit in the desert, but lay no hand on him!” – intending to rescue him from their hand, to return him to his father.

When Rueben left, the other brothers dragged Joseph from the pit and sold him into slavery, sparing his life but subjecting him to a miserable existence for many years.

If Only He had Known…

The Midrash comments on Reuben’s attempt to save Joseph with the following observation:

If Reuben would have known that the Torah will write concerning him, “And Reuben heard, and he rescued him from their hand,” he would have carried him [Joseph] on his shoulders and returned him to his father.

Was Rueben so self-centered that only knowledge of the Torah’s later approval for his heroic act would have impelled him to do the right thing and save his brother? Does the Midrash suggest that Rueben’s attempt at saving his brother was motivated by anything other than his compassion for Joseph and out of regard for his father’s suffering?

Of course, there is an even more basic question to be asked: Why did Rueben, as the oldest son, not finish the job? Shouldn’t he have told his brothers that harming Joseph in any way would be wrong and lead to their father’s perpetual suffering?

The Two Stages of History

The answer to these questions is rooted in a fundamental issue concerning the brothers’ identities as children of Jacob and the way they viewed their role and mission in life.

We know that the world’s history can be divided into two stages: Pre-Sinai and Post-Sinai. From the time of Adam, Noah and onward the world was charged with an obligation to civilize itself by following the so-called Seven Noahide Commandments. At Sinai, G‑d chose the Jewish people and gave them the 613 Commandments which they were to use to transform the world into a Divine world. Each Mitzvah we do introduces G‑dly energy into the world. That energy will ultimately permeate the entire world and lead to the Messianic Age.

There was an intermediate period that bridged between these two stages. It began with Abraham, the first Jew, and continued through Isaac, Jacob, the 12 Tribes and their progeny throughout the Egyptian bondage.

Three generations of Patriarchs took the principles of Monotheism, justice, kindness and righteousness as embodied in the Seven Noahide Commandments, and spread them to the world in preparation for the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. An existential question confronted the 12 sons of Jacob.

How are we, the “intermediate” generations, supposed to view ourselves?

Are we simply one more link in the chain, transmitting the ideals embodied in the Seven Noahide Commandments to the world? Are we just warming the world and preparing it for the ultimate Master Plan that will be given at Sinai to our progeny? Are we just a warm-up act for the real thing? Or, are we part of something much larger than ourselves; a part of that Master Plan?

In other words, the 12 tribes had an identity crisis. Were they simply a continuation of the tradition that began with Noah of making the world a civilized one, laying the ground work for the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people, or were they actually the first generation and nucleus of the Jewish nation? Were they Noahides sharing the same responsibilities as the rest of humanity; or were they members of a new category of humanity: members of the Jewish people?

If they were merely regular people and just “keeping the world’s seat warm” for the real thing, their actions would be measured in a very limited way. They would only be required to ask themselves whether what they were doing was proper in the context of the here and now, the present time. If however it were to be determined that they were a part of the future - that they were members of a new spiritual class, with a revolutionary new mission - then each and every aspect of their behavior must be examined in light of the future. They could not just consider the present.

Our Talmudic Sages ask, “Who is a wise person? One who sees the future?” The ability to see the consequences of one’s actions out into the distant future is the province of the wise. Reuben’s name itself contains the word for and concept of seeing, but he failed to see into the future. Reuben lived only in the present and saw himself as a minor player with limited capabilities and judged his actions accordingly.

Midrash Elucidated

We can now understand the statement of the Midrash that if Rueben would have known that the Torah would extol his decision to save his brother he would have carried him on his shoulders and returned him to his father.

This is meant to suggest that if Rueben knew that he had an important role in the Torah and that his actions were part of the unfolding of the future his entire thought process would have been different. If Rueben had been able to see himself as an integral part of the future he would have seen his role in a far more serious vein.

In simple terms, when one knows that he or she is an integral part of some major future event rather than an insignificant cog in the machinery of the present, one’s entire attitude becomes radically different. The individual will be inspired by a heightened sense of idealism and conscientiousness.

Moreover, when a person knows that he has a mission it motivates him to do more. When a person knows that his or her action is central to the fulfillment of the mission it gives the person so much more comfort and motivation.

We can live our entire lives and not understand why we are here except in the broadest and most superficial of terms. If we are told precisely what our mission is, our sense of legitimacy and authenticity is magnified.

Such could have been the case with Rueben and Joseph. Had he known that he was more than just treading water, Rueben would have done so much more to save Joseph.

If Rueben had known how important the Torah considered his half-baked efforts at saving Joseph he would have been filled with a sense of legitimacy and purposefulness. He would have realized that he was not just another individual, but that he was an integral part of the unfolding of the Sinai drama and that his actions validated his very existence. Rueben would have been motivated to do his Mitzvah with completeness. No half-baked efforts would have sufficed for him.

Broad Shoulders

This might explain the Midrash’s saying that he would have carried Joseph on his shoulders. By using the metaphor of “shoulders” the Midrash was intimating that he would have understood that this was his mission in life. His saving of Joseph was not just a proper and required act; it made the difference in whether Rueben lived to fulfill his mission in the world and was an integral part of G‑d’s Master Plan. It would have determined whether he was up to the task of shouldering his responsibility, which was part of shouldering the entire world’s mission.

Indeed, Joseph’s name is a metaphor for the future revolution of Sinai. Joseph means there will be, in the future, a fundamental increase and change to the world. Rueben could have shouldered that “Joseph” responsibility if he had appreciated that he was a part of the future.

Modern Day Rueben

For thousands of years, the Jewish people have trudged through the exile landscape knowing in the back of their minds that their actions would ultimately lead to the Final Redemption. However, their focus was on the present; surviving another day as a Jew in a hostile world. Except for the most spiritual of people, they could not fathom the importance of their everyday actions in terms of the ultimate future.

Our generation is unique. We have the distinction of knowing that we are a part of the imminent future. We are not just treading water. The importance of the acts that we do grows exponentially when we think of them as preparations for and samples of the glorious future of the Messianic Age.

This is likely the essence of what the Rebbe meant when he said that we should “live with Moshiach.” In other words, don’t live your life merely in the present, because we are already basking in the light of the future and every Mitzvah we do enjoys a much greater measure of authenticity. If you don’t feel that way, the Rebbe said, it is because you still have to open your eyes and see that the Redemption is right in front of us. Let us be the Ruebens with open eyes and shoulder our own ‘Joseph” (a metaphor for the future Redemption), which will return the entire world to its Father in Heaven!

Moshiach Matters:

In Psalm 122, we recite: "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem; those who love you [Jerusalem] will be serene." These are the words that Jews must utter in in exile. We must pray to G‑d for the peace of Jerusalem, which will be attained with the ingathering of the exiles, for there will not be peace as long as the uncircumcised and the Ishmaelites war over the city.