Zot Haberakhah

Pisqa’ 347

Pisqa’ 3471


“Together are the tribes of Israel” (Dt.33:5).

“Long live Reuben! May he not die!” (Dt.33:6).

Well! What does one thing have to do with another?

An analogy—

A king visited his sons on occasion.

When he would take his leave,

his sons and relatives would escort him.

He said to them:

My sons!

Have you anything you wish to say?

Is there any issue at all?

They replied:


We have nothing we need to say,

and no issue to raise—

except, perhaps, that you might

make up with our older brother!


Were it not for the other tribes,

the All-Present might never have made up with Reuben!

And this is why it is stated:

“Together, are the tribes of Israel!”

“Long live Reuben! May he not die!” (Dt.33:5-6)

“Long live Reuben! May he not die!” (Dt.33:6)—

Well, didn’t he die?

Actually, here is what the Teaching says:

“May he not die” (Dt.33:6))—

that is, in the coming eon!


Another word:

“Long live Reuben!” (Dt.33:6)—

[by the merit of]

the incident with Joseph,

[in which Reuben spared Joseph from their brothers’ plot (Gn.37:22)].

“May he not die” (Dt.33:6)—

[in punishment for]

the incident with Bilhah

[in which Reuben bedded his father’s concubine (Gn.35:22)].


R. Hananiah b. Gamliel says:

They neither exchange merit for guilt nor guilt for merit

except in the cases of Reuben and David.

For [of the incident of Shimei b. Gera’s cursing David (2Sam.16:5-14)]

it is said:

“And Shimei was walking on the ridge” (2Sam.16:13)

—and despite this—

“Of the mountain, opposite him as he walked” (2Sam.16:13).

“Solomon built the Citadel” (1Ki.11:27)

—and despite this—

“He repaired the breeched wall of the city of David, his father” (1Ki.11:27).2

But sages say:

They never exchange merit for guilt or guilt for merit.

Rather, they reward a commandment fulfilled,

and they punish a transgression committed.

Now, what does the Teaching say?

“Long live Reuben! May he not die!” (Dt.33:6).

Thus Reuben must have become a penitent.3


Rabban Shimon b. Gamliel says:

Reuben was spared the consequences of that sin,

and was not held responsible for the deed.

Is it possible that

a person who would one day stand at the head

of the tribes on Mt. Ebal, saying:

Accursed is one who beds his father’s wife (Dt.27:20),”

would be responsible for that very sin?

Now, what does the Teaching say:

“When you climbed into your father’s bed” (Gn.49:4; cf. 1Chron.5:1)—

Reuben intended to rectify an insult to [Leah,] his mother.4


“Though His men number but a few” (Dt.33:6)—

this is the case in the present eon,

when his days are numbered;

but in the coming future:

Long live Reuben! May he not die!” (Dt.33:6)

Another word:

“Though His men number but a few” (Dt.33:6)—

they are valiant in power and valiant in Torah.

Valiant in power, as it is said:

“Your men will fall by the sword and your valiant ones in war” (Is.3:25).

Valiant in Torah, as it is said:

“They are valiant in power, observing His Utterance” (Ps.103:20)

And He says:

“The sons of Reuben, the First-born of Israel,

are . . . his son, Beerah—

who was exiled by King Tillegath-pilneser5 of Assyria—

he was tribal chief of the Reubenites” (1Chron.5:2-6).

  1. H:359-360; JN2:420-421.
  2. The text is very convoluted, the biblical citations broken up by scribal interjections (“despite this”). I have translated the text in F:405 as best I can and supply F’s summary of the commentary of A. Lichtenstein’s Zer`a Avraham: “The symbolism may be decoded as follows: tzel`a (“ridge”) also means “rib”, and thus points towards David’s sin with Bathsheba. Despite this sin, “the mountain stood opposite him”, that is, the future deed of building the Abode on Zion cancels out David’s sin with Bathsheba. Through the merit of Solomon, who actually built the Abode, David’s sin in regard to Shimei b. Gera was eventually absolved.”Cf. H:360 and JN2:421 for alternate translations, and the texts found in RH, Pardo and TA loc. cit.
  3. As described at Pisqa’ 348.1
  4. B. Shab.55b relates that Reuven intended only to remove his father’s bed from Bilhahs’ tent and to replace it with Leah’s.
  5. So MT. 2Ki.15:29 in MT has “Tiglat-pilesar.” That reading is followed byF:405, l.8.