martedì, novembre 27, 2007


Questo è il testo del mio primo D'var Torah.

Imagine this scene: Joseph has just been captured by his brothers. Shimon and Gad—says the Midrash—are ready to kill him, he tries to escape, hiding behind Zevulon, the tallest. At this point, the oldest Ruben says out loud: אל-תשפכו דם, “Do not shed blood” (Genesis 37:22). As the eldest, he tries to impose his moral authority.
Judaism, as we all know, puts a great emphasis on blood. Blood is the essence of life, so much so, that our tradition forbids us to embarrass other human beings. Even making someone ashamed is likened to shedding blood, because the face pales. Do not shed blood: that’s a very important moral teaching
Rashi maintains that Ruben feared being blamed for the death of Joseph. Being the firstborn, he carried the responsibility for all brothers’ safety. Several Midrashim explain Ruben’s intercession on Joseph's behalf due to his gratitude for having been included in Joseph's dream among the twelve stars—that is, among Jacob’s sons. Evidently, Ruben held some kind of complex about being excluded from the family and was grateful even to be included in what the other brothers considered an insulting dream.
Beyond this verbal defense, the Sephardi commentators, Abarbanel and Nachmanides, teach that Ruben was planning to rescue his brother from the pit in the desert– that empty pit, in which there was no water.
This apparent redundancy of the text is generally explained by linking water to Torah, a parallel often made by our Sages. The pit, though dry, was populated by snakes and scorpions, that is evil and falseness. The brothers threw Joseph into a place devoid of Torah, distant from life, where even the least sign of respect for the dignity of the human being was completely absent.
From such a place, the Sephardi commentators explain, Ruben planned to rescue Joseph. He tried to be a a mensch (even I am not sure that you can find this word in the Sephardi commentaries) in a place where no one else would be one.
Rabbenu Bakhya pointed out that Ruben says: do not shed dam, blood; and not: damo, his blood, Joseph’s blood. He knew how much they hated Joseph, so he carefully chose his words to convince his brothers to spare Joseph’s life, without antagonizing them. So, he appealed to them not to transgress one of the basic Noachide laws. Bakhya demonstrates a concern for tact and diplomacy in achieving desired ends. Maybe it is not by chance that the commentaries of Bachya, with this peculiar emphasis, were so popular in the era of Machiavelli.
And in this story Ruben is surely aware of the moral requirements of being the eldest brother. Ruben seems hesitant. First he says: “Let us not strike him a mortal blow!”. Then he pauses, and adds “Do not shed blood; throw him into this pit”. We can imagine him as he tries to guess from his brothers’ facial expression if and how they will follow his advice.
Moses Alsheykh notes that Ruben in this part of the story is mentioned by name, while the brothers are a collective anonymous entity. They are full of anger and looking for revenge. Ruben faces them alone. He might have been able to convince them at the moment, but we all know how the story ends. When he got back to the pit, his brother was not there anymore.
What a pitiful end. Ruben has neither been able to maintain his authority as eldest brother, nor to rescue Joseph. Again, imagine the scene: Ruben is alone, near that empty pit. He cannot but admit the failure of his plan.
Throughout this story, Ruben seems to try desperately to maintain his position and his authority as the eldest brother and to lead them to a very unpopular, but moral decision – sparing Joseph’s life.
To me, it appears that Ruben is not the most upright person in the world, but neither is he the basest character in this story. He is somewhere in the middle, in the grey area between black and white. Jacob in his testament in Genesis 49:3, said that Ruben, his firstborn, is יתר שאת ויתר עז excessive in exalting and excessive in strength. I would say that Reuven is excessive in exalting (שאת) by concern for his role of being the first-born, and excessive by his עז, his moral strength.
What can we learn from the misadventure of this distant ancestor of ours? I think the main teaching is: to take moral risks.
We may often feel Ruben’s moral dilemma, his concern for maintaining his position, his authority. But we need to weigh the need to protect our position by the moral imperative to stand up for principle and what is right.
To speak out clearly, at the right time, whenever the dignity of each human being is offended.
May we always have the moral fiber to speak out for those without voice. May we always be sources of inspiration for others, as members of the Jewish family and as human beings.
כן יהיה רצון

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