Project Genesis

All About Reuben, Jacob’s Son

Question: Our grandson will be named Reuven at his Circumcision on Friday. Please give me some information about Jacob’s son, Reuben. I do not believe there are any other Reubens in the Bible. Is this correct? I graduated from a day school and I do attend Shabbat services every week, so I am looking more for commentary than written text.

Answer: The Rabbis say that the name Reuvain is an acronym for the Hebrew words “Reuh Bain”, which means “see what is between.” In other words, Reuben’s mother Leah named him prophetically saying, “See the difference between my son and my father-in-law’s son.” Her Father-in-Law son, Esau, was jealous of his bother Jacob for taking the rights of the first born. Reuben, on the other hand, was not jealous when Joseph was awarded the rights of the first born by Jacob. (Joseph was Rachel’s first born while Reuben was Leah’s first born. Rachel was Jacob’s primary wife.) This lack of jealousy was displayed when Reuben suggested to his brothers that they shouldn’t kill Joseph and had them temporarily leave him in a pit. This was all part of his attmempt to save him from the brothers. Obviously Leah didn’t know all of this at the time of birth but rather had a prophecy without having a clear understanding at the time of what it would be.

Reuben also switched Jacob’s bed from Bilha’s tent to Leah’s, after Rachel died. The Torah says that he slept with Bilhah, but the Rabbis of the Talmud explain that they didn’t have actual relations. Rather, Reuben’s switching of Jacob’s bed was akin to disturbing his intimate life. The Rabbis say that Reuben wasn’t wrong in what he did. He felt that while Rachel may be more important in the marriage than Leah, Rachel’s maiden Bilhah shouldn’t be. He was defending Leah’s honor. Thus he wasn’t sinful.

Rabbi Meir Goldberg,

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