Friday, December 08, 2006

Parashat Vayishlach: Reuven's Sin

I will be writing the Introduction to Parsha shiur for Gush's VBM over the coming few weeks.

Here is this week's shiur on the topic of Reuven's sin. The pasuk (Bereishit 35:22) tells us:

"When Yisrael dwelled in that land, Reuven went and slept with Bilha, his father's concubine, and Yisrael heard."

Rashi cites the midrash brought on Shabbat 55b:

"Because he switched around his [father's] bed, the Torah treats him as if he slept with her. Now, why did he switch and desecrate his bed? When Rachel died, Yaakov took his bed, which was placed most frequently in Rachel's tent rather than the other tents, and Yaakov put his bed in Bilha's tent. Reuven came to protest his mother's insult. He said: "If my mother's sister was a rival-wife to my mother, should the maidservant of my mother's sister now become a rival-wife to my mother?" Therefore, he made the switch."

According to the Torah text, Reuven slept with Bilha. According to the midrash, he simply adjusted his father's sleeping arrangements, obviously an unwelcome intrusion into his father's personal life, but not quite the same degree of sin! What is the truth here? Is the midrash not making an attempt to whitewash Reuven's severe crime? Why does the midrash feel a need to distort the facts of the matter?

Read the shiur here