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Friday, December 5

The Weekly Shtikle - Vayeitzei

The Torah recounts (29:32) that Leah named her first child Reuvein because HaShem saw ("ra'ah") her affliction, for now her husband will love her. However, the gemara (Berachos 7b), quoted by Rashi, suggests and alternate explanation of Reuvein's name: "See ("re'u") the difference between ("bein") my son and my father-in-law's son (Eisav) who sold the rights of the firstborn to his brother (yet hated him for it later) whereas my son (Reuvein) had his firstborn rights given to Yosef against his will and still made no objection. Not only did he make no objection, but he tried to save him from the pit." The gemara does not suggest an alternate rationale for the names of any of the other sons of Yaakov. This puzzling comment regarding Reuvein's name is therefore the subject of much discussion.


The GR"A and Maharsh"a suggest possible motivations behind the gemara's contention that the pasuk was not sufficient in explaining Reuvein's name. The GR"A writes that with all the other sons, the reason for the name is stated before the actual name. For instance (29:35) "This time I shall give thanks to HaShem. Therefore, she called his name Yehudah." Reuvein is the only child for whom the reason is given after the name. Therefore, Chazal felt that there must be an additional, unmentioned reason why he was given that name.


Maharsh"a writes that the rationale recorded in the pasuk accounts for the "re'u" part of the name but not for "bein." Due to this inadequacy, Chazal felt that there must be an additional reason behind Reuvein's name which justified both parts of his name. He explains further that the explanation given by the gemara was not a conscious thought in Leah's mind but rather a Divine inspiration based on future events of which she was unaware. The explanation she expressed consciously was that which was recorded in the Torah.


Although these explanations justify the need for an additional reasoning behind Reuvein's name, they fail to reconcile the two. It still remains to be seen why there were two reasons and how they fit together, if at all. P'nei Yehoshua offers a novel interpretation which brings the pasuk and the gemara together. According to the gemara (Bava Basra 123a) Leah, being Lavan's eldest daughter, was destined to marry Yitzchak's eldest son, Eisav. When she learned of Eisav's wicked nature, she cried until her eyelashes fell out. The explication of Reuvein's name in the gemara was used by Leah to show Yaakov that since her son was the diametric opposite of Eisav, it is clear that she was destined to marry him and not Eisav. When Leah said, as chronicled in the pasuk, that now she will be loved by her husband, she was not referring merely to the fact that she gave birth. The future was still unclear. Rachel might have gone on to give birth to many more children than Leah. Rather, Leah was referring to the thoughts expressed by the gemara. Because of Reuvein's name and the symbolism behind it indicating Leah's worthiness as Yaakov's mate, her husband would now surely love her. The pasuk and the gemara together form a compound explanation of Reuvein's name and the reason given in the gemara is not an alternative to that of the pasuk but rather an elucidation thereof.

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka


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