Reuven’s Reality

Download Audio file

Naaleh_logo Shiur provided courtesy of

Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein

            We are told that when parents name a baby, they are endowed with a touch of prophecy, and the name they bestow on their infant will somehow embody his essence. Parshat Vayetze encompasses the birth and naming of eleven of the twelve sons of Yaakov that would constitute the twelve tribes of Israel. The first of those sons was Reuven. When he was born, the Torah tells us “[Leah] called his name Reuven, as she had declared, ‘Because Hashem has discerned my humiliation, for now my husband will love me.’ “

            At face value, this name seems to immortalize Leah’s pain. Asks Rav Dovid Hofstedter, is this what should be the permanent legacy of a son’s name? But Rashi cites chazal in stating that Leah had an additional reason for naming her son Reuven. Chazal say that Leah was pointing out the difference between her son and Esau, the other son of her father in law, Yitzchak. Look at the difference between these two, she says. Esau who sold his birthright of his own free will, nevertheless despised his younger brother and wanted to kill him. In contrast, my son will lose his birthright for a deed he did for my honor, yet not only did he not despise Yosef, but he even tried to save him from sure death.

            This is rather strange. Reuven is the only son for which Chazal give an alternate reason for the name. What do they base this on and why did is the other reason not recorded in the Torah? Rabbi Schlesinger in Eleh Hadvarim cites the GR”A in explaining that the pattern here differs from the pattern in naming the other children.  When naming the other children, the parent always stated the reason and then gave the name. Only here does Leah first give the name and then state the reason, prompting our sages to suggest that she could not reveal her real reason, but still had to come up with an acceptable and logical reason for the name. Our sages fill in the gap that exists before the baby is named with what they believe to be Leah’s true motivation. Therefore he posits that Leah was sensitive to what would be “politically correct” for her to say. So, just as Yaakov did not reveal the real reason for his crying when he met Rachel, that she would not be buried with him, but gave a more palatable reason, that he had no gifts to give her, so too did Leah present a more acceptable reason to the public than the one she actually contemplated.

            Rabbi Sorotskin in Meged Yosef quotes the Pnei Yehoshua who explains a psychological reason for Leah’s words. If she had verbalized these thoughts, she would be prophesying that Rachel too would give birth. Perhaps then Yaakov’s love for her would again be diminished. Or, notes the Belzer Rebee, speaking of prophecy, while Leah had been made aware of the future sale of Yosef, Yaakov had not been made aware of this. Revealing Reuven’s role would have by necessity revealed the future which Hashem had not revealed to Yaakov.

            Rabbi Dovid Hofstedter explains the reasoning for Reuven’s name from a completely different perspective. He notes that Leah, by giving this name, was expressing her gratitude to Hashem Who saw her pain. In giving her son this name, Leah was imbuing Reuven with a sense of gratitude to Hashem for being there with him whenever he would be in pain. This would be the major difference between her son and Esau.  Rabbi Hofstedter adds that the intrinsic meaning of a child’s name, as well as the mindset that the parents have when naming the child, will create a dramatic effect in setting the course of that child’s life.

            One’s name is one’s essence, and when someone calls that name, one’s soul is aroused, and he awakens from any stupor, notes Rabbi Fishel Mael in Shiftai Yisroel. When we address our children by name, we validate them and give them importance.

            Since Leah had the gift of prophecy, Rabbi Reuven Fein z”l in Bein Hamishpatayim quotes Targum Yonatan  that add an element of prophecy to Leah’s words.  Leah was asking Hashem to see the afflictions of her descendants, of Bnei Yisroel, as He has seen her affliction and responded to her. When one give thanks to Hakodosh Boruch Hu, one opens the gates of heaven, and creates an appropriate time to also make a request for the future. In fact, notes Rabbi Pincus z”l, when Leah thanked Hashem for the birth of Yehudah, she did not ask for more children, and so she stopped conceiving. In fact, one of the major themes of Parshat Vayetzeis prayer, continues Rabbi Fein z”l. It begins with Yaakov leaving Be’er Sheva and stopping at “the place”, commonly recognized as Mount Moriah where the binding of Isaac took place. Here Yaakov prayed to Hashem, instituting the nighttime prayer.  The Parsha ends with Yaakov leaving Lavan’s house, meeting the angels, and calling the pace Machanayim. The intervening chapters are filled with the prayers of our Matriarchs who constantly prayed to Hashem. It is because of their prayers that they are counted as our Matriarchs, while Bilhah and Zilpah are not.

            In Netivot Chaim, Rabbi Matlin z”l presents a very insightful explanation for Leah’s choice of name for her son. Rabbi Matlin z”l focuses on the means by which Yaakov married Leah. After all, Yaakov had been deceived. Leah felt guilty and hated herself over this deception, and projected this feeling onto Yaakov, even though it is inconceivable that Yaakov actually hated Leah. When Hashem gave her a child first, Leah felt that Hashem had seen her pain and had vindicated her, giving her ego a much – needed boost.

            Rabbi Schlesinger elaborates on our discussion and thereby shows the two reasons for the name as interconnected, presenting two different facets of the same idea. Leah’s guilt was exacerbated by assuming that if Yaakov had married Rochel first, Yosef would have been the firstborn biologically and the brothers would not have sold him down to Egypt, precipitating the enslavement. When she saw that  this son would try to prevent the sale and save Yosef, she realized that she was not responsible for the enslavement. This reassurance gave her comfort.

            Leah also felt guilty about Reuven’s future sin. Perhaps Yaakov was meant to father an additional child through Bilhah that would become a thirteenth tribe. When Reuven moved his father’s bed from Bilhah’s tent to his mother’s, Reuven prevented this additional child from being conceived. Leah felt guilty about “losing” this tribe, posits the Munkatcher Rav, Rabbi Zvi Friedman inAch Pri Tevuah. However, when she foresaw that Yosef’s two sons would be counted as two tribes, raising the count to thirteen, she realized she was not responsible for a missing tribe. Had she articulated these thoughts and visions, they would have become destiny and prevented the free choice of others.

            Rabbi Sorotskin z”l also sees Leah’s declaration as one of gratitude. Leah here speaks of her affliction, of her fears that she was destined to marry Esau, and how she married Yaakov and they produced a son such as this. Reuven’s reality is evidence of a closeness to Hashem, not of any emotional difference between husband and wife. Leah was highlighting the difference between her son and Esau, writes Rabbi Levenstein z”l. It is human nature to get angry when something is taken from us. This was the nature of Esau, but not of her son. And where did he get this from” From Yaakov’s response when he realized Lavan had duped him into marrying Leah instead of Rochel. Yaakov did not get angry, although he asked for an explanation. Yaakov realized this was Hashem’s doing, not Lavan’s. Reuven also understood that when things are given to us or taken away from us, it is Hashem’s doing, and no human being is to blame.

            This is a message that must reverberate in our homes, around our dining tables, with our children, writes Rabbi Frand inListen to Your Messages. Hashem is with us always and takes care of all our needs, even in difficult times. There is no reason to be jealous of someone else.

            The Oshorover Rebbe makes an interesting observation on Be’er Moshe. He posits that Leah was not reflecting upon herself at all in naming this child. Rather, in an obscure way she was alluding to the relationship Hashem has with others.Kohelet/Ecclesiastics states that Hashem champions the underdog, the one who is chased. Leah is secretly asking Hashem to come to the aid of Bnei Yisroel who are always being pursued by Esau. Look at Esau the pursuer and come to the aid of Yisroel.

            Leah’s declaration, according to the Oshorover Rebbe, is not about the relationship between this human husband and wife, but about the relationship between Hashem and His people, for, in the future, that relationship will not be as one toward a Master but rather as one toward a Beloved Husband. (Hosea, ch.2) When Hashem will see our affliction and fight our battles, as we recite every morning, “Re’eh no ve’onyenu berivah revenu,” it will be obvious that He loves us. We are the underdog, and we, like Leah Imenu before us, ask Hashem to save us from Esau’s wrath and actions, even when our deeds do not merit such love.                                            

            These verses provide us with a valuable lesson, writes Rabbi Pliskin in Growth through Torah. We are asked to emulate Hashem. Leah tells us that Hashem saw and heard her affliction, and Hashem responded to it. We must also train our eyes and ears to see and hear the nuances in the demeanor and in the voices of others. Then we can discern the pain and provide any form of chesed to help relieve the pain. We are created in His image. We too can learn to respond appropriately to the pain of others.

Download PDF