Chodesh Tevet: A message from Rav Yedidya Berzon

In this week’s Parsha Miketz, Reuven turns to the shvatim and states:

הלוא אמרתי אליכם לאמור אל תחטאו בילד ולא שמעתם וגם דמו הנה נדרש

“Didn’t I tell you not to sin against the boy? But you did not listen and behold his blood is being avenged!” And at this point, Yosef turns away from them weeping. Reuven is the bechor – Yaakov’s first son and the oldest of the shvatim. From these words, we can see that Reuven went through some kind of transformation. In last week’s parsha, Reuven returns to the pit to discover that Yosef is missing. He tears his clothes in distress and then declares to his brothers:

הילד איננו ואני אנה אני בא He was just a boy and he is no longer – and where can I go?

This is perhaps the most emotional response to the recognition of sin in the entire Torah. Reuven’s statement seems to take full responsibility for the cheit and emphasizes the enormity of the consequences. “He is just a small child!” Why did we let this go so far that Yosef is now missing – it was just children’s bickering.

Now is Parshas Miketz – it seems to be a different Reuven. Where is the Reuven that just a few years ago that took full accountability for Yosef’s disappearance? Now he seems to turn the blame on his brothers: “didn’t I tell you not to harm him? You did not listen!” What changed for Reuven?

Revuen as the bechor was supposed to get the Malchus and the Kehuna. And yet, Yaakov’s bracha to Reuven was “פחז כמים אל תותר - hasty like water, you cannot come first .” Yaakov Avinu identifies a specific midda that disqualifies Reuven from all the first-born privileges. Yet what is the problem with being hasty? Doesn’t the Mesillas Yesharim emphasize זריזות (alacrity) as a fundamental quality of an Eved Hashem? What is the difference between being פחז (which is negative) and זריזות (which is positive)? How does this midda of Reuven explain his drastic change of position regarding blame?

פחז is demonstrated by a swift reflexive response that has not been thought-out cognitively. A gut reaction does not involve the intellect. זריזות also creates a swift reaction, but the main difference is that it has been done thoughtfully and with cognitive intent. A person who acts with זריזות understands what he is doing. He processes his decision intellectually and then acts quickly to carry it out. Only after mindfulness comes alacrity.

Without a cognitive process, acting quickly is just an emotional hasty response. And this פחז is what we see in Reuven when he discovers that Yosef is missing from the pit. But since his reaction was without a cognitive process, he is able to later rationalize and release himself of responsibility only a short time later. “I told them not to harm him. I wasn’t there when it happened. I put him in the pit only to come back later.” Even with all of Revuen’s drama and emotion, recognizing a cheit in פחז hastiness without the intellect does not last.

This concept is fitting for this time as we are about to enter Chodesh Teves, which one of the darkest months of the year. Darkness and cold can represent challenge and confusion. A person can try to rise from darkness impulsively – with פחז and without a cognitive process. By contrast, a person can stop to analyze why he is going through a particular challenge and try to understand how he can grow from this experience. Teves represents the opportunity to take one’s avodas Hashem to the next level and rise from challenges through זריזות.

This is the miracle of Chanuka, which is characterized by light and purity. During that time, the principle of טואמה הותרה בציבור applied (impurity was permissible in public). So why did Hashem enact the miracle of the one jug of pure oil for the Menorah, at a time when impure oil was allowed? The message is in the importance of acting with זריזות – with thought and purpose - and not just acting. Had they used impure oil, insisting that they needed to light the Menorah right away and rely on טואמה הותרה בציבור – this would have been demonstration of פחז. The Greeks tried to take the Malchus and the Kehuna (the two things that Reuven lost because of פחז). With the miracle of the pure oil, Hashem showed His approval for the Maccabees going out to war, since it was with mindfulness and זריזות .

Chodesh Tov and Chanuka Sameach!