[ I had written this for David Werdiger’s excellent JBD organisation, but received much positive appreciation via private email, so I thought I’d share it here as well. Besides, my kids don’t listen to my divrei torah at home, they say I talk too long. It’s the educator in me 🙂 ]
In Parshas Vayeshev, the Torah relates that after Rachel’s death, Ya’akov’s bed was in Bilha’s tent (because Bilha was Rachel’s handmaiden and Ya’akov’s concubine). Reuven, the eldest son, was upset, feeling that his own mother, Leah, should have been afforded this privilege as she was Ya’akov’s first wife and the one who bore him and most of the sons. Reuven unilaterally moved his father’s bed to his mother Leah’s tent; an act stemming from respect for his mother’s honour. The act itself was not earth shattering, however, its effect was cataclysmic. It signified that the eldest child was prepared to over-rule the overt wishes of a father – the father of all his brothers.
Rav Soloveitchik suggested that this is why the brothers indirectly felt empowered with the chutzpah to commit the regrettable act of selling Yosef, their father’s favourite son. They also assumed a level of personal empowerment. Reuven realises that he is responsible for this ill-advised empowerment. He repents, fasting and praying. What seemed like a small act of moving beds led to a rolling set of momentous events.
The moral is clear. We are all observed microsopically by our children, our friends and our relatives, and society. A seemingly innocuous act may lead to an unconscious outcome of unintended education or even profanation of God’s name. In contradistinction, a seemingly innocuous positive act can be eminently efficacious, leaving a subconscious impression that potentially influences micro and macro history, present and future.
After my father, R’ Shaul Zelig HaCohen’s passing ע’’ה I feel every little act and legacy that he left, suffuses the lives of our wider family. It is in this sense that we say
יעקב אבינו לא מת
דוד מלך ישראל חי וקיים