If not Reuben, then one of the next-born sons, Simeon and Levi.
In fact the one who was appointed as ruler was Judah, son number 4.
What was wrong with Reuben, Simeon and Levi?
The message which their father Jacob gave to the family assembled at his bedside reveals the answer.
Reuben was pachaz kamayim, unstable like water”. A person who lacks firmness, stability and reliability – yishuv hada’at – is not fitted for leadership.
Simeon and Levi? “They are a pair… Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce”. Someone who flares up in a tempest of temper cannot be trusted to lead.
Judah, on the other hand, has the natural grace to be a leader. He has the trust of his brothers.
In a play on words, his name Yehudah leads to the comment, Attah yoducha achecha, “Your brothers will praise you”.
Jacob says of him, “He kneels down and rests like a lion – who would provoke him?”
Judah not only has grace and elegance: he knows when to wait and when to act.
The result? “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah until Shiloh (the Messiah) comes”.
The apportionment of eminence to Judah is vindicated in later history when some nations automatically passed the leadership to the first-born son and learnt to their cost that a younger child possessed attributes which the eldest sibling lacked.