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    Unstable like water – Vayyechi

    Chapter 49 of Genesis brings us the shrewd summing up of the sons of Jacob by their old father.

    Of Reuben he says pachaz kamayim (Gen. 49:4), which the translations usually render “unstable like water”. The word pachaz is rare and difficult to interpret.

    Maybe Jacob is saying that Reuben had no firm conscience or principles but, like water that overflows and goes everywhere, he acted on the spur of the moment and without thought of the consequences.

    Maybe this is what Rashi has in mind when he says that Reuben was like water in that he rushed into things and was out of control.

    The Torah goes on with a warning to Reuben: al totar, which could be telling the young man that he would gain no advantage out of his actions.

    The Targum Onkelos quotes a further tradition, that because Reuben did seemingly immoral things that he should have avoided, he would forfeit the extra portion he would normally have received as the oldest son.

    From this episode we – in our own generation and whatever our circumstances – can learn the lesson that we should think things through carefully before taking any action and should not be impetuous.

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