First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/miketz-carefully-chosen-words/
Baal Haturim Genesis: Miketz
Carefully Chosen Words
We would often be sorry if our wishes were granted. -Aesop
Jacob’s sons had been to Egypt and back, where they had been strangely received and then rebuffed by their brother Joseph whom they didn’t recognize. Joseph, Viceroy of Egypt, had given them vital food during the worldwide famine, imprisoned one brother, Simon, and warned them that they would not be received again without the youngest brother, Benjamin.
Back in Canaan, Jacob prohibits his sons from returning to Egypt with his beloved Benjamin. In a rash display of confidence, the eldest son, Reuben, states to his father: let me take Benjamin with us and if I do not return him, you can kill my two children. Jacob does not respond to this incomprehensible statement.
Rabbinic commentators take Reuben to task for such a deadly statement. The Baal Haturim on Genesis 42:37 takes the rebuke a step further and claims that Reuben’s declaration actually did lead to the tragic death of two of his descendants. His notorious descendants, Datan and Aviram, lead a rebellion against Moses in the desert and are miraculously swallowed up by the earth as divine punished. While they were clearly deserving of death, the Baal Haturim directly relates their fate to the unfortunate choice of words by their ancestor.
Let’s be very careful with the words and expressions we use – God is always listening, and even if it is in jest, or even if we don’t mean it – He might decide to make it come true.
Shabbat Shalom and Hanuka Sameach,
To the memory of Nissan ben Shlomo (Neil Israel), father of our dear friend Rachel Zlatkin.