Reuben (Hebrew: רְאוּבֵן, Rəʾûḇēn, "see a son"), (b.2246 AM or 1759 BC), was the first son of Jacob and Leah, and the ancestor of the Tribe of Reuben, one of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. He was the firstborn of twelve brothers and a sister, but forfeited his birthright in an appalling act of selfishness and disrespect.
When he was quite young (about four years old), he went into a field and gathered mandrakes (Mandragora officinarum), a plant rumored to help a barren woman conceive. This occurred during wheat harvest (that is, during the month later known as Sivan) in the year 2251 AM (1754 BC) after Leah had left off bearing children. Rachel demanded a share of the mandrakes, and Leah insisted that Jacob lie with her instead of Rachel. Jacob did, and Leah bore Jacob two more sons and a daughter.
The midrash alleges that the tribal standard of the Tribe of Reuben was a red flag with a drawing of a mandrake in its center, in commemoration of this event.
Reuben partially redeemed himself in the incident involving Joseph being thrown into the pit. He persuaded his brothers to sell Joseph as a slave, instead of killing him outright. Reuben had hoped to free Joseph, but he was too late. Nevertheless, the first of the Israelite cities of refuge were located in Reubenite territory, perhaps in honor of Reuben's preservation of Joseph's life.
Entry into Egypt
In 2298 AM (1706 BC), Reuben followed his father Jacob into Egypt. He was 52 years old at this time. With him were at least one regular wife and the following named sons: Hanoch, Phallu, Hezron, and Carmi. How long he lived after that, the Bible does not say.
When Jacob was about to die, he said this of Reuben:
Reuben, you are my firstborn, my might, the first sign of my strength, excelling in honor, excelling in power. Turbulent as the waters, you will no longer excel, for you went up onto your father's bed, onto my couch and defiled it. Genesis 49:3-4
This is a clear reference to Reuben's dalliance with Bilhah. While technically not incestuous (because Reuben was the son of Leah, not Bilhah) it was still presumptuous in a way that Jacob could not ignore.
Reuben in fiction
Reuben appears chiefly in motion picture and television projects that tell the story of Joseph and his brothers. All of them describe Reuben as the one who prevailed on his brothers not to kill Joseph. Probably no such project has ever described Reuben gathering the mandrakes for his mother, or his act of disrespect in having an affair with Bilhah.
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