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According to calculations based on the Seder HaOlam, by the Tanna Rebbe Yossi ben Chalafta, Reuvain was 15 years old when he switched Yaakov’s bed from Bilhah’s tent to his mother’s, Leah’s, tent. This act was a very immodest gesture and demonstrated a lack of respect to his father as seen from how the pasuk treats its severity, “And it came to pass when Israel sojourned in that land, that Reuven went and lay with Bilhah, his father’s concubine, and Israel heard [of it], and so, the sons of Jacob were twelve” (Breishis 35:22). Rashi explains Reuvain’s defense, “וישכב AND HE LAY — Because he switched his couch, Scripture accounts it to him as though he had actually sinned in this manner. But why did he switch his couch? When Rachel died Yaakov removed the couch to Bilhah’s tent and Reuvain came and protested against the slight thus inflicted on his mother (Leah). He said: “If my mother’s sister was her rival, is that any reason why the handmaid of my mother’s sister should become a rival to her!” On this account he disturbed the couch (Shabbat 55b).”
Though Reuvain had good intentions, they were still misguided; however the Ralbag learns a lesson from Yaakov’s reaction or lack thereof, “which is that it is appropriate for a person to not blow up at his eldest son over the despicable acts he committed, for maybe he might push himself away from him and totally lose him. Rather it is befitting for this person at this juncture to bring his son closer to him in order to guide him onto the right path. For this reason, the Torah related that Yaakov had heard about the terrible act Reuvain had done, and it makes no mention of Yaakov getting angry at him. However, when Yaakov gave orders and blessings at the end of his life, he punished Reuvain for this horrible act by snatching away his birthright and giving it to Yosef.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
It is fascinating that the proper thing to do is to still punish your child after he has learned how to act appropriately and has done teshuva (repentance), which chaza”l say Reuvain did. Indeed, he even led the way for Yehuda to do teshuva for his wrongdoing of not saving Yosef and bringing him back to Yaakov, when he was thrown into the pit, though he had the chance. Yet Reuvain still deserved punishment and because he understood the wrong he did, because of the proper guidance from Yaakov, there was no worry about him being angry and leaving the family when he lost his birthright to Yosef.
However why does the Ralbag point out this lesson of not being quick to anger and throwing one’s child out of his house for a severe sin he has done, specifically pertaining to the eldest child; wouldn’t it pertain to any child? Imagine if G-D forbid, any child became a drug addict, stole thousands of dollars’ worth of jewelry from his parents and beat up his brother. Would it make a difference whether he was the oldest, youngest or middle child, either way, the parents’ reaction would be either to get angry and throw him out of the house or more appropriately take him in, bring him closer, care for him and help him fix his problem; so why does the Ralbag emphasize him being the eldest child?
It would seem to the Ralbag, that of course the most appropriate thing would be to show patience, love, and compassion for your own child, and to direct him on the right path. But when it comes to the eldest child a parent might have higher expectations for him or her and be quicker to anger, irrationally throwing the child out of the house if he or she does not live up to those expectations. That’s basic human nature or psychology of a parent towards their eldest, therefore the Ralbag goes out of his way to inform parents to not act on human nature and be quick to get angry just because one’s eldest is majorly failing at what his expectations are and rather be patient and show proper love and guidance for this wayward child of theirs.