When Jacob’s sons conspired to kill their brother Joseph, Reuben, Jacob’s eldest, contrived a plan to save him. “Shed no blood!” he warned his brothers, “Cast him into that pit out in the wilderness, but don’t touch him yourselves.” When Joseph approached his brothers, they stripped him of his glorious coat of colours and threw him into a waterless pit crawling with scorpions. Then they pulled Joseph out and sold him as a slave to a group of wandering Midianite traders. When Reuben eventually returned saw that the pit was empty, he rent his clothes. “The boy is gone! Now, what am I to do?” (Genesis 37: 18-30)
This print, entitled Reuven, features the eponymous brother. His face and head blends with the faces of his father Jacob and his brother Joseph. He is caught in a vice between them. An ominous scorpion sprawls and crawls across the beards of the three figures.
Around the figures, the blood-red scene is studded with ten pearly stars representing the brothers, like in Joseph’s dream.
At the bottom of the yellow tallit-like extension of beards is inscribed the first seven words of the following line from the Zohar Ḥadash (זוהר חדש, מדרש הנעלם על איכה קט”ז):
וְכַד אִינוּן עֶשֶׂר מַרְגְּלָן נְפָקוּ מִגַּן עֵדֶן לְאִתְלַבְּשָׁא בִּלְבוּשִׁין אָחֳרָנִין כֻּלְּהוּ לְבוּשִׁין אִתְמְסָרוּ בִּידָא דְנָחָשׁ בַּר חַד דְּאִיהוּ רְאוּבֵן דִּכְתִיב וַיָּשָׁב רְאוּבֵן אֶל הַבּוֹר
And when those ten pearls exited from the Garden of Eden to clothes themselves in other garments, all their garments had been given to them by the Snake, except for one of them: Reuven, of whom it is written, “And Reuven returned to the pit” (Genesis 37:29).