Yosef is playing headgames with his brothers - there are many questions about this, but that's not my topic for the moment - and he eventually comes to Binyomin. He wants to see his only full-brother. The other brothers try to talk him out of it, but he's not having any of it. He wants Binyomin, and refuses to give them any food until they produce him.
The brothers go home, and try to approach Yaakov about it. They know it's going to be a hard sell, after all, look what happened the last time one of Rachel's children was left in their care. So Reuven - being the oldest, and all - decides that he'd better be the one to step up and take personal responsibility for Binyomin's safety. And how does he do this?
And Jacob their father said to them, "You have bereaved me of my children: Joseph is no more, and Simeon is no more, and now you would take Benjamin; all this has come upon me." Then Reuben said to his father, "Slay my two sons if I do not bring him back to you; put him in my hands, and I will bring him back to you."
Reuven tells his father, "Pop, I'll tell you what. If I don't bring Binyomin home, I'll let you kill your grandkids. Trust him with me."
Yaakov declines the offer - wisely, in my opinion.
So the question is: What was Reuven thinking?!
I mean, did he really expect to be taken seriously with that kind of offer? Was he perhaps smoking too much of the local herbs? What could possibly have been going through Reuven's mind to say something like that?
We were talking about this a bit at kiddush this morning, and I realized that this really seems to be part of Reuven's character, and probably the reason he was not worthy of the malchut. I think that while Reuven was generally well intentioned, he was just a bit impulsive. He just didn't think things through before acting on them.
In fact, this is at least the third time in Tanach that we see this sort of behavior from him. The first time is when Reuven moves Yaakov's bed into Leah's tent. He decided it was fair, and did it, not considering whether his father might have an opinion about the matter. The second time was with Yosef and the pit. It was Reuven who had him moved to the "empty pit that had no water", which Rashi tells us was instead filled with snakes and scorpions. In other words, Reuven didn't check out whether this was a safe thing to do. He just acted.
This, of course, is not to say that Reuven was not a great man - he clearly was. But it does seem to indicate a certain personality flaw.
Given that I have at least one son with this same sort of problem, I guess this gives me some hope that he can still grow up to be a great man some day.