By Rabbi Berach Steinfeld
The Gemara in Makkos, daf yud, amud alef says that Reuven was zocheh to be mentioned in the Torah to be the first person that did “hatzala.” Reuven tried saving Yosef from his brothers. The posuk tells us that Yosef was sold to a bunch of Arabs who were travelling with various fine-smelling spices. Rashi explains that the reason the Torah specifies this is because it was unusual for Arabs to travel with nice smelling items, instead of the usual foul spelling kerosene and the like. We are able to see that Hashem takes care of tzaddikim; Yosef was protected from travelling with foul smells and instead travelled with fine-smelling spices.
There are a number of questions to be discussed on this topic. The first question is why was Reuven mentioned and Yehuda was not mentioned, even though he also tried saving Yosef. Why is it that the Gemara in Sanhedrin, daf vov, amud bais says that Yehuda was not praiseworthy for trying to save Yosef. It is obvious that Reuven was praiseworthy for doing the same thing. Why the difference? Another question to be discussed is that we find that Yosef was able to overcome his travails via emunah; he constantly davened and connected with Hashem. This is another reason why the Arabs did not carry foul smelling stuff, so Reuven would be able to continue to daven and learn. This explanation does not clarify why they carried fine smelling spices. They could have been travelling without any cargo at all. Why were the Arabs carrying fine smelling spices?
The Ponovezher Rov, Rav Yosef Kahanamen zt”l explains the first question in the following manner. We learn what true hatzala is from the fact that the Torah only gave credit to Reuven for trying to save Yosef and not to Yehuda who tried to do the same thing. The posuk tells us that when Reuven tried saving Yosef, his goal was to bring Yosef back to his father; whereas Yehuda’s goal was to save Yosef from the other brothers and then to sell him as a slave. Reuven was not only concerned about saving Yosef physically, he was concerned that Yosef’s yiddishkeit should stay intact. The Torah therefore calls Reuven the first member who tried hatzala. Yehuda, on the other hand, only tried saving Yosefphysically, and was not concerned enough about his yiddishkeit. Yehuda sold Y
Regarding the second question we can answer in the same vein that Yosef needed to have a setting that helped him do mitzvos. The fine smelling spices made the atmosphere a better place to do so. There is a story told about Reb Boruch Ber who was on vacation with the Brisker Rov. Reb Boruch Ber remarked to the Brisker Rov that the air in this town is very good. The Brisker Rov asked Reb Boruch Ber, “Since when is the Rebbe an expert on air quality?” Reb Boruch Ber responded, “It is true that I am no expert on air quality, but if there is a place where I can learn and understand a Tosfos with such ease, that place must have clear air which helps me in my learning Torah and doing mitzvos.”
Let us learn from the above to keep the spiritual air clean in our homes and places of davening so we can do mitzvos and learn Torah in the proper way.