Parshas Vayigash - Tenth of Tevet
Love Conquers All
By Rabbi Aron Tendler
Binyamin, youngest of Yakov's children, father of 10 sons, progenitor of a
tribe, appears to be the "apple of his family's eye." Who was he and why
was he so important?
Yakov did not want to send him to Egypt. Had it not been for the increasing
hunger in the famine's 2nd year he would never have allowed Binyamin to
leave the protection of his home and watchful eye.
When Binyamin was made the focus of Yoseph's manipulations and
machinations, the Brothers banded together to defend him. Keep in mind that
Binyamin was already 30 years old and the father of 10 sons.
In this week's Parsha Yehudah offered (44:33) to become Yoseph's slave,
instead of Binyamin. Yehudah's stated concern was not Binyamin himself but
the aging Yakov. "His soul is bound up with his soul. he will die. you will
have brought him in sorrow to the grave. lest I see the evil that will
befall my father!"
Why was Binyamin any more important to Yakov than the other brothers? If
Binyamin had not had his own children it would make sense that his "not
returning home" would spell certain disaster for the future of the Jewish
nation. Yakov / Yisroel would have been rightfully concerned about the well
being of his child and rightfully concerned about the future of the nation
that had to emanate from 12 sons. However, Binyamin had more sons than any
of his brothers. His absence or even death would not have spelled disaster
for the nation. True, it would have been painful and sorrowful for the
family, but not disastrous for the nation. Life would have gone on and
Binyamin's ten sons have grown to become the tribe of Binyamin!
In fact, we could argue that Yehudah, as the recognized leader and king of
the brothers, should have been more important to Yakov than Binyamin. He
was far more active than Binyamin in guaranteeing the survival of the
family. In this week's Parsha Yakov dispatched Yehudah to "prepare the way"
for the families arrival. Obviously, Yehudah's involvement was more crucial
than Binyamin's! The Torah doesn't even record a single action or statement
attributed to Binyamin! Not so with Yehudah!
The most obvious approach to understanding Binyamin's importance is to
recognize his emotional importance within the family. He was the youngest.
He was the single remaining child of Rachel. He was the one brother who had
not participated in the sale of Yoseph. Given the guilt that the Brother's
carried regarding their actions toward Yoseph and the pain they had caused
Yakov, Binyamin took on far greater significance than otherwise would have
been. Their love and concern for him and their acceptance that he was
Yakov's favorite were fueled by that guilt.
However, it is important to remember that the story of Yoseph and his
brothers is far more than a story of family dynamics, whether good or bad.
The story is about twelve uniquely gifted and righteous individuals
struggling to create a cohesive whole that would maximize their individual
and collective potentials in service to G-d and humanity. How did Binyamin
fit into that collective whole and what part did he play in maximizing
their individual and collective potentials?
In last week's Parsha the Shem Meshmuel explained that Yoseph and Binyamin
shared a mission. As the two sons of Rachel their destinies were similar.
In describing Yakov's relationship with Rachel the Torah used the word
Ahavah, love. (29:18) "And Yakov loved Rachel"
As we have explained in past issues of the Rabbi's Notebook, The children
born to Rachel were responsible for the external strength of the nation.
Whereas Leah's children included Layvie and Yehudah, priesthood and
kingship, representing the inner structure of the nation, Rachel's children
included Yoseph who would survive alone in Egypt and rise to such
prominence that he became responsible for feeding the entire world.
Rachel's strength, and therefore Yoseph and Binyamin's strengths were in
the external structure of the nation.
Part of the external structure involved creating an environment wherein
which the individual brothers would have a chance to grow and develop, and
it was the job of Yoseph and then Binyamin to do just that. They had to
ensure that the Brothers would stay together and become as one. Yoseph
understood this because Yakov had shared it with him during his first 17
years as Yakov's prized student. That is why he became the resented
"do-gooder" always running to Yakov and relating his concerns for their
When Yakov dispatched Yoseph to his brothers the mission was to "look into
the welfare" (37:14) of the brothers. Considering that they were all older
than Yoseph and had already proven themselves very capable of caring for
themselves (Dina), we can wonder why Yakov sent Yoseph in the first place.
I would like to suggest that Yakov sent Yoseph to do exactly what he was
supposed to do as the son of Rachel. He was supposed to create an
environment of Ahavah - love and Shelaimut - wholeness. Yakov sent Yoseph
to apologize to his brothers for the approach he had taken until then.
True, his intentions may have been noble but his methods had backfired! It
was time to assume his rightful role as a leader that would ensure the
healthy growth and development of the collective whole!
G-d had other ideas for Yoseph and the story continued. With Yoseph being
held in reserve till that time that he would become responsible for the
physical well being of the collective Jewish people, the job of being
Rachel's son fell to Binyamin. It was Binyamin who would hold the brothers
together while they grew individually and collectively into their destinies.
Binyamin was different than Yoseph because he represented a different
strength and method for unifying the nation. At first he did so by being
the youngest. As such, the brothers were unified in their sense of love and
protection for their youngest brother. However, soon enough Binyamin
matured and his contribution had to become far more substantial.
Binyamin was the only of the brothers to have been born in Canaan. Binyamin
was the only of the brothers not responsible for Yoseph's sale into
slavery. It was in Binyamin's portion that the Holy of Holies would one day
There are two ways to create unity. Unity can be achieved by encompassing
the individual components in a single protective shell. The other way is to
bind each component to a single central part. Yoseph represented the
encompassing of the whole in a protective shell. He was to be the Mashbir -
the provider who would reorganize all of Egypt so that the Brotheers and
their families would be able to withstand the assimilative lure of Egyptian
amorality. He placed them in Goshen, the first Jewish ghetto, and elevated
them to the level of the Egyptian priesthood, so that they would remain
whole and apart from the rest of Egypt.
Binyamin on the other hand represented the second method. As the phrase
states, "In my heart I will build a sanctuary for the glory of G-d's
honor." The Holy of Holies destined to be in Binyyamin's portion
represented the strength of Binyamin as the son of Rachel. It is the center
to which each and every Jew is personally and collectively bound. It is the
Mizrach (east) toward which we pray three times a day and evoke the
memories of Kohanim (priests) and Leviyim (Levites) doing the Avodah
(Temple service) and singing the songs of G-d.
Binyamin's strength was in giving purpose to his brothers. He was the
rarest of them all because he was the only remaining son of Rachel. He
needed to be cherished just as every single Jew must be cherished. Each of
us is ultimately the intended of G-d with a unique mission and purpose that
only we can provide. Binyamin became a symbol of their singular unified
resolve to never again do to themselves what they had done to Yoseph.
Yoseph was irreplaceable just as Binyamin was irreplaceable. How great
their regret, how profound must have been their shame!
Binyamin also represented the potential for Teshuvah (repentance). Just as
the Holy of Holies would become the focus of the nations' repentance so too
did Binyamin become the focus of the Brother's Teshuvah. It was not by
coincidence that Yoseph decided to focus his machinations on Binyamin.
Yoseph needed to know whether or not the Brothers had gained an
understanding of the gravity of their actions in having removed him from
their midst. If they could appreciate Binyamin they would realize what they
had done when they sold Yoseph!
Yoseph indicates this in this weeks' Parsha after he revealed himself to
his brothers. It states, (45:14) "He fell on upon his brother Binyamin's
neck and wept." Rashi quotes the Gemara in Megilah ((17b), "He cried for
the two Temples that stood in the portion of Binyamin and were destined to
This also explains why Yoseph revealed himself to the other Brothers in
Binyamin's presence (there are Medrashim that say otherwise). Rashi says
that Yoseph cleared out all those who were present before revealing himself
to his brothers so that they would not be shamed. Yet, until that moment
Binyamin did not know that the other brothers were responsible for Yoseph's
disappearance! Why wasn't Yoseph concerned that they would be shamed in
front of Binyamin? Furthermore, we see no mention of recriminations on
Binyamin's part toward his brothers for what they had done to Yoseph!
Binyamin represented the center that held them together. Binyamin
represented the ability of every Jew to do Teshuvah, especially in relation
to sins that are "Between a person and his friend." (The story of Pilegesh
B'Givon) Therefore, the revelation had to take place in his presence and of
course he would not harbor resentment against them! Their Teshuvah was
equally toward Binyamin as it was toward Yoseph, and equally accepted by
both of them!
The verse in Mishlei (Proverbs) states (10:12), ".But love covers all
offenses." The Ralbbag explained that this refers to the victim of an
offense who responds to the sinner with love rather than recriminations.
Such a person promotes even greater love within society. As the children of
Rachel, the beloved of Yakov, Yoseph and Binyamin were endowed with the
quality and strength of love. For Yoseph it was expressed in his unyielding
Emunah (trust) that all that had transpired had been for the benefit of the
Jewish people. For Binyamin it was expressed in his quiet acceptance of his
brother's Teshuvah and the gift of being reunited with Yoseph.
Tenth of Tevet
This coming Sunday, January 4, will be the Fast of the 10th of Tevet. This
is the second fast-day commemorating the destruction of the Bais
Hamikdash. The fast begins about 72 minutes before sunrise and concludes
45 minutes after sunset.
Eating and drinking are prohibited, but should there be the need for an
exemption due to illness or health related conditions contact your local
Rabbi for possible consideration. Except for Yom Kippur which is Biblical,
the other five fast-days are Rabbinically mandated. The Rabbis imposed the
fast on all adults, both male and female. Contrary to popular thought,
women are equally obligated to fast.
The Rest of the Story
Five tragic events occurred during the month of Tevet.
(The Jewish Timeline, Rabbi Mattis Kantor)
- 1st of Tevet: In the year 3319 - 442 b.c.e., Yicchoniah and the great
scholars and prophets were exiled to Bavel.
- 8th of Tevet: In the year 3515 -- 246 b.c.e., the Torah, as per the
demand of Talmi, was translated into Greek (Septuagint) by 72 different
Torah Scholars. His intention was to find inconsistencies that would
undermine the power of the Rabbinic tradition. Instead, every one of the
72 translated the Torah in the exact same manner. The translation was
completed on the 8th of Tevet and Chazal compared it to the day on which
the Golden Calf was worshipped.
- 9th of Tevet: In the year 3448 - 313 b.c.e., the great Ezra Hasofer died.
- 10th of Tevet: In the year 3336 - 425 b.c.e., Neevuchadnetzar began
the 2 and 1/2 year siege against Yerushalayim that ended in the destruction
of the first Bais Hamikdash.
- 23rd of Tevet: In the year 5257 - 1497 c.e., the Jews of Portugal were
expelled. Among those expelled was Rav Avraham Zacuto who had been
consulted on astronomy and navigation by the explorer Vasco da Gama before
a trip to India. Rav Yitzchak Karo, Uncle of Rav Yoseph Karo, was also
among the refugees.
Copyright © 2003 by Rabbi Aron Tendler
The author is Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation,
Valley Village, CA.