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Parshas Vayigash

A Tearful Reunion
by Rabbi Yosef Levinson

The Torah describes Yosef and Binyamin's emotional reunion: "And he [Yosef] fell upon his brother Binyamin's neck and wept; and Binyamin wept upon his neck" (Bereishis 45:14). Their reaction does not require explanation; the two brothers were separated for twenty-two years. For Yosef and Binyamin to cry at this occasion is to be expected. However the shevatim were not your ordinary brothers. The shevatim were great tzaddikim and their every deed was carefully calculated. Therefore Chazal understand that Yosef and Binyamin's weeping contains a deeper meaning. The Gemara (Megilla 16b) explains that Yosef wept over the two Batei Mikdashos that were destined to be in the portion of Shevet Binyamin and would ultimately be destroyed. Binyamin wept over the Mishkan (tabernacle) that was established in Shilo, which was part of Yosef's portion, which would eventually be destroyed.

It seems very strange that Yosef and Binyamin were crying at this time over the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash. A mother who gives birth to a child knows that he is destined to die, yet she rejoices over the baby's birth - it is a time of joy. The knowledge that he will one day leave this earth does not diminish the happiness of the hour. Only when he eventually dies is he mourned (See Rashi, Bereishis 6:6). If Yosef and Binyamin foresaw the Mishkan and Beis Hamikdash in their respective portions they should have rejoiced. Why did they have to spoil their reunion by weeping over events that would occur hundreds of years later?

Some explain that the root of the dispute between the brothers and Yosef was sinas chinam. Yosef and Binyamin were crying because through Ruach Hakodesh they perceived that their descendants would not learn from their mistakes and they too would be guilty of this terrible sin. As a result they would suffer tragic consequences and the Shechina would depart from their midst. However this only explains why Yosef cried over the second Beis Hamikdash. Seemingly they had no reason to mourn over the first Beis Hamikdash and Mishkan Shilo (See K'sav Sofer, Parshas VaYigash). Why then did they weep at this time?

David Hamelech said, "How good and how pleasant is the dwelling of brothers in unity" (Tehillim 133:1). Every individual has unique strengths and qualities. When there is an atmosphere of brotherhood, each individual perceives their brother's noble qualities, thus raising the character of the whole group. In Koheles (4:9,10) it is also written, "Two are better than one…for if they should fall, one can lift the other". We all need chizuk (strengthening) from time to time. We sometimes need someone to help pick us up when we are down, to offer guidance and counsel to navigate through life's trials and tribulations.

Shlomo Hamelech continues (ibid, 11) "Also, if two sleep together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone?" The Alter of Kelm (Chachma U'mussar, 1:92) explains that even if they do not strengthen each other and even if they do not offer advice, they are warmed just by being in each other's proximity. Human nature is such that seeing someone else learning Torah or performing a mitzva is encouraging in and of itself. When two learn in each other's presence, both are uplifted. In truth, one can only reach his potential with the assistance of others - to learn from their qualities, from their chizuk and counsel. Furthermore, there is the encouragement that comes from the knowledge that they are not alone.

Each of the twelve shevatim, tribes excelled in a different area. Both Yaakov Avinu and Moshe Rabbeinu blessed them to strengthen and to channel their traits properly. Yosef and Binyamin had their unique strengths, however since they were both b'nei Rachel, they also shared many qualities. The Torah (Ovadia 1:18) teaches that Yosef is Esav's nemesis: "The house of Yaakov shall be a fire, and the house of Yosef a flame and the house of Esav for straw". It was Yehoshua who first battled Esav's descendant Amalek, (Shemos 17:9-13) and David Hamelech required warriors from Shevet Menasheh to defeat Amalek (Bava Basra 121b). Also, l'asid lavo, when Mashiach comes, Edom (Rome) will fall in the hands of Mashiach ben Yosef (Bereishis Rabba 99:2). Yet Chazal (Ibid, Yalkut Shimoni, Beshalach) reveal to us that Esav will fall into the hands of both of Rachel's children. Amalek was defeated by Shaul and later by Mordechai both descendants of Binyamin (See Matnas Chaim, Moadim P 188).

Yosef and Binyamin were separated for twenty-two years. In that time they surely made great strides in their personal avoda - alone. Who knows how much greater they could have become if they had grown up together? Binyamin is one of only four individuals who never sinned (Shabbos 55b). Yet he constantly yearned to be re-united with his older brother, naming each of his ten children after him (Rashi, Bereishis 43:30). He sought Yosef's guidance and encouragement - to be warmed by him.

Exiled and enslaved in Mitzrayim, Yosef earned the title Yosef Hatzaddik. Yet, at least according to one opinion, (Sota 36b) he almost succumbed to the frequent persuasions of Potiphar's wife. Perhaps with Binyamin at his side, he would not have lapsed even momentarily.

This is why the brothers wept. They yearned for perfection and they strove for greatness. Yosef cried over the two Batei Mikdashos, because he saw that Binyamin's nobility and refinement would have been enhanced all the more so if they had they lived together. We find later that the entire shevet of Binyamin was almost wiped out in the incident of pilegesh B'Givah and Shaul, the Jewish nation's first king fell from grace. Perhaps if Binyamin had the opportunity to learn with Yosef these tragedies could have been averted. The Shevatim bequeathed their traits to their descendants. A seemingly minor flaw can magnify into catastrophe centuries later. If Binyamin had been influenced by Yosef, he would have been greater and his descendants continuing in his ways, might have also been a more positive influence for the Jewish nation. Perhaps then a Beis Hamikdash built in his portion would not have been destroyed. That is truly reason to mourn.

Binyamin also wept over the missed opportunity to strengthen and encourage Yosef. If Yosef was greater, so too, his offspring would have been greater. Then perhaps the destruction of Shilo could have been prevented.

Let us strive to strengthen achdus, unity with our fellow Jews. Let us focus on each other's qualities and learn from everyone. As we explained above, we can also benefit from their advice, encouragement and guidance. In this merit, may we all see the day when "How good and how pleasant is the dwelling of brothers in unity" in Eretz Yisrael speedily in our times.

Daf Hashavua Kollel Beth HaTalmud Copyright (c) 2001 by Rabbi Yosef Levinson

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