The Guiding Light Parshat Vayigash: Joseph’s Reunion with Benjamin
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Vayigash(Genesis 44:18-47:27)

Joseph’s Reunion with Benjamin

Bereishit, 45:14: “Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept; and Benjamin wept upon his neck.”

Rashi, 45:14: sv. Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept: Over the two Temples that were destined to be in the portion of Benjamin, and whose end was to be destroyed.

Upon the momentous reunion of Joseph with his brother Benjamin, Joseph sees through ruach hakodesh (a form of prophecy) that in the future, the two Temples which will be located in Benjamin’s portion will be destroyed, and this brings him to tears. The obvious question is why Joseph received this vision at this point in particular? In order to answer this question it is necessary to delve more deeply into the saga of the sale of Joseph.

It seems clear that there is an underlying connection between the whole episode and the future tragedies that would befall the Jewish people with regards to the destruction of the Temples. The Megaleh Amukot provides the first key to discerning this connection.1 He writes that all the exiles were caused by the sale of Joseph. In particular, it seems that the sinat chinam (baseless hatred) that was generated in this tragic story was the cause of all the future hatred that caused such damage to the Jewish people throughout history.

It seems that Joseph understood the long-term significance of the damage caused by his sale, and this can help us understand his actions when the brothers came to Egypt. The commentaries are very bothered as to why Joseph acted so harshly towards the brothers, thereby causing intense pain to the brothers and to his father, Jacob.2

The Kli Yakar explains in great detail that everything Joseph did to them before revealing himself was carefully planned to bring them to recognize the gravity of their sin in selling him and to rectify it.3 He did this by inflicting on them, measure for measure, the suffering that they caused him twenty two years earlier. For example, he threw them into a prison to correspond to the fact that they threw him into a pit; and he kept Simeon as prisoner in Egypt because he was the main instigator of the plot to harm him; most significantly he placed them in a situation as similar as possible to the one they were in so many years earlier; where the other son of Rachel stood to be lost – would they now rectify their earlier hatred of Joseph by willing to give up everything to save Binyamin?

Indeed it is apparent from the Torah’s account that his goal was being fulfilled as we see that they increasingly recognized that the tribulations they were undergoing now were teaching them of the severity of their sin in selling Joseph, until the point where Judah showed how dedicated they were to saving Benjamin.4

Yet it is clear that he did not succeed in completing his goal of bringing them to complete repentance; after Judah’s passionate plea for mercy, the Torah tells us that Joseph could no longer continue his pretense. The clear implication is that ideally he planned to continue even further.5 The reason for this is that he realized that he had not yet fully rectified the hatred and distrust sowed so many years earlier. And the ramifications of this failure were enormous – it meant as we said in the beginning, that the remaining remnants of hatred would emerge to plague the descendants of the Tribes in future generation.

We can now approach why Joseph cried at this point in particular about the destruction of the Temples. The second Temple is easier to understand. As is well known, the cause of its destruction was sinat chinam (baseless hatred); accordingly Joseph cried at this moment for its destruction because he now recognized that his failure to continue the rectification process, indirectly facilitated the sinat chinam that resulted in the Second Temple’s destruction.

The connection between the first Temple and the sale of Joseph is a little more complicated. The basic explanation is that there was one particular event that began the sequence of events that culminated in the Temple’s destruction; this was the split of the two Kingdoms. This created a situation where the Northern Kingdom quickly deteriorated into idol worship which in the long-term filtered into the Southern Kingdom, culminating in the Temple’s destruction. The person who caused this split to take place in such a destructive way was Yeravam Ben Navat, a descendant of Joseph. This split was essentially an extension of the momentous clash in this week’s Portion between Judah and Joseph. Had that clash been fully resolved then the future split could never have taken place with the disastrous ramifications that ended with the first Temple’s destruction.6 This was why Joseph was crying at this momentous occasion about events that would take place hundreds of years later.

We have developed a deeper understanding of the long-term ramifications of the sale of Joseph – by learning from what transpired we can strive to continue the rectification process that Joseph nearly completed.

NOTES

1. Heard from Rabbi Eliezer Leib Birnbaum shlita.

2. See Ramban, 42:9.

3. Kli Yakar, 42:9.

4. Bereishit, 42:21-22.

5. Bereishit, 45:1 See Shem Mishmuel, Bereishit Shnas תרעא sv. venireh, p.270 , who understands the passuk this way.

6. It is true that later incidents are described as the cause of the split (such as King David acceptance of lashon hara about Mefisboshet and King Solomon’s sin of not preventing his wives from worshipping idols), yet it seems that the foundation for the split to take place was laid at this time.

Published: December 1, 2013

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