Parshat Miketz, 2017, 5778
By Joel Grossman
Imagine this: you are driving in your car, obeying all traffic laws when suddenly a police car comes up behind you, sirens blaring, and tells you to pull over. You pull over and the cops order you out of the car. They tell you that a car that looks just like yours was seen driving away from the scene of a robbery of a jewelry store. You tell them that you don’t know what they are talking about, you didn’t rob a jewelry store, you didn’t go into a jewelry store, you are just driving home from shul. The cops ignore you and search the car. Sure enough, they find a bag of precious diamonds in the glove compartment, a bag which they obviously had planted there. You argue, you demand a lawyer, you threaten to sue, but they handcuff you and throw you in the back of the police car. You keep arguing all the way to the police station, and all the way to the cell where you are locked up.
Now let’s compare this story with what happens at the end of our parsha, Miketz. If you want to follow along with me I am at Chapter 44 verses 12 and 13 on page 269 of the Chumash. Yosef had ordered his servants to place his special goblet in Binyamin’s bag. He accuses the brothers of stealing the goblet, and of course they deny it. Then, in verse 12, each brother opens his bag, starting with the oldest and ending with the youngest, Binyamin. Sure enough, the precious goblet is in Binyamin’s bag. In verse 13 the brothers tear their garments, in a show of mourning, as things will be bad for Binyamin. A couple of verses later Yehuda pleads with Yosef, and suggests that all the brothers be slaves to Paroh, not just Binyamin. Yosef replies, how could I do that—the man in whose sack the goblet was found will be my servant, the rest of you go home to your father. On that note, our parshah ends.
Spoiler alert—in next week’s parsha, Vayigash, Yehuda continues to argue with Yosef, and finally Yosef reveals himself to his brothers, and all is well. But please note: during this entire event, Binyamin, the man who is accused of stealing the goblet, says nothing. Yehuda makes arguments on his behalf, but Binyamin says not one word.
Let’s go back for a little more context. As you know, this story begins when Yosef’s brothers –who first plan to kill him, sell him to a band of Ishmaelites, who bring him to Egypt and sell him to an Egptian named Potiphar. After Potiphar’s wife falsely accuses him of trying to sleep with her, Yosef is thrown in prison, but he correctly interprets the dreams of two of Paroh’s important men, the chief baker and chief steward. Two years later, Paroh has two dreams and is told that Yosef, still in prison, can interpret them. Yosef –with God’s help—interprets the dreams and Paroh is so impressed he elevates Yosef over all of his officers, and Yosef is not the number two official in Egypt in charge of distribution of food during the seven lean years.
Yaakov, back in Canaan here’s that there is food in Egypt. He sends his sons—with the notable exception of Binyamin—to go to Egypt and bring back food. The brothers go to Egypt and meet with Yosef. He recognized them but they have no idea that he is their brother Yosef. He accuses them of being spies, and while he lets them purchase food, he says that in order to prove they are not spies they must return to Canaan and bring Binyamin with them when they return.
So let’s pick up the story in Chapter 43, verse 3. The food from Egypt is running out and Yaakov asks his sons to go back and get some more. They then tell him that Yosef insisted that the youngest son—Binyamin—be brought to Egypt. Yaakov is surprised that they even told Yosef about the youngest son, but Yehuda explains that it was necessary since Yosef asked so many questions about the family. At first Yaakov refuses to allow Binyamin to go down to Egypt, but Yehuda talks him into it. Reluctantly, Yaakov allows them to take Binyamin with them, knowing that otherwise they would all starve.
What I find interesting is that this discussion is about Binyamin, but he plays no role in it whatsoever. You might expect Binyamin to say something like, “Dad, don’t worry so much, I will be fine, let me go with my brothers or we will all starve.” But he says nothing at all.
So the brothers return to Egypt, and come to Yosef, including Binyamin. In Chapter 43 verse 29 on page 267, Yosef sees his only full brother, the only other child of his mother Rachel, for the first time in many years, he asks, is this your youngest brother of whom you spoke to me, and then he looks at Binyamin and says “Elokim yachnecha b’ni,” “May God be gracious to you my boy.” Not bad, a lovely blessing from the number two guy in all of Egypt. But once again Binyamin says nothing to Yosef in reply.
Finally, let’s return to the story I started with. Yosef sends them off to their father with lots of food, but he tells his servants to put each brother’s money back in their sacks, and to put the precious goblet in Binyamin’s sack. When the brothers all open their sacks, and the goblet is found in Binyamin’s sack, Binyamin says nothing at all. Yehuda argues for him, but he himself says nothing.
Now let’s clear up one fact: Binyamin is indeed the youngest of the brothers, but he is not a little boy. He is a grown man with a wife and children. In fact, if you turn to Chapter 46 verse 6 at the top of page 281, the Torah says: “these are the names of the Israelites Jacob and his descendants, who came to Egypt,” and the Torah then lists each son and sets forth all of his children. In verse 21 on page 282 it lists the 10 sons of Binyamin. So no, he was not a little kid who needed protection. Yet it seems so odd that throughout our parsha Binyamin is in many ways right in the middle of the story, but he is in some way absent from the story. When Yosef demands that Binyamin come to Egypt, nobody asks Binyamin if that’s ok with him, and he says nothing. When Yosef blesses him, he says nothing. And finally, when the goblet is found in his sack, he says nothing.
Let’s go back to the passage where Yosef gives Binyamin a bracha, and says Elokim yachn’cha bni. As we noted, Binyamin –at least in the text of the Torah itself—makes no reply. But Yosef runs out of the room overcome with emotion. So the question troubling Rashi and the Rabbis in the midrash is this: why would Yosef run out of the room if Binyamin didn’t say anything? One would think that he must have said something that would affect Yosef.
So the Rabbis filled in the gap. Rashi tells us of a beautiful dialogue between Yosef and his only full brother, Binyamin, that appears nowhere in the Chumash. According to Rashi’s commentary on Chapter 43 verse 30, and citing the Talmud in Sotah 36b, Rashi recreates this very moving conversation. Yosef says to Binyamin: “Do you have a brother from your mother?” Binyamin answers: “I had a brother from my mother, but I don’t know where he is.” Then Yosef asks him: “Do you have sons?” and “Binyamin says: “I have 10 sons.” Yosef asks Binyamin: “What are their names?” and Binyamin replies by naming the 10 sons, whose names appear in Chapter 46 verse 21, and tells him all ten names. Now get out your hankies, for here is the really moving part: Yosef asks Binyamin “What is the reason for each of their names?” and Binyamin answers “They all are named for my brother, and for the hardships that befell him, that is I gave each of them a name that connects to my long lost brother Yosef, and his travails. In the Talmud they go through each of the 10 names, and Binyamin explains how the name relates to Yosef. The first son is named Bela, and Binyamin says I named him Bela “she’nivla ben ha’umot,” he was swallowed up among the nations. The second son is named Becher, he was given that name in honor of Yosef who was the b’chor, the oldest child of Rachel. I won’t go over all ten of the names, and how each was connected, but let me just mention three more: echi, because of my brother, and Rosh, because he was leader. Most moving to me is his explanation of the name of his son Chupim—because I was not present at his Chupah, his wedding canopy, and he was not present at mine. Following this deeply emotional conversation the Torah says that Yosef ran out of the room ki nichmeru rachamav el achiv, because he was overcome with feeling toward his brother.
What astonishing words the Rabbis placed in Binyamin’s mouth. Though his only full brother had disappeared, he loved him so much, that each time he had a new son he named that son after his connection with Yosef. No wonder Yosef ran out of the room overcome with emotion and love for his brother.
While Binyamin doesn’t actually say anything at all in our parsha, this beautiful midrash is meant to teach us what it means to be a brother, or for that matter a sister. It means never-ending and unconditional love. No matter how far away Yosef was, or how long they were separated, Binyamin never forgot him for a moment, and the Rabbis imagine that he named each of his 10 sons after Yosef, in one way or another. Perhaps this pure love for his brother explains a verse at the very end of the Torah. In the last parsha of the Torah, Vzot Habracha, Moshe blesses each of the tribes. This is what he says about Binyamin, and if you want to follow along you can look at p. 1205, the book of Devarim Chapter 33 verse 12: L’Binyamin amar, y’did Hashem” he said to Binyamin, “you are God’s beloved, you rest securely beside God, He protects you always, and you rest between His shoulders.” What a beautiful blessing, to be called Y’did Hashem. Perhaps the Rabbis are telling us that to become God’s beloved, love your brothers and sisters fully, and forever, and never forget them. It was Binyamin’s incredible love for Yosef that let him to become God’s beloved.