Yosef, Benyamin, and Yehuda: How their Relationship Informs Am Yisrael Today

Introduction

One has to wonder if there would ever be an end to the conflict brewing in our homeland, Eretz Yisrael. So many wars have been fought, so many agreements have been made, so many options have been tried. Yet perhaps we are missing the mark. Perhaps, this conflict is not a typical controversy that can be resolved through compromise, or even through simple, brute force. This conflict is a test prodding at our identity, and it calls for a supernatural response. Yes, it may involve rockets, guns, planes, and tanks, but more than anything, its solution relies on the blueprint of this world, of our people: the Torah. The more we run away from this undeniable truth, the more it harasses us, tortures us, pulls us into the dark abyss. I suggest we get back down to basics and analyze the Torah, the gift from our Creator.  

The Story of Yosef and His Brothers

Let’s take a look at the story of Yosef and his brothers in order to understand the modern circumstances of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel. Before summarizing the story, I highly encourage you to take a look at Parshat Vayigash (Vayigash Torah Reading – Parshah (chabad.org)) for a more detailed account. 

Years after being sold into slavery by his brothers, Yosef became viceroy of Mitzrayim (Egypt). Back at home, famine struck Eretz Canaan, and Yaakov sent his sons to Mitzrayim in order to buy food. Yosef, upon recognizing his brothers, did not reveal himself. He spoke harshly to them, accused them of being spies, and instructed his brothers to bring their youngest sibling, Benyamin, in order to prove their innocence. 

The brothers came back to Eretz Canaan to retrieve Benyamin who was staying with their father, Yaakov. Reuven, the oldest brother, said to Yaakov, “You may put my two sons to death if I don’t bring him [Benyamin] to you. Put him into my hand[s] and I will return him to you” (Bereishit 42:37). This did not appease Yaakov. But then, Yehuda stepped up. He exclaimed, “I will guarantee him; from my hand you can demand him. If I do not bring him to you and stand him up before you, I will have sinned against you forever” (Bereishit 43:9). Yaakov approved of Yehuda taking personal responsibility and sent his sons, including Benyamin, back to Mitzrayim. 

When the brothers returned to Mitzrayim, Yosef framed Benyamin for stealing his silver goblet. This was done in an attempt to test the brothers’ reaction. After all, they had sold Yosef into slavery; would they do the same with Benyamin? 

At this moment, Yehuda, remembering his promise to keep Benyamin safe, offered himself as a slave. Yosef ordered everyone except for his brothers out of the room. He broke down in front of them and revealed his true identity. Thus, the family was reunited once again. 

There is plenty to learn from this story and much to decipher. We will analyze what lessons we can extract from the above story when it relates to the modern political situation brewing in the Land of Israel. Let us begin by identifying a few important characters. 

A Preview of Yosef, Benyamin, and Yehuda

Yosef

The modern state of Israel can very much be likened to Yosef’s mission (for more on this, take a look at the following VaYishlach: I Have an Ox and a Donkey (ravkooktorah.org)). In the course of 70 years, after 2,000 years of exile, Israel made a comeback like no other nation. A people thrown from right to left, persecuted and nearly destroyed, came back to the home they prayed for three times a day, every single day, for two thousand years. Israel’s economy is one of the strongest, its military is top tier, and its political development and influence is undoubtedly noteworthy.

Similarly, Yosef, the man we learn about in the Torah, took care of our physical needs. He dealt with the economy, politics, and the day-to-day life which comprises the physical needs of any healthy nation. Thus, Yosef represents our physical return to the land. Israel, like Yosef, represents our mission to be involved with the world at large, and the potential to spread our light unto the nations. 

Yehuda

Yehuda is the leader of the Jewish people from within. From his line came King David, and from his line will come the ultimate redeemer, Mashiach. As such, Yehuda represents the inner strength of the Jewish people. While Yosef’s spiritual force found within our nation builds up our skeleton, Yehuda’s spiritual force strengthens and leads our inner essence, our soul.

 On a related, but slightly different note, it is also important to add that many of us who are not Levites are more than likely from the tribe of Yehuda. If one pays close attention, Yehuda veShomron (Judea and Samaria) is found in the tribal lands of Yehuda, hence the name. These are some of the most contested lands and there may be a good reason for it. I will expand on it in further detail later in this piece. 

Benyamin

Benyamin is a pawn in Yosef’s quest to test his brothers. As such, Benyamin was a litmus test of sorts for the other ten brothers’ teshuva. He was also, metaphorically speaking, a veil for Yosef’s identity. As long as Yehuda didn’t take responsibility for Benyamin, Yosef would not reveal his true identity. 

In addition, it is interesting to note that the Holy of Holies, our spiritual epicenter found of Har HaBayit (Temple Mount) where the Kohen Gadol would enter only once a year on Yom Kippur, where Hashem’s presence is felt most strongly in the entire world, is found in the tribal land of Benyamin. This too will be expanded on in further analysis.

Analysis of the Modern Circumstances in Eretz Yisrael

Now that we have defined our characters, we can dive into the analysis. Yosef’s identity as a Hebrew was concealed. He did this in order to test his brothers and find out if they had changed. Would they treat Benyamin the way they treated him? Evidently not. 

It is interesting to consider that Yosef used Benyamin as a pawn in order to test his brothers. If we look at our modern political scene, the State of Israel, much like Yosef, treats Har HaBayit, and by extension, the Holy of Holies much like Benyamin. In 1967, we took Har HaBayit, and what did we do? We gave it to foreign powers. We were too frightened to claim it as our own, we preferred to play politics with it. Why would we give away the holiest place on earth? It doesn’t seem to make any sense, but when you look at Yosef, maybe it does. Like Yosef, the State of Israel burdens itself with the outside world. Israel chooses to think about other nations; the Arabs, the pressures of the west, etc. Due to Yosef’s cosmopolitan nature, his spiritual strength of connecting the Jewish people with the outside world has the potential to be hijacked by the need to please and therefore succumb to the other nations.

Now, what did Yehuda do? Yehuda, as he promised his father, took responsibility. Yehuda declared himself guarantor for Benyamin’s safety. This is a critical moment as it ultimately led to Yosef revealing himself, and as such, stopped Yosef from using Benyamin as a pawn. This perhaps may indicate a crucial lesson for modern day Israel. The same way Yehuda was responsible for Benyamin, so too must Yeuhuda veShomron, the tribal land of Yehuda, be “responsible” for the Holy of Holies, located in the tribal land of Benyamin. We as a people must step up and activate the status of Yehuda veShomron as unequivocally ours. This will enable us to take responsibility for the Holy of Holies just as Yehuda took responsibility for the safety of Benyamin. 

Now, it is interesting to note that it is not a foreign power using Benyamin as a pawn, but it was Benyamin’s own brother, Yosef. Though it is now obvious to us, it was easy to miss for the brothers. It may have seemed to the brothers that Yosef, the viceroy of Mitzrayim, was playing the role of the antagonist, but in all reality he wasn’t. This only continued for as long as Yosef’s identity was concealed. It was the responsibility of Yehuda to force Yosef to reveal it. Once Yosef’s identity was known, the brothers reunited and Yosef “fell on his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, and Benjamin wept on his neck” (Bereishit 45:14). 

By taking Yehuda veShomron, we will naturally come closer to Hashem’s intended purpose for us as a people. Like Yosef, this will force the State of Israel, and the Jewish nation at large, to confront our true identity as being a part of a chosen nation that is meant to observe the Torah in the land that Hashem gifted us. Yosef’s mission to protect and uplift his people was a holy one; the same goes for the modern State of Israel. Israel has provided a place for the Jewish people to dwell in our land like never before since the second Beit Hamikdash. However, without understanding our identity as a Jewish nation, it is easy to be perceived as enemies of our own people, and to use our holiest place as a shmatta, G-D forbid. Our recognition of the centrality of Yehuda veShomron to us as a people will naturally lead us to secure Har HaBayit and the Holy of Holies, our spiritual epicenter, the same way that Yehuda’s taking responsibility for Benyamin led to Benaymin’s safety and Yosef revealing his identity. 

Conclusion

It is not an easy step to make, but once we gather the courage to take possession of our land, a piece of land which is integral to our nation and tribal affiliation (majority of us are from Yehuda), and yet so wrought with controversy, we will be forced to realize our identity. This is the key to redeeming the Holy of Holies. In order to secure Benaymin’s future, Yehuda had to take complete and utter responsibility for his brother, “I will guarantee him; from my hand you can demand him.” (Bereishit 43:9). Yehuda stepped up to the role as Benyamin’s guarantor, thus ultimately saving him and his brothers as well as reuniting the Jewish people. Settling Yehuda ve Shomron is a statement of responsibility and care for the Jewish people, the Jewish future, and the land of Israel. It will activate us as guarantors and connect our people to Hashem’s mission for us as a nation. Such a realization can only naturally direct us towards a reverence and need for guaranteeing the sanctity of the Har Habayit, and as such, the Holy of Holies as the spiritual epicenter of the Jewish people’s relationship with Hashem and the world at large.

We are not just a nation that can act like any other people. We are a nation with the responsibility to conduct life in the land Hashem gave to us based on His constitution for us: the Torah. The time has come to stop running away from our identity. The time has come to bow down to none other than Hashem and the Torah He gave us. One can sit from today to tomorrow listing all the reasons that hinder us from being true to the Torah, like having to consider political entities such as the U.N. or being likable by world powers like the U.S. However, what we fail to recognize is that Hashem doesn’t expect us to do all the work. He expects us to make the first step, and He expects us to recognize the pure, unadulterated truth. He will cover the rest for us, but we must make the first leap of faith. 

The Jewish people will once again unite just as Yosef’s brothers reunited. But first we must assert our identity as a Jewish nation and we must take control of our eternal possessions, the Torah and the Land of Israel. We must bow down to and acknowledge our G-D, the G-D of Avraham, Yitzhak, and Yaakov, the G-D who took us out of Egypt and the G-D who will take us out of this final galut (exile). Yosef’s role as the material provider and the channel through which the Jewish people can shine their light unto the world will serve its mission and make room for Yehuda, the ultimate redeemer of the Jewish people, to bring the intimate knowledge of Hashem to this world. May the coming of the ultimate Mashiach, Mashiach ben David, come speedily in our days.      

  

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