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 bloody conflict. 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; he was not interested in Reuben putting Benaymin’s life above his grandchildren’s life. 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. We are living out the prophecies.

Similar to the state of Israel, Yosef 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. He is pure, without faults. He did not commit any of the crimes that his brothers committed. 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 Israel and especially 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. To this day a “religious” prime minister cannot unequivocally assert domonance over the holiest place on Israel. Why would treat the holiest place on earth like this? 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.

Our sages explain that when we treat evil with mercy, we will end up treating the kind with evil. Why? Hashem hates evil; evil cannot be allowed to exist next to good. First one will take pity on evil, then they will become a slave to it, and then they will become it. The state of Israel’s opposition to taking Jewish lands, it’s lack of decisiveness and weakness when it comes to waging a war on a population that wants to see Jews out of Jewish land, it’s inability to execute murderous Arabs who want Jewish blood, etc. all in the name of being a moral, modern, liberal democracy has put countless Jewish lives at risk. By being merciful to our enemies, we have been cruel to our own people. This very much mirrors Yosef’s treatment of Benyamin.

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,take responsibility, and activate the status of Yehuda veShomron as unequivocally ours. This will enable “Yosef”, the government if you will, 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 fake “antagonist” role only continued for as long as Yosef’s identity was concealed. It was the responsibility of Yehuda to force Yosef to reveal it. Once Yehuda showed his unequivocal devotion to protecting Benyamin, he put Yosef in a corner, making him face and reveal his identity as a Jew. Yosef sent out all the Egyptians in the room, the foreigners that Yosef associated himself, and he “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. This will force the expression of Mashiach Ben Yosef, Israel as we know it today, to confront its true identity as being a part of a chosen nation that is meant to observe the Torah in the land that Hashem gifts us. Yosef protected and uplifted his people much like 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 for the state to act as an enemy to its own people. Our recognition of the centrality of Yehuda veShomron will naturally lead us to secure Har HaBayit and the Holy of Holies, not just physically, for that is the easy part, but as our spiritual epicenter, with a Beit Hamikdash built upon it Bezrat Hashem with the final redemption as the culmination. 

Why Is This So Important?

Once we gather the courage to take possession of our land, we will be forced to realize our identity. A milhemet Mitzvah will almost certainly be in order. This will force the average Jew to align himself with His people, His land, and ultimately Hashem and His Torah. There will be a shift in national conciousness towards our Torah. This is the key to redeeming and being able to shift our focus to the Holy of Holies, and by that extent, the final redemption.

The average Jew may fail to see how annexing land, waging a war, and other such political issues have anything to do with the final redemption. You see, settling the land of Israel is not a political move. It is a mistake to call Yishuv Ha’aretz, the Mitzvah of settling the land of Israel, “politics”. There are no such labels as “politics”, “religion”, “nationalism”, etc. for the Jewish people; there is only Torah, Hashem’s will. To limit Mitzvot that apply to the whole nation to mere “politics”, is limiting the scope of Hashem’s will and Mitzvot. Hashem wills that we put on Teffilin, keep Shabbat, keep Kashrut, etc. He also wills that we live in His land, conquer it, build a Beit Hamikdash, etc. The issue is that for two thousand years we as a people have not engaged with Mitzvot as a nation; which is understandable. But there are millions of Jews (about 7 million) in the land that Hashem gives us, the land of Israel, and as a result, we cannot afford to only care about personal Mitzvot. There is no mistake that the ingathering of the Jewish people has begun. We must begin behaving like a nation, a kingdom of priests, not merely as individuals. Our collective, national soul is going through a lot of growth, through labor pains if you will. However, out of this high-pressure environment will emerge a diamond, the final redemption, the recognition of Hashem as King of the world.

As a result, in order to prepare for this process, national level Mitzvot which have been dormant for two thousand years are forced to be relevant, and we cannot write them off as “politics”. Mitzvot that apply to the nation are as much Hashem’s will as personal Mitzvot. So that one does not downplay the importance of the land of Israel, and Jewish responsibility to it, our sages explain that one should always strive to live in the land of Israel. Even a city in Israel filled with idolators is better than a city in exile filled with Torah scholars. The Talmud goes so far as to say that living outside the land of Israel is like having no G-D. This is perhaps due to the fact that living outside the land that He gives us is denying the eternal possession that we must inherit.

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. 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. When Yosef saw Yehuda’s persistence in protecting Benyamin, he sent out all the Egyptians who were in the room with him. Much the same way, Israel must push away all the foreign influences of the various nations. 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: having to consider political entities such as the U.N., being likable by world powers like the U.S., facing retribution from the Arabs. However, what we fail to recognize is that Hashem expect us to make the first step; He expects us to recognize the pure, unadulterated truth. He will cover the rest for us, but we must make our efforts to become vessels for the expression of His will with His help.  

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 has served its mission, “God sent me before you to make for you a remnant in the land, and to preserve [it] for you for a great deliverance.” (Bereishit 45:7). Now the time for the great deliverance is near, and we must make room for Yehuda, from whom the ultimate redeemer of the Jewish people will come, 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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