SALT - Friday, 18 Tevet 5778 - January 5, 2018

  • Rav David Silverberg
            The Torah tells in the beginning of Parashat Shemot (1:11) that the enslavement of Benei Yisrael began when the Egyptians forced them to build two cities – Pitom and Ra’amses.
            The Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni, Iyov, 4) tells an unusual story about the origins of these cities.  Pitom and Ra’amases had previously stood, the Midrash relates, but were destroyed at the time when Yosef’s brothers brought the youngest brother, Binyamin, to Egypt.  Yosef ordered his butler to hide his goblet in Binyamin’s bag so he could be charged with theft, and then, when Binyamin was caught, Yosef demanded that Binyamin remain in Egypt as his slave.  Yehuda then pleaded with Yosef to allow Binyamin to return to Canaan, and offered to serve as a slave in Binyamin’s place.  The Midrash relates that as Yehuda pleaded his case with Yosef, he was joined in Egypt by his nephew – Chushim, the son of Dan – and together they “roared” in anger.  The force of their shout caused the large cities of Pitom and Ra’amses to collapse.  “And for this reason,” the Midrash concludes, “it was decreed upon Yisrael that they would have to build them.”
            How might we understand the message conveyed by this story?  Why would Benei Yisrael be responsible to rebuild the cities destroyed by Yehuda and Chushim’s “roar”?
            One possible explanation is that the Midrash here simply intends to warn of the dangers and consequences of anger.  It seeks to teach us that “roaring” – erupting in rage, even when one’s grievance is valid, as in Yehuda’s case – causes only destruction.  When we shout and scream in response to a wrong committed against us, we sow havoc that we ourselves will eventually need to fix.  In the story told by the Midrash, Yehuda and Chushim may have believed they did something worthwhile and advanced their cause by destroying cities with their angry outburst, but in the end, it was their own descendants who needed to rebuild them.  Allegorically, this represents the self-damaging nature of the “destruction” we sow with our “roars” of anger.  The Midrash here urges us to exercise reason and self-control when our patience is tested, to react calmly and rationally, rather than erupting in a destructive fit of rage.