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Yehuda’s Guarantee

Harav Yaakov Medan
02.01.2020
Translated by David Strauss
 
 
Let us examine the words of Yehuda in our parasha, as a continuation of his words in the previous parasha:
 
Then Yehuda came near to him, and said: “Oh my lord, let your servant, I pray you, speak a word in my lord's ears, and let not your anger burn against your servant; for you are even as Pharaoh. My lord asked his servants, saying: ‘Have you a father, or a brother?’ And we said to my lord: ‘We have a father, an old man, and a child of his old age, a little one; and his brother is dead, and he alone is left of his mother, and his father loves him.’ And you said to your servants: ‘Bring him down to me, that I may set my eyes upon him.’ And we said to my lord: ‘The lad cannot leave his father; for if he should leave his father, his father would die.’ And you said to your servants: ‘Unless your little brother comes down with you, you shall see my face no more.’ And it came to pass when we came up to your servant my father, we told him the words of my lord. And our father said: ‘Go again, buy us a little food.’ And we said: ‘We cannot go down; if our little brother be with us, then will we go down; for we may not see the man's face, unless our little brother is with us.’ And your servant my father said to us: ‘You know that my wife bore me two sons; and the one went out from me, and I said: Surely he is torn in pieces; and I have not seen him since; and if you take this one also from me, and harm befalls him, you will bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave.’” (Bereishit 44:18-29)

I.

Apart from the important repetition of the entire story – a story the details of which were liable to be forgotten by a ruler who must deal with so many people coming to buy food, a story that spread out over almost two years – there are two important novel points in Yehuda's account:
 
First is the repeated emphasis on the fact that we are dealing with a young lad, a point that was not mentioned previously. Presumably, Binyamin was at that borderline age between a young lad and an adult who is fully responsible for his actions, or else he looked young for his age and could be called "little" even though he was a grown-up.[1] Yehuda is trying here to diminish "little" Binyamin's responsibility for stealing Yosef's goblet, based on the argument that he is not responsible for his actions.
 
The second novel point in Yehuda's words is the pain of his elderly father, pain that is unbearable both for Yaakov himself and for all those around him.
 
But the essence of Yehuda's words lies in what follows:
 
“Now therefore when I come to your servant my father, and the lad is not with us; seeing that his soul is bound up with the lad's soul; it will come to pass, when he sees that the lad is not with us, that he will die; and your servants will bring down the gray hairs of your servant our father with sorrow to the grave. For your servant became surety for the lad to my father, saying: ‘If I bring him not to you, then shall I bear the blame to my father forever.’ Now therefore, let your servant, I pray you, abide instead of the lad a bondman to my lord; and let the lad go up with his brothers. For how shall I go up to my father, if the lad be not with me? Lest I look upon the evil that shall come on my father.” (Bereishit 44:30-34)
 
Here Yosef learns about the depth of Yehuda's guarantee. Here he understands that it was not for nothing that Yaakov delivered Binyamin into the hands of Yehuda and that this did not stem from contempt for Binyamin's life. Yehuda is doing everything to send Binyamin back to his father. He is prepared to be a bondsman in his place, and thereby also pay the price for his wrongdoing in connection with the sale of Yosef to Egypt. Yosef can no longer restrain himself, and he weeps openly.
 
II.
 
Two comments about Yehuda in this parasha:
 
1.  Yehuda could have justified his behavior at the time of the sale of Yosef by arguing that through that sale, he tried to save Yosef from death in the pit. As it is stated there: "What profit is it if we slay our brother and conceal his blood?" (Bereishit 37:26). But Yehuda does not do this, but rather assumes full responsibility for his actions, as he says to Yosef:
 
And Yehuda said: “What shall we say to my lord? What shall we speak or how shall we clear ourselves? God has found out the iniquity of your servants.” (Bereishit 44:16)
 
Yehuda's words indicate that he did not believe the libel about the goblet. It thus stands to reason that he is referring to the sin of the sale of Yosef and that he makes no attempt to justify his conduct.
 
2. Chazal speak about the guarantee that Yehuda gave to Yaakov in connection with events four centuries later: 
 
All the years that the Israelites were in the wilderness, Yehuda's bones kept turning in his coffin [Rashi: Because of the ban that he had accepted upon himself, as it is stated: "Then shall I bear the blame to my father forever"], until Moshe arose and begged mercy for him. (Sota 7b).
 
But Yehuda stood by his guarantee and returned Binyamin to his father. Why, then, did his bones keep turning in his coffin? It seems that we must say that Yehuda was punished not for the guarantee that he gave for Binyamin, but for the guarantee that he should have given when Yosef was thrown into the pit in Dotan. Yehuda did not then guarantee Yosef's life, and in failing to do so, he sinned against his father – until the day of the encounter between Yosef and his brothers, when he made himself known to them, and the day when he once again met with his father.
 
Even then, the wrongdoing that Yehuda committed against Yosef was not erased, for Yosef wanted to be buried in the land of his ancestors, but he was instead buried in a coffin in Egypt. Moshe took Yosef's coffin for burial in Eretz Yisrael, but in the fortieth year in the plains of Moav, Yosef had not yet been buried in his own territory. As long as Yosef's bones continued to roll about in his coffin, Yehuda's bones continued to roll about in his. Only in the fortieth year in the wilderness, when Yosef's bones came near to their final resting place, did Moshe, who had been carrying Yosef's coffin until that point, pray that God also hear the cry of Yehuda and bring his bones to their final rest together with the bones of Yosef, against whom he had sinned. 
 
III.
 
Despite the righteousness of Yosef, who tested Yehuda, it is difficult to ignore the difficult picture of Yosef the son of Rachel, the rigid ruler of Egypt, demanding that Binyamin the son of Rachel be punished, even though he did nothing wrong, and Yehuda the son of Leah risking his life to save him.
 
It seems that Achiya the Shilonite, the prophet of King Shelomo, did not overlook this point:
 
And Achiya laid hold of the new garment that was on him and rent it in twelve pieces. And he said to Yerovam: “Take you ten pieces; for thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Behold, I will rend the kingdom out of the hand of Shelomo and will give ten tribes to you. But he shall have one tribe, for My servant David's sake, and for Jerusalem's sake, the city which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel.” (I Melakhim 11:30-32)
 
The reader is puzzled: The garment is rent into twelve pieces. Ten pieces are given to Yerovam and one to the son of David. What happened to the twelfth piece? To whom was it given? 
 
It seems that this is the way we must read verse 32:
 
But he shall have one tribe, for My servant David's sake,
[and he shall have one tribe] for Jerusalem's sake, the city which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel.
 
Two tribes were given to Shelomo the son of David: One tribe, the tribe of Yehuda, was given for the sake of David, and over it would rule the son of David. A second tribe was given to Shelomo for the sake of Jerusalem. This is the tribe of Binyamin, who shares Jerusalem with the tribe of Yehuda. If Jerusalem were to be divided between the kingdom of Yerovam and the kingdom of Rechavam, it would not remain the capital city. It would have been a small city, like Jerusalem on the eve of the Six Day War. Instead, Binyamin leaves his natural home among the tribes of the children of Yosef, the founders of the kingdom of Efrayim, and moves to be with the tribe of Yehuda.
 
In the palace of the Egyptian ruler, Yehuda embraced Binyamni and refused to let go of him at all costs. The God of history rewarded Yehuda for his devotion to Binyamin with the very existence of Jerusalem, their shared city, as the city of God's Temple and kingdom.
 
Jerusalem is supposed to remind us of the wonderful mutual guarantee created in its foundation – Yehuda's guarantee regarding Binyamin. It should also remind us of the power of repentance, which includes also repair – Yehuda's repentance for the sale of Yosef.
 
 
(Translated by David Strauss)
 
 

[1] In our discussion of the order of the events involving Yaakov in the land of Canaan in Parashat Vayishlach, we noted that according to the conventional chronology – that Rachel died while giving birth to Binyamin prior to the sale of Yosef – we can stretch the difference in ages between Yosef and Binyamin to almost seventeen years, for it was at that age that Yosef was sold. Yosef in our parasha, after seven years of saiety and two years of famine, is 39 years old. If we assume that the 22 year old Binyamin looked younger than his actual age, it is possible to see him as "our little brother" who must be carefully watched over so that no calamity will befall him. According to the alternative that we suggested there – that Rachel's death and Binyamin's birth took place after the sale of Yosef and that Yosef only heard about Binyamin's birth during his interrogation of the brothers – Binyamin was indeed "our little brother." Elsewhere, we will discuss the possible conclusion that arises in Parashat Vayigash that at that time Binyamin already had ten children, which clearly contradicts what follows from the words of Yehuda here. 

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