Joseph, son of Jacob, had eleven brothers. The brothers resented him for being Jacob’s favorite. Jacob had given Joseph a coat of many colors. That angered the brothers. Joseph had two dreams. In each he was lifted high above the brothers. That made them angry. They sold him into slavery and told their father he was dead. Joseph ended up in the house of Potiphar. He was successful and honored in that house until Potiphar’s wife tried to persuade him to have an inappropriate relationship. He refused and she falsely accused him. Joseph landed in jail. He was there until Pharaoh had a dream and needed someone to interpret it. He called for Joseph. Joseph told him famine was coming to Egypt and what needed to be done to prepare. Again Joseph gained success and prominence in Egypt. His brothers came to buy grain. Joseph told them to return and bring back the youngest brother. He demanded one brother stay behind. He tested his brothers by hiding money in their grain bags. They returned the money. They did as instructed, brought back Benjamin. Again Joseph tested his brothers by hiding a goblet in Benjamin’s bag. When found, he insisted Benjamin stay behind. The brothers begged for mercy for their father’s sake. Joseph knew they had changed. He revealed his identity and was reunited with his brothers and father, Jacob.

Parshat Vayigash: Genesis 44:18-47:27; Ezekiel 37:15-28.

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin

The poignant moment when Joseph and Benjamin are reunited after a separation of 22 years is one of the most tender scenes in the Torah.

After a long chronicle of difficult brotherly relationships, we finally come across two brothers who truly love each other. The only children of Jacob’s beloved Rachel, Joseph and Benjamin shared the same womb; and when their mother died in childbirth, we can feel assured that Joseph drew Benjamin close to him, protected him, and shared with him the precious memories of the mother Benjamin never knew. Their exclusive relationship must have made their eventual separation even more painful and traumatic. After all, Benjamin was the only brother totally uninvolved in the family tension and sibling rivalry against Joseph.

But where are the joy, the elation, the celebration? Why does the Torah only record the weeping of the brothers at this dramatic moment of their reunion?

Rashi cites and explains a midrashic interpretation that suggests these tears relate to the future destruction of the two Temples allotted to the portion of Benjamin and to the destruction of the sanctuary in Shilo allotted to the portion of Joseph. Rashi stresses that Joseph’s tears are for Benjamin’s destruction, and Benjamin’s tears are for Joseph’s destruction.

But why should Rashi extrapolate such terrible events in the future from the tears of the brothers? I believe that the answer lies in our being mindful of the two archetypal sins in the book of Genesis: The first is the sin of eating of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, which symbolizes rebellion against God; the second is the sin of the sale of Joseph by his brothers, which epitomizes the sins of enmity between people.

Of the two, the Zohar considers the latter more severe. In the tradition of “the events of the fathers foreshadow the history of the children,” we can see that all tragedies to befall the Jewish people have their source in the “DNA” of the sale of Joseph as a slave. This act was the foundation of causeless hatred between Jews.

It is the sin of causeless hatred, the crime of the brothers against Joseph, that can be said to be our “original sin.” In the midst of brotherly hatred, the love between Joseph and Benjamin stands out as a shining example of the potential for unconditional love.

Rashi links their tears during their meeting to the destruction of our sanctuaries, the result of jealousy and enmity between Jew and Jew. Indeed, they each weep for the future tragedies that will befall their descendants. But although each brother will be blessed with a sanctuary on his allotted land, the brothers weep not for themselves, but each for the other. This act of selfless weeping and unconditional love becomes the only hope against the tragedies implicit in the sale of Joseph into slavery. The only thing that can repair that sin is nothing less than a love in which the other comes first, causeless love, when one weeps for the other’s tragedy rather than for his own.

Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook taught that if the Temples were destroyed because of causeless hatred, the Temple will only be rebuilt because of causeless love, exemplified by the tears of Joseph and Benjamin.

Rashi is providing a prescient lesson as to know we can achieve true peace and world redemption in this very special period of our return to Zion.

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin - man smiling in suit and tie wearing glasses
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Jackie Headapohl | Detroit Jewish News

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin is chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone and chief rabbi of Efrat, Israel.

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