The Relationship Between Yehuda and Binyamin

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December 5, 2021

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Vayigash (Genesis 44:18-47:27 )

Much of the focus in Vayigash is the confrontation between Yehuda and Yosef and the relationship between the two Tribes throughout Jewish history. A less discussed, but also highly significant, relationship that originates in these Portions, is that of Yehuda and Binyamin. In Mikeitz, Yehuda promises Yaakov that he would be an Arev (guarantor) to ensure that Binyamin would return safely from their perilous trip to Mitzrayim to meet the harsh Viceroy. This means that he is willing to put his whole life in the balance to ensure Binyamin’s safety. In the beginning of Vayigash, Yehuda demonstrates that he is indeed willing to give up everything to ensure the safety of Binyamin, an unparalleled act of self-sacrifice. His selflessness is even greater given the potential for jealousy that Yehuda, a son of Leah, could have for Binyamin, a son of Rachel, whom Yaakov clearly favors.

As the Ramban teaches, Maaseh avot simun l’banim – this means that the actions of our ancestors are a sign of what would take place in the future with their descendants. Indeed, we see a number of examples in Bible where the relationship between Yehuda and Binyamin was unique among the Tribe.

The most outstanding example is the relationship between David, a descendant of Yehuda, and Yehonasan, the son of King Shaul, who was a member of the Tribe of Binyamin. Yehonasan had ample reason to be jealous of David as it was evident that David was destined to be the person to take over the Kingship from Shaul. Shaul’s obvious inheritor was Yehonasan so he had the most to lose from David’s success. Yet instead of being jealous of David, he developed a deep love for him. The Navi tells us that, ‘Nefesh Yehonasan nikshera b’nefesh David’ – the soul of Yehonasan became bound up with the soul of David.1 Interestingly, the only other time we see similar language describing a relationship in the whole of Tanach is when Yehuda refers to Yaakov’s relationship with none other than Binyamin: “Nafsho kshura b'nafsho," his [my father’s] soul is bound up with Binyamin's soul.” And as Shaul’s enmity for David increases2, Yehonasan becomes more devoted to David, and willingly accepts that he will be secondary to David: “Do not be afraid because the hand of Shaul, my father, will not find you and you will rule over Yisrael and I will be to you a second, and my father Shaul also knows this.”3

It seems that the self-sacrifice and selflessness that Yehuda showed for Binyamin created a deep love between the two that expressed itself hundreds of years later in the deep love of Binyamin’s descendant, Yehonasan, for Yehuda’s progeny, David. Likewise, just as Yehuda had ample reason to be jealous of Binyamin but instead, put aside his own desires, Yehonasan ignored any feelings of jealousy and devoted himself to helping David.4

The positive relationship between Yehuda and Binyamin was not limited to individuals. When the Jewish nation split into two, all of the Tribes joined Yeravam to establish the Northern Kingdom, with the sole exception of Binyamin who remained with Yehuda.

However, the Chikrei Lev notes that there was another, far more hostile relationship between members of Yehuda and Binyamin – that was the highly complicated relationship between Yehonasan’s father, Shaul and David himself. Initially, Shaul also seemed to love David, but this love morphed into deep-seated jealousy as he realized that David was destined to replace him as King. The Book of Shmuel relates that Shaul’s hatred began when the women would sing, “Shaul struck thousands and David struck tens of thousands.”5 This aroused Shaul’s passionate jealousy for David to the extent that Shaul sought to kill David. He failed, and his efforts culminated in his own heinous sin of having the city of Nov killed, and ended ultimately in his death in battle.

The Chikrei Lev6 wonders how such destructive jealousy consumed such a righteous man as Shaul. He suggests that this was also a manifestation of the idea that our ancestors’ actions foretell the future. When do we see that an ancestor of Shaul was jealous of an ancestor of David? The Torah tells us that the childless Rachel was jealous of Leah who had many sons. Of course, Rachel in her righteousness, was not jealous in a petty manner, rather she envied Leah’s good deeds, but the Chikrei Leiv posits, the root of jealousy did originate here, and there was the potential for it to exacerbate in a less positive fashion in the future. He then notes the Torah relates Rachel’s jealousy after her fourth child, because then, Leah had given birth to more than her share of three boys.7 Who was the fourth son? None other than Yehuda! Hence, there was a precedent of jealousy between a descendant of Rachel and a descendant of Leah, through Yehuda in particular.

The Chikrei Lev notes another incident where a member of Binyamin was jealous of David. The Book of Shmuel later relates that a man by the name of Shiba Bin Bichri rebelled against David – and he is described as an Ish Yemini – a member of Binyamin.8

The Chikrei Lev points out that the concept that the past actions of our ancestors portend the future actions of their descendnats does not mean that the later generations did not have free will – rather we see from the contrasting examples with regard to Rachel and Leah, the potential was there for both the loving relationship that emerged between Yehonasan and David and the relationship plagued by jealousy, as was the case with Shaul and David.9 On a more practical level, we see that in any relationship, there is the potential for jealousy and the opposite potential for love, if one can put aside his feelings of jealousy.

This challenge is no mere stringency, rather, as the Rambam points out, it is included in the Mitzva to love your fellow like yourself. The Rambam teaches that the essence of the Mitzva is to want what’s best for one’s fellow, and to remove any vestiges of jealousy at his fellow’s success. One way to do this is for us to realize that everything one’s fellow has is what he needs for his success, but that if we do not have it, it means that we do not need it, and it is totally not relevant to us. May we merit to emulate the examples of Yehuda and Yehonasan, and their ability to remove all vestiges of jealousy from their hearts.

  1. Shmuel 1, 18:1.
  2. This is discussed below.
  3. Shmuel 1, 23:17.
  4. See Chikrei Lev, Bereishit, Maamar 36, and ‘Judah and Joseph: Transcending Sibling Rivalry’ by Rabbi David Fohrman shlit’a for more on the connections between Yehuda, Binyamin, David and Yehonasan.
  5. Shmuel Aleph, 18:7.
  6. Chikrei Lev, ibid, p.263.
  7. See Rabbeinu Bechaye, Bereishit, 29:35. It was known that Yaakov would have four wives and twelve boys so it would have been expected that each wife would have three boys.
  8. Shmuel Beis, 20:1.
  9. It is important to point out that Shaul was a tremendously righteous person and that any flaw in his behavior is greatly magnified by the Navi so that we can relate to it on our level.
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