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The Benjamin Persona

The First King

When we talk about Benjamin, Joseph immediately enters the picture. As soon as Joseph was born, his mother, Rachel, in part-prayer part-prophecy said “May God add another son to me.”[1] Tragically, Rachel died in childbirth, but not before she named her second son “Ben-Oni” (the son of my sorrow). Since then, seven year-old Joseph had to watch over his younger brother. After Joseph was sold, Benjamin gave names that alluded to his lost brother to all ten of his sons. Later, Benjamin plays a central role in the saga of Joseph and his brothers. Joseph demands that Benjamin be brought before him, treats him preferentially, and ultimately “accuses” him of theft, threatening to enslave him. Finally, Judah’s response and willingness to be enslaved instead of Benjamin proves to Joseph that his brothers had rectified the sin of their estrangement toward him. He then reveals his true identity, tearfully embraces Benjamin and the story nears its happy end.

The Silent Tzaddik

Joseph is often referred to as Joseph the Tzaddik, but the sages also refer to Benjamin as Benjamin the Tzaddik. Both brothers are tzaddikim, loyal friends connected to each other – but also very different. We know a lot about Joseph. He is active and prominent, a born leader. He is a brilliant influencer. And what about Benjamin? Surprisingly, with all the drama surrounding him, it seems that he does nothing. We don’t hear a word from him! Emotions are running high in Jacob’s household. Should they send Benjamin to Egypt, as the ruler there demanded? Reuben and Judah discuss it with their father. And Benjamin says nothing. He is no longer a small boy. He is the father of many children and approximately thirty years old (the age at which Joseph became the viceroy of Egypt). Later, Benjamin and his brothers do go to Egypt. When they come before Joseph he asks, “Is this your small brother?” And Benjamin remains silent. After that, the goblet is discovered in Benjamin’s sack. And Benjamin still remains silent. Everyone else is talking about Benjamin and he is silent.

From whom did Benjamin receive this characteristic of silence? The sages say as follows: Rachel maintained silence (when she didn’t tell Jacob about the deception that was about to take place with her marriage)[2]. Her son, Benjamin, also adopted this characteristic of silence, and although he knew that Joseph had been sold, he remained silent. Saul, the descendant of Rachel and Benjamin also remained silent: “And the matter of the kingdom he did not tell him.”[3] (He did not tell that he had been anointed to be king). Esther, another descendant of Rachel and Benjamin, also remained silent: “And Esther did not tell her birthplace and her nation.”[4] Rachel, Benjamin the Tzaddik, King Saul and Queen Esther all knew how to remain silent. Silence goes together with modesty, like Saul who was “hiding among the vessels (modest).”[5]

Benjamin never saw his mother, but specifically because of that, he was so connected to her. Joseph was particularly connected to his father, Jacob. Benjamin knew that his mother gave him his life as a gift. His life was her life. More than anything else, Rachel desired children – so much so that she was even willing to sacrifice her soul to achieve her goal. However, the Kabbalists say, at the moment that Rachel died, it was as if she was born anew in Benjamin. Hence, Benjamin knew that all his good deeds were also attributed to his mother.

A Point of Desire

The Kabbalists call Joseph an “upper tzaddik” and Benjamin a “lower tzaddik.” Joseph the Tzaddik comes to the reality of the world from above. He influences and fashions reality with assertiveness and confidence. Conversely, Benjamin the Tzaddik is quiet, modest and passive. He represents reality, itself. Joseph is a masculine persona, while relatively, Benjamin is a feminine persona. Joseph redeems and leads reality while Benjamin the Tzaddik represents the desire to be redeemed and led. A tzaddik like Joseph is identified with supernatural miracles, while a tzaddik like Benjamin is identified with nature itself. Nature is silent, while miracles speak. Joseph is connected to God’s Name, Havayah (the numerical value of Joseph is a multiple of Havayah) and Benjamin is connected to God’s Name, Elokim (Elokim is the same numerical value as silent teva [nature]).

Every one of us has a point of tzaddik inside. Influencing, Joseph-like righteousness and Benjamin-like righteousness that expresses the desire to be led and redeemed. There is great value to the meeting of these two tzaddikim, as is explained that when one comes to the grave of a tzaddik – Rachel’s Tomb, for example– a meeting between the lower tzaddik (the visitor) and the higher tzaddik (buried there) takes place. This is a joyous meeting, “Rejoice tzaddikim in God”[6] (hence, when visiting the grave of a tzaddik it is customary to recite this chapter).

In Kabbalistic terms, Benjamin is the “meeting place” in the Congregation of Israel, the place where the bride desires to receive the groom. The Nation of Israel desires to receive the influence of the Holy One, Blessed Be He. We saw that Benjamin identifies with Rachel. Rachel represents the Congregation of Israel, the entire Nation of Israel (hence, “Rachel weeps for her children”[7]). She also represents the holy Shechinah (God’s Immanent Presence), the manifestation of God in the world. When the Shechinah-Mother is in exile, Benjamin channels all his actions into redeeming her, to extricating her from the dust and renewing the connection between her and God. When we perform the commandments of the Torah with this intention and consciousness (not for our personal benefit, but in the Name of the Holy One Blessed Be He and His Shechinah) we are an expression of Benjamin.

Benjamin Does Not Bow Down

If you think that our silent tzaddik doesn’t have a backbone, you are mistaken. He is quiet yet perseverant and maintains his principles. The most distinct example of a Benjamin persona is Mordechai from the Scroll of Esther. “And Mordechai will not kneel and he will not bow.”[8] This characteristic is also attributed to Benjamin, the progenitor of his tribe: Jacob and all his sons bowed down to Esau – except for Benjamin, who was not yet born. All of Jacob’s sons were born while Jacob was with Laban in Aram, and only Benjamin was born in the Land of Israel. Hence he was named Ben-Yamin, (the son of the land of the right) for the south is called the right and the Land of Israel is south of Aram. Benjamin was an assertive native of the Land of Israel, who was not willing to bow down to the current wicked ruler of the area.  Benjamin’s boldness was also emphasized in Jacob’s blessing: “Benjamin is a ravenous wolf”[9]

According to one opinion, when the Nation of Israel emerged from Egypt and reached the Red Sea, it was the tribe of Benjamin that was the first to jump into the sea – and hence, the Temple was built in the portion of Benjamin. This is reflected in Moses’ blessing to Benjamin: “Of Benjamin he said: The beloved of God shall dwell in safety by Him; He covers him all the day, and He dwells between his shoulders, [10] referring to the dwelling of the Shechinah between the mountains of Benjamin. In addition, the “ravenous wolf” alludes to the altar in the Holy Temple, which “ate” the sacrifices. Benjamin, who jumped first into the sea, does not take  hesitant public opinion into account. He simply creates a new opinion.

This bold character deteriorated to a very negative place when the tribe of Benjamin was the target of a horrific war against the other tribes (the story of the concubine of Giv’ah)[11] which almost wiped out the entire tribe. The Benjaminites learned their lesson and in the next generation manifested true national responsibility: After an era in which there was “no king in Israel, every person did what was correct in his eyes,”[12] the first king of Israel was chosen and he was specifically from the tribe of Benjamin. King Saul united the nation and was concerned with everyone. Saul, however, also failed when he did not show enough independence and assertiveness in the war against Amalek (justifying himself by claiming that he had pity on the sheep). It was Saul’s descendant, Mordechai, who had all of Benjamin’s attributes in the correct measure. He was bold and assertive against Haman, but modest and humble with his Jewish brethren, not highlighting his particular tribe, but calling himself a “Jew” like everyone else. This caused Haman to attempt to destroy all the Jews, “the nation of Mordechai.” When the entire nation unites in the merit of Esther and Mordechai, it brings salvation for all the Jews.

Bullseye

The tribe of Benjamin had a special acumen: They were expert archers, like Jonathan, the son of Saul, who would train with his bow and arrow and whom David eulogized, saying “The bow of Jonathan will not retreat.”[13] Fittingly, the mazal of the month of Kislev is the bow.

Physical prowess is not enough for shooting a bow and arrow. One also needs inner peace, deep and precise concentration, a perfect transition from pulling the bow back and releasing it, and the ability to patiently wait for the right moment. These are all the characteristics of Benjamin, who knew how to remain silent (קשת [bow] is a permutation of שתק [quiet]). To hit the target emotionally, as well, one needs an internal, sensitive balance between tense drawing back and release and relaxation. We should not be too pressured, but not lazy and lax. Instead, we need to be taut like the string of the bow, knowing when to release at the right moment and to shoot the arrow to its target.

Just as the experienced archers of Benjamin were right on target, so does the Benjamin persona have the internal sense to aim for the right target. We are often at a loss as to how to proceed, how to reach our goal, how to get to the true and complete redemption. That is where we need someone with a spark of Benjamin to say, “This is the goal and this is the way to get there. Let us go forward to the building of the Temple in Benjamin’s portion, may it be speedily in our days.

 

[1] Genesis 30:24.

[2] Misrash Tanchuma, Vayeitzei 6.

[3] Samuel I, 10:16.

[4] Esther 2:20.

[5] Samuel I, 10:22.

[6] Psalms 33:1.

[7] Jeremiah 31:14.

[8] Esther 3:2.

[9] Genesis 49:27.

[10] Deuteronomy 33:12.

[11] Judges chapters 19-21.

[12] Judges 21:25.

[13] Samuel II, 1:22.

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