"Parshas Pinchas and Brotherly Love"

By Yisroel Susskind, Ph.D., Monsey, NY


Dedicated to the memory of my grandfather, Pinkasz Susskind, of Stropkov, Slovakia.


Tucked away in this week's parsha, Pinchas, is "curious incident", an omission, that provides a touching lesson on staying connected lovingly, despite adversity.

The parsha's census, which lists the heads of the tribal households, names only five of Binyomin's sons (1). We know from Genesis (2) that Binyomin had ten sons, who were among the 70 "souls" that descended to Egypt. The text here does not comment on what happened to the missing 5 sons.

This failure to explain their absence appears strange. A full 50% of Binyomin's children have disappeared and we are offered no explanation!

In contrast, with regard to the sons of Yehudah , the text explains why two of his sons are no longer on the list of households. (3). And it does so, despite the fact that we know why they are missing, based on their story earlier, in Genesis (4). Not only does the text not provide an explanation of the 5 missing Benjaminites, but the major commentaries do not address that issue at the point where the text lists the 5 sons (1).

Typically, when I encounter a census in the Torah, listing names and numbers, my eye passes rapidly over the information, which is less appealing to me than is a story. Yet, when I noticed that so many of Binyomin's sons were missing, without any comment in the text or commentaries, my attention was grabbed. As the expression goes: "the verse cries out for an explication." I began to hunt around. What happened to these 5 sons?

A mild interpretation is offered by the Daas Zekeinim (5), who suggests that those five families grew at a very slow rate and thus became absorbed by the larger families of Binyamin.

Rashi offers a harsher explanation (6). He brings a Medrash (7) that says that some of the Israelites wanted to flee back to Egypt during a battle with the Cana'anites. The Levites fought against them, trying to force them to stay. In the process, most of the members of those seven families were killed, so that those families ceased to exist as a genealogical unit.

Rashi returns to the issue of the 5 missing Benjaminites in verse 24, offering an alternative harsh interpretation of their absence, in the name of Rabbi Moshe ha-Darshan . He states essentially that Binyamin's offspring were predestined for tragedy; that is, when he was born to our Matriarch Rachel, and she lay dying in childbirth, Rachel named him "Ben Oni"-- "the child of mourning." According to Rabbi Moshe ha-Darshan, this name was a prophetic reference to two events: (a) the loss of the 5 families; (b) the near-total decimation of the remainder of the tribe at the incident of "the concubine at Giv'ah" (8).

Nachmanides, the Ramban, offers a different "gentle" explanation that accounts for 2 of the missing brothers, but still leaves 3 brothers unaccounted for. He asserts that 2 of the sons died childless, or else were actually grandsons (9).

So, I am still left with a number of questions as to why the Text did not make explicit what happened to the missing Benjaminite brothers, and what was the cause of their fates.

However, the biggest question that emerged for me was why did my eye catch and attend to the omission? Why did I remember that in Genesis (2) Binyomin has 10 sons? and why did I invest so much time investigating the discrepancy?
I came to realize that, for me, Binyomin is an incredibly powerful symbol, a representative of intense, selfless and self-nullifying love. Let us consider five aspects of his relationships:

(a) He manages to be cared about by his brothers, at least to the extent that they do not harbor the resentment toward him that they had to Yosef.

(b) He is incredibly loved by his father Yaacov. When Yehudah fears that the Viceroy will take Binyomin, he pleads for his father's sake; he explains (Gen. 44:30) that Yaacov's and Binyomin's very souls are tied one to the other. His words are one of the most tender and moving statements of attachment between father and son.

(c) When Binyomin is unknowingly re-united with his brother Yosef in Egypt, he totally overwhelms Yosef with his brotherly love. Rashi explains that Binyomin told "the Viceroy" that during the 22 years since Binyomin lost his brother, he named each of his 10 sons after aspects of Yosef's life. "The Viceroy" is so touched that he must excuse himself and go into a separate room to cry (10). The tenderness of this emotional moment so stayed with me, that it ingrained in my memory the fact that Binyomin had 10 sons. That emotional connection is what caused me to notice a "missing detail" in the census.

(d) It is through Yeudah's magnificently sacrificing himself for Binyomin in Parshas Vayigash that Yehudah redeems himself from the sin of having sold Yosef, that Yehudah asserts the primacy of his love for Yaacov, and that he merits to be the sire of the kings of Israel and of Moshiach (11).

(e) Yaacov did not accept Rachel's naming her baby "Ben Oni", i.e., child of mourning or of suffering". He called the baby Ben-Yamin ( Gen. 35:18) , which Rashi interprets there as "son of my Right hand, i.e., son of the Southerly direction , when I am facing East" . In Chassidus (12), the quality of enraptured mystical love of G-D, "ratzo," is attributed to the "Right hand." Binyomin is thus a symbol of enraptured love of G-D.

May it be that we draw upon the loving quality of Binyomin, to achieve closeness to our families, to our religious leaders, and to G-D, that we manifest the qualities of "soul attachment" and of rapture, thereby meriting the ultimate rapture with the coming of Moshiach, immediately, in the literal meaning of the word.

(1) Numbers 26:38-39.
(2) From Rashi on Gen. 43:30 and from Gen. 46:21.
(3) Numbers 26:19. Similarly, the census-counting digresses to explain the fate of Dathan and Abiram of the tribe of Reuven.
(4) 38:7-9
(5) Daas Zakeinim is a collection of commentaries on the Chumash, drawn from the 12th and 13th century Talmudic commentators in France and Germany known collectively as Tosfos.
(6) The second one in his commentary on the verse (after rejecting his own first attempt).
(7) Medrash Tanchuma ( Pinchas, medrash #5 ).
(8) In Judges, ch.19-20, the other tribes of Israel are so outraged by an incident of Benjaminite immoral behavior that they nearly totally annihilate the Benjaminites.
(9) Nachmonides, verse 13. His analysis covers 2 of the missing 5 sons of Binyomin: Ard and Na'aman. However, he does not address what happened to the other missing 3 brothers: Becher, Gaira and Rosh.
(10) Gen. 43:30 Rashi explains what so moved Yosef: When Binyomin told the Viceroy ( i.e, Yosef) that he had 10 sons, Yosef asked the meaning of their names. Binyomin explained that they were all allusions to his brother Yosef and Yosef's troubles. This disclosure was the cause of the stirring of Yosef's compassion. Rashi's source for the explanation of the 10 names is Talmud Sotah 36b.
The first brother, Bela , "because Yosef was "swallowed" ( "nivl'a") up among the nations. The 2nd brother, Becher , because he was his mother's firstborn ( "b'chor"). The 3rd brother, Ashbel, because G-D made him a captive ( a contraction of "sh'va'o ell"), The 4th brother, Gaira , because he was a traveler or sojourner ( "Gair") in a foreign land. The 5th brother, Na'aman , because he was very pleasant ( "Na'im" means pleasant). The 6th brother, Aichi (or Ehi) , because he was my brother ( "Achi" means my brother). The 7th brother, Rosh , because he was my chief ( "Rosh" m eans head or leader ) The 8th brother, Muppum , because he studied from the mouth ( "Peh" means mouth). The 9th brother, Chuppim, because he did not see my wedding canopy ( the "Chuppah"), nor did I see his. The 10th brother, Ard , because he descended among the nations ( "Yarad " is the root "to go down").
(11) See the haftorah for Vayigash (and also for the Seventh Day of Passover), Ezekiel, ch. 37, verses 19,24-25 .
(12) See Rabbi Joseph Weinberg's, Lessons in Tanya, Iggeret ha-Kodesh, Epistle 1, p.5, footnote 15.



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