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
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.
(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.