Benaihu Ben Yehoyada


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The Priest-General-Sage

by Chana Katz

The easily accessible gravesite of the great Davidian-era sage and warrior, Benaihu ben Yehoyada, wasn't always so easy to find.

In fact, it took no greater of a luminary that the Holy Ari to "sense" that a certain spot where he was hiking with his disciples some 500 years ago on the outskirts of Tsfat, was indeed the resting place of ben Yehoyada.

The Ari honed in on the grave of the sage who was not only considered the most brilliant warrior of his day, but whose extraordinary Torah knowledge and virtues destined him to become the leader of the highest Torah law body, the Sanhedrin. He also became David's chief counsel.

Nowadays, many visitors to Tsfat as well as locals often take time to visit Ben Yehoyada's gravesite to connect on a spiritual level with the soul of the man in whose merit, it is said, both the first and second Holy Temples stood -- one of the 36 righteous men found in every generation in whose merit the very world exists.

Set in a serene and beautiful little park on the outskirts of the western entrance to Tsfat, the site today provides ample space for large groups and even picnic tables for the traveler. To get to the site, when arriving by car on the Carmiel-Rosh Pina highway, instead of turning down at the main intersection leading into Tsfat, simply turn towards the opposite direction, starting up the hill. There is abundant street-side parking space set off by the lavishly green slopes of the hills leading into Beriya.

What better time is there to pour a cold drink, maybe eat a bite and perhaps tell some of the numerous stories of bravery, heroism, brilliance and strength of the great Torah sage who served under both King Dovid and his son King Shlomo.

We are introduced to the heroic greatness and righteousness of Benayahu in the Second Book of Samuel, especially chapter 23, verses 20-23. They begin:

"Benayahu the son of Jehoiada, the son of a valiant man (ben ish chayil) great in deeds, of Kabzeel, he smote the two mighty men of Moab."

Our sages explain:

"Son of a valiant man" -- Benayahu's courage and strength were inherited from his father. However, the written form of the three words is actually "Ben ish chai" - "the son of a man yet alive." This indicates that Yehoyada, other than having been a valiant warrior, was also a very righteous man, for the deeds of the truly righteous outlive their physical existence, in this manner keeping their memories alive.

"Great in deeds" - Great in military accomplishments, great in his deeds of righteousness.

"The two mighty men of Moab" - Our rabbis stated that he left no one like him, neither in the period of the First Temple nor the period of the Second Temple. Further, in the Zohar (1:7a) it is stated, "Benayahu never departed from the walls of David's heart. There will never be a separation between them."

A famous story tells of Ben Yehoyada's prowess. He journied all over the land -- in the face of many seemingly insurmountable obstacles -- until he was able to find for King Shlomo a little worm. The worm wasn't, of course, just any worm, but a shamir worm, whose teeth are so strong that they were able to cut through the stones needed to build the Holy Temple!

Called "strong like a lion," Ben Yehoyada was appointed Minister of Defense by King Shlomo after valiantly killing off the king's enemies. Noted for writing a Torah scroll in one day, Ben Yehoyada's military crown of greatness was accompanied by the crown of wisdom.

The great book of esoteric Jewish teachings, the Zohar, says that so great was Ben Yehoyada's influence, that upon his passing, a "flow from above" came to a halt.

Rabbi Yosef Chaim, the famous sage and kabbalist who was chief rabbi of Baghdad for 50 years (1859-1909), titled four of his books after words in the above quoted verse books -- "Ben Ish Chai," "Benayahu," "Ben Yehoyada," and "Rav Pe'alim" -- because he understood himself to be an incarnation of Benayahu ben Yehoyada.

While everyone's prayers to a sage at his gravesite are private, one can't help but wonder how many visitors long for the likes of such a righteous warrior -- a warrior on behalf of the land of Israel, the Torah and the Jewish people -- to rise to the leadership today.

[Chana Katz, a former South FLorida journalist, lives in Tsfat. Her articles on life in Israel have reached publications throughout the world.]

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