Joseph, Benjamin, and all of us

ב׳׳ה

This week’s Torah portion is Parshat Miketz, in which Joseph is reunited with his brother Benjamin, who was the only other child Jacob had with Joseph’s mother, Rachel.

According to the commentary in The Stone Edition of the Chumash, twenty-two years passed between when Joseph was sold unto slavery and when Jacob learned Joseph was alive in Egypt.  It also states Benjamin was thirty-one years old when he stood before Joseph in Egypt.  Thus, Benjamin was approximately nine years old when Joseph was sold into slavery.

Torah tells us the first time Joseph sold food to his other ten brothers, he told them they were not permitted to return to Egypt to request more food without bringing their youngest brother with them.   As the brothers approach Egypt the second time, Joseph sees that Benjamin is with them, and he orders his staff to prepare a feast.

When Benjamin actually stands before Joseph in Joseph’s house:

     Joseph lifted up his eyes and saw his brother Benjamin, his mother’s son, and so he said, “Is this your little brother, of whom you spoke to me?”  Joseph said to Benjamin, “G-d be gracious to you, my son.”
      Then Joseph rushed because his compassion for his brother had been stirred and he wanted to weep; so he entered into his chamber, and wept there.
.

Genesis 43:29-30.  Because “his brother Benjamin” would have been sufficient to inform a reader whom Joseph saw, the commentary suggests the phrase “his mother’s son” was included to indicate Joseph saw his mother in Benjamin’s features, and that seeing an image of Rachel was what caused Joseph to weep.

That certainly is one interpretation of the text, but I can’t help but wonder if, the very moment their eyes met, Benjamin didn’t also recognize Joseph.  It is not inconceivable, as Benjamin was nine and Joseph was at least seventeen when Joseph ‘disappeared.’   Moreover, if Benjamin had even a bit of Joseph’s ability to ‘read’ situations and people, then Benjamin may well have immediately recognized that Joseph was carrying grief and ‘pain of loss’ that was similar to that which Jacob and Benjamin were carrying.

If Benjamin recognized Joseph, he would have wanted to reach out to him, and although the circumstances would have required Benjamin to stand frozen and mute, I imagine his soul would have been ‘screaming’ something like this:

Joseph?
Is it you, Joseph??
I am Benjamin, second son of Rachel,
who died giving birth to me and was buried at Beit-lechem.
. . .
I did not sell you into slavery, Joseph.
Remember?
I was just a child, and I stayed home
when Father sent you to Shechem
to check on our brothers.
. . .
I know you don’t trust the others.
I’ll still pretend you are Egyptian.
Just give me a sign that it’s you.
Joseph . . . please!
I need to know that my brother lives,
to believe that one day we’ll reunite,
that you will tell me about our mother,
whom I never got to meet.
. . .
Please tell me you are Joseph.
Please tell me that I’ve found you.
I swear I won’t betray you.
I am Benjamin . . . your brother . . .
Joseph?!?
 . . .

And Joseph, being a person capable of reading situations and people, certainly would have been able to ‘hear’ Benjamin’s silent pleading/screaming for Joseph to reveal himself.   Nevertheless, the story tells us, Joseph feared for Benjamin’s safety from the other brothers, and so to protect Benjamin, Joseph did not reveal himself.

Maybe Joseph’s emotions were stirred not because Benjamin looked like Rachel, but because Joseph could not give to the brother whom he loved so very much the one thing they both wanted — to embrace one another in brotherly love and weep with the joy of having finally found one another again . . . . and perhaps this is why Joseph had to run from the room to weep.

After Joseph regained his composure, he ordered the feast served, and he ensured that Benjamin received a portion that was five times larger than the portion given to any other brother.  The commentary suggests Joseph did this to see if the other brothers would become jealous when Rachel’s son received special treatment.  But maybe, instead, Joseph was simply giving Benjamin a sign —
–a sign that Benjamin had found his brother . . .
–a sign that Joseph loved Benjamin and had heard his soul’s pleading . . .
–a sign that they would, one day, be reunited as brothers . . .

Perhaps this is why Benjamin made no protest when Joseph’s cup was found in his bag after they left Egypt.

And perhaps this is why Benjamin was the brother onto whom Joseph first fell to weep when he finally revealed himself.

Perhaps.

We can never really know because we weren’t given the story from Benjamin’s perspective and we weren’t given a full explanation of what was happening from Joseph’s perspective.  This is not, however, a flaw in the story’s design; rather, that is the beauty of these stories in the Torah!! The stories contain enough ‘facts’ to be interesting, but enough ambiguity to allow us to fill in the detail, to imagine different reasons why each character is behaving or responding in the way that he or she is, so that we might learn to see any situation from many different, perhaps even completely incompatible, perspectives.

Every story in Torah — just like every story that has occurred or is occurring in our lives today — happens from multiple perspectives simultaneously, and thus each story has multiple layers of meaning and multiple levels and versions of ‘truth.’  No level or version or perspective is “wrong” . . . and only when we can “step back” far enough from any story to begin to see multiple perspectives can we begin to appreciate and understand all the meanings and truths that exist . . .  in Torah and in our own lives . . . from our own perspective and from the perspective of those with whom we interact.

This Shabbat, may we each be blessed with the ability to acknowledge and appreciate the perspective of someone whose perspective we have not before understood, so that we might move even a small step closer toward a day when peace between all people will be possible.

Shabbat shalom, jen

4 thoughts on “Joseph, Benjamin, and all of us

  1. Hi Jen,
    Id love to follow your blog if thats ok. I am a Catholic but I wish i knew more about Judaism. My faith stems directly from the rich Jewish faith as you probably know. Blessings!

  2. Pingback: God is a Spirit | Prayer: Communication with God

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