Parshas Vayigash: Over These I Cry

In this week’s parsha, Parshas Vayigash, we learn of, what is perhaps, the most dramatic narrative in all of Sefer Bereishis.  Faced with the impending imprisonment of the youngest brother, Binyamin, Yehuda steps forth and speaks harshly to the Egyptian viceroy.  Shall you keep the lad as a servant, he declares, I will kill you to save him, as I will kill Pharaoh (see Rashi to Bereishis 44:18). 

For Yehuda declares to the viceroy that: our elderly father will not be able to handle, will not be able to survive, will not be able to live, if this youngest brother of ours, Binyamin, does not return with us to our home and our land.  Sensing that failure is not an option, Yehuda, the father of malchus (kingship in Israel), steps forth, and steps up, to save his youngest brother, come what may.

When Yosef ha’tzaddik – the Egyptian viceroy – understands that his brothers have truly repented for having sold him into slavery so many years earlier – and that they will not allow the same travesty to occur to Binyamin – he is ready to reveal his true identity to them.

After lifting his voice, and weeping aloud, Yosef declares what are amongst the most famous words in the book of Bereishis: אֲנִי יוֹסֵף, הַעוֹד אָבִי חָי – I am Yosef, is my father still alive?  As is to be expected, the brothers are so stunned, they cannot answer him.  They simply lack words to respond to the truth which has been revealed before their very eyes (Bereishis 45:3).

The same brothers who sold Yosef, a young lad of seventeen, the same brothers who thought they would never see Yosef again, the same brothers who chastised him for his dreams and declared, “Do you think you will be king over us!?  Do you think you will be ruler over us!?” (37:8) now stunningly see that his dreams have, in fact, very much come to fruition.

And so – they stand in shocked silence before the all-powerful viceroy, their own brother Yosef.  After Yosef reassures them repeatedly that this was all part of the Divine plan, and that it was the Almighty – not the brothers! – who had sent him to Egypt, he instructs his brothers to go up to their father, Yaakov, in Canaan, and to bring him – and the entire family – down to Egypt.  For there will still be five more years of famine, and if they are in Egypt, Yosef will be able to provide for them all. 

In regard to the emotional reunion, the verse tells us that וַיִּפֹּל עַל-צַוְּארֵי בִנְיָמִן-אָחִיו, וַיֵּבְךְּ; וּבִנְיָמִן–בָּכָה, עַל-צַוָּארָיו – And he fell upon the neck of his brother Binyamin, and he wept; and Binyamin wept on his neck (Bereishis 45:14).  Brothers from the same mother, Rachel, embrace and cry…

Rashi (ibid) teaches:  ויפל על צוארי בנימין אחיו ויבך עַל שְׁנֵי מִקְדָּשׁוֹת שֶׁעֲתִידִין לִהְיוֹת בְּחֶלְקוֹ שֶׁל בִּנְיָמִין וְסוֹפָן לֵחָרֵב – And Yosef wept upon the neck of his brother Binyamin.  He wept for the two Temples that, in the future, would be built in the portion of Binyamin, and in the end, would both be destroyed

R’ Soloveitchik notes, “On one level, the crying is a simple expression of emotion, an expression of great happiness.  On the other hand, the Gemara cited by Rashi suggests that this crying reflects genuine pain.  Yosef and Binyamin were crying over two Temples that would be built, and ultimately, destroyed.  The Egyptian exile, and indeed, all the subsequent exiles, could have been obviated entirely had there not been discord between brothers.”

It is discord between brothers that leads to strife between brothers; it is strife that leads to disunity; it is disunity that leads to destruction; and it is destruction that leads to exile.  As we prepare to fast, mourn and reflect on Asarah b’Teves, the day that the Babylonians laid siege to ancient Jerusalem (in the year 425 BCE), which was the beginning of the end of Bayis I (the first Temple), we would do well to keep this solemn lesson and message in mind. 

If through discord we destroyed it, perhaps it will be only through unity and brotherly love that we can rebuild it.

Furthermore, perhaps Yosef and Binyamin wept for each individual that would be lost along with the destruction of the Temples and the exiles.  For each person, every single Jew, is a Beis Ha’Mikdash – a temple of G-d – in his own right.  We mourn, not only for the building that was destroyed and burned, but for each person – for each life – that was destroyed and burned…

Maj. Hagai Ben-Ari HY”D, who was critically wounded during the 2014 Operation Protective Edge and had been unconscious since then, passed away on Tuesday (1.3.17).  In his passing, he became the 68th IDF soldier killed in the Gaza war. His funeral was held on Wednesday at Moshav Haspin’s cemetery. The 31-year-old officer was highly-regarded and was supposed to be appointed the commander of the Paratrooper Commando Unit.  On July 21, 2014, five days after the beginning of the IDF’s ground operation in Gaza, Ben-Ari was critically wounded when a sniper bullet bore through his helmet and hit his head. He was airlifted to the Soroka Medical Center in Be’er Sheva, where he underwent a series of operations in an effort to save his life. Eventually the doctors determined his injury was so severe he had no chance of recovery and said it was a miracle he was still alive.

The Ben-Ari family was on vacation in Israel’s southernmost city of Eilat when Operation Protective Edge broke out and Hagai was called to fight.

“I cried a lot when he went to fight, not because I thought something would happen to him but because I was left alone with the three children in Eilat,” his wife, Moriya, said in a past interview. “When I saw how bummed out the children were, we decided that not only were we going to stay, we were also going to make it fun.”

Moriya said that in the week that followed her husband’s injury, “we still had hope. But very quickly we realized there wasn’t any hope. That realization was so hard.” Shortly before the war, Hagai and Moriya finished building their home in Moshav Nov in the Golan Heights, where they were both born and raised. After he was injured, the Defense Ministry funded the construction of a small unit for Hagai outside his parents’ home, equipped with everything needed to take care of him.  In July 2015, a year after he was injured, Hagai returned home. The spacious room was decorated with a lot of photos of him in uniform, with his children, with his soldiers, and with his parents.

On Wednesday, January 4, 2017 – 6 Teves 5777 – Maj. Hagai Ben-Ari was laid to rest.  May his memory be for a blessing, may G-d avenge his blood.

In their brotherly weeping, Yosef and Binyamin understood, and foresaw, the national tragedy that would pattern their individual tragedy.  Through discord and strife between brothers, they were lost to each other for 22 long and painful years.  They wept at the moment of their great joy, because they knew that their loss would one day become our loss; their exile would one day become our exile; their destroyed home would one day become our destroyed home

עַל-אֵלֶּה אֲנִי בוֹכִיָּה, עֵינִי עֵינִי יֹרְדָה מַּיִם–כִּי-רָחַק מִמֶּנִּי מְנַחֵם, מֵשִׁיב נַפְשִׁי; הָיוּ בָנַי שׁוֹמֵמִים, כִּי גָבַר אוֹיֵב – Over these I cry, my eye, my eye, runs with tears.  For one to comfort me is far from me, one to restore my soul.  My sons are desolate, for the enemy has prevailed (Eichah 1:16).

May we merit that the tears of pain, the tears of mourning, and the tears of destruction and loss are turned to tears of joy, redemption and gratitude, as those who sow in tears will surely reap with joy (Tehillim 126:5). 

בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,


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