Then he threw his arms around his brother Benjamin and wept, and Benjamin embraced him, weeping. — Genesis 45:14
This Torah portion for this week is Vayigash, which means “and he approached,” from Genesis 44:18–47:27, and the Haftorah is from Ezekiel 37:15–28.
From all Joseph’s brothers, there was one brother in particular with whom he had a special bond — Benjamin. Only Benjamin shared with Joseph the same father and mother, Jacob’s beloved Rachel. So it’s not surprising that Joseph hugged Benjamin before any of the other brothers or that during the embrace, both brothers shed many tears.
But what is confusing is that the Jewish sages teach us that these were not tears of joy. They were, in fact, tears of sorrow, hurt, and despair. Why would the brothers be crying sorrowfully at a time when they should have been overflowing with joy?
The sages explain that while the brothers embraced, they both experienced prophecy. Joseph foresaw the destruction of the two Temples that would be built in the territory of the tribe of Benjamin. Benjamin foresaw the destruction of the Tabernacle, the temporary Temple that would be built in the tribal territory of Joseph.
Jewish tradition teaches that the Temples were destroyed because of the baseless hatred between people. Joseph and Benjamin both foresaw that the hatred and jealousy which had resulted in the selling of Joseph would rear its ugly head again and again. And that is why they cried.
The sages further teach that if the Temple has not yet been rebuilt, it is because we are still guilty of harboring unwarranted hatred in our hearts toward our brothers and sisters. There is only one remedy for the disease of hating someone for no good reason – and that is loving people for no good reason.
Recently I came across a story written by a woman who works as a cashier at a Wal-Mart store. She was checking out the last customers of the day, including a young couple who came up to pay for their purchases. It was mostly baby items – diapers, wipes, baby food, etc. But when it came time for payment, their credit card was declined.
The husband tried card after card, and by that time his wife was visibly shaken. As they started to take items out of their bags to return, the man behind them in the checkout line took out his credit card and swiped it. The cashier told the couple that they could stop taking items out of their bag because it had all been paid for, and with tears of joy, they thanked the man and left.
That’s love for no reason. Those people at Wal-Mart weren’t relatives or friends. But they were fellow human beings, and that was reason enough to bond and show love to one another. It’s time, don’t you agree, to turn jealousy into empathy and judgment into compassion? As we love each other unconditionally, we can all help to end the suffering in the world.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President