Parshat Vayigash opens with Yehudah’s impassioned pleas that Yosef allow Binyamin, the alleged thief of Yosef’s “magic” goblet, to go back home to Yaakov. In his final argument, Yehudah begs Yosef to accept him as a slave instead of Binyamin, because Yehudah had assumed responsibility for Binyamin’s return (see Bereishit 43:9). He asks Yosef, “Ki Eich E’eleh El Avi VeHaNa’ar Einenu Iti,” “For how can I go up to my father if the youngster is not with me?” (44:34).
A simple question must be raised here: how old was Binyamin at this point? If one looks back at the story of Binyamin’s birth in Parshat Vayishlach (35:16-20), it seems clear that Binyamin was born before Yaakov entered Eretz Yisrael (see Ramban to Vayikra 18:25). We know from Rashi (Bereishit 28:9 s.v. Achot Nevayot) that Yaakov was 77 when he arrived at Lavan’s house, and he worked for 20 years until Yosef was born. Yaakov spent 2 years traveling back to Eretz Yisrael, at which point Binyamin was born. From this sequence of events, we see that Binyamin was only 2 years younger than Yosef. Yosef was 39 years old at the beginning of this week’s Parsha (see Rashi ibid.), making Binyamin 37. If so, why was he called “Na’ar,” a youngster?
Ibn Ezra and Ramban discuss a similar question regarding the description of Yehoshua in Shemot 33:11 as “Na’ar” when he is already 56 years old (possibly only 42, see Seder Olam). Ramban explains that servants are always called “Na’ar,” however old they are. If so, Yehudah was referring to Binyamin as a youngster because he was addressing royalty, and as such, Binyamin was considered Yosef’s servant. Ibn Ezra, however, explains that Yehoshua was called a youngster because he served Moshe with enthusiasm and diligence – Zerizut – as if he was a youngster. If we apply this explanation to Binyamin, it means that Binyamin was someone who acted with Zerizut. In what way did Binyamin act with enthusiasm and diligence?
Perhaps the answer lies in a Rashi from last week’s Parsha (43:30 s.v. Ki Nichmeru Rachamav), in which Rashi explains that the names of Binyamin’s sons all hinted to the tragedy he thought had befallen Yosef, namely being eaten by a wild animal. In this way, Binyamin was diligent in preserving the memory of Yosef.
With this explanation of the Ibn Ezra, one of the Chassidic masters gleaned a powerful lesson from Yehudah’s words by applying them to how we do Mitzvot. He interpreted the verse as saying, “For how can I go up to my father (Hashem), if the Na’ar (i.e. No’ar, youthful enthusiasm and diligence toward Mitzvot) is not with me?”
It is very important to do Mitzvot with enthusiasm. Chazal make this point in Mechilta on the Pasuk in Parshat Bo (12:17), “UShmartem Et HaMatzot,” “And you shall guard the Matzot” (so that they do not become Chameitz- Rashi). Rabbi Yoshiah makes a play on words and reads “Matzot” as “Mitzvot” (both are spelled with the same letters). In other words, just like we must guard the Matzot from becoming Chametz by not letting them sit for too long, we must also be careful to guard the Mitzvot from becoming “Chametz” and do them as soon as we get the opportunity.
Rav Yitzchak Hutner emphasizes, in the first comment on Pesach in his famous work entitled Pachad Yitzchak, that a Mitzvah that is not done with Zerizut may be a Mitzvah, but it is blemished in some fashion. From Binyamin and Yehoshua we should learn that it is of paramount importance to take advantage of opportunities to do any Mitzvot that we can. If we can incorporate this enthusiasm into our lives, then we will merit seeing Mashiach BiMheira VeYameinu, Amen!
-Adapted from a Drasha by Rabbi Paysach Krohn on the topic of Zerizut