Finding Meaning in the Birchot HaShevatim by Rabbi Ezra Wiener


In Shishi of this week’s Parashah, Ya’akov Avinu blesses Binyamin and describes him as a “Ze’eiv Yitraf; BaBoker Yochal Ad, VeLaErev Yechaleik Shalal,” “A wolf that ravens; in the morning he devours prey, and in the evening he divides the spoil” (49:27). This blessing follows the pattern that the Torah uses for some of the other blessings bestowed by Ya’akov upon his sons: the Shevet is compared to an animal, and then the Torah describes the characteristics of the animal that are expressed as qualities of the Shevet in the past or future. For example, “Yissachar Chamor Garem Roveitz Bein HaMishpetayim,” “Yissachar is a large-boned donkey couching down between the sheepfolds” (49:14); “Yehi Dan Nachash Alei Derech,” “Dan shall be a serpent in the path” (49:17); and “Naftali Ayala Sheluchah,” “Naftali is a hart let loose” (49:21). It is in a similar vein that the Torah writes “Binyamin Ze’eiv Yitraf; BaBoker Yochal Ad, VeLaErev Yechaleik Shalal,” “Binyamin is a wolf that ravens; in the morning he devours prey, and in the evening he divides the spoil” (49:27).

In what way is this a fitting description of Shevet Binyamin? Rashi (49:27 s.v. Binyamin Ze’eiv Yitraf) explains that it is a reference to the civil war between Shevet Binyamin and the rest of Bnei Yisrael that followed the disastrous incident of Pilegesh BeGiv’ah, discussed at the end of Sefer Shofetim. The war claimed the lives of tens of thousands of Bnei Yisrael, and Shevet Binyamin killed 40,000 soldiers of the other Shevatim. This future event earned Binyamin the appellation of a ferocious, devouring wolf. Rashi (op. cit.), Radak (s.v. BaBoker Yochal Ad), and Rashbam (s.v. Binyamin Ze’eiv Yitraf) also mention the fierce battles of Shaul, a Binyami, against the nations of Moav, Edom, and Amaleik, as described in Sefer Shmuel. Shaul played the role of the ravenous wolf who conquered and devoured his enemies.

Rav Hirsch notes that a careful reading of this Pasuk reveals that an alternate syntax is used for Binyamin’s blessing than is used for the similarly animal-themed blessings of the previous Shevatim. While Yissachar’s blessing is commenting on an innate attribute of the animal, such as “Yissachar Chamor Garem,” “Yissachar is a large-boned donkey,” Binyamin’s blessing is not“Binyamin Ze’eiv Toreif,” “Binyamin is a ravenous wolf,” but rather “Binyamin Ze’eiv Yitraf,” where Binyamin is the object of “Yitraf” – “Binyamin will raven the wolf.” The identity of the wolf may be extracted from a recurring theme in Sefer BeReishit. By identifying the wolf’s prey, we may identify the wolf; the wolf typically devours the sheep, and Bnei Yisrael is commonly compared to sheep led by a shepherd (for example, in Shir HaShirim). It is conceivable that the wolf is a reference to Ya’akov Avinu’s past that he is recalling as he blesses Binyamin. For many long years in Padan Aram, Ya’akov had to fear both actual wolves, as Lavan’s devoted shepherd, and metaphorical wolves: his deceiving employer and father-in-law and his brother, Eisav. However, throughout all the years that Ya’akov spent at Padan Aram, Ya’akov never let the wolves get to him. While proving his record of faithful service, Ya’akov assures Lavan “Tereifa Lo Heiveiti Eilecha,” “I have never brought you a sheep torn up by beasts” (31:39), which includes the same grammatical root as we find by “Binyamin Ze’eiv Yitraf.” Ya’akov afforded the same protection to his family, the sheep of his personal pasture, and from the “wolves,” Lavan and Eisav. Therefore, as Ya’akov takes one last look at his children, the future of Bnei Yisrael, he, the shepherd of the flock, with the spirit of prophecy, promises them with the utmost confidence that at the end of days, Binyamin, who is the youngest, the one whom about Ya’akovAvinu was concerned, “Pen Yikra’enu Ason,” “Lest disaster befall him” (42:7), the most feeble, delicate of his children, the one whom Ya’akov had to call “Ben Oni,” “Son of my strength” (35:18) in order that Binyamin be strong and not be discouraged as the youngest of all the tribes, he will lead the remaining Shevatim against the enemies of Bnei Yisrael, in defeating the wolf that seeks to consume and devour Hashem’s precious sheep.

Indeed, we have a tradition that Bnei Yisrael’s archenemy Amaleik will not be overcome by the tribe of Yehudah but rather by that of Binyamin, as the Pasuk says in Yirmiyahu, “Yischavum Tze’irei HaTzon,” “The youngest of the flock [Binyamin] will indeed drag them off” (49:20).

We yearn and hope for those days to arrive, if they have not already. It must be noted, however, that the ensuing phrases in the Pasuk (49:27) do caution those of us who possess an exceedingly intense pre-messianic fervor to be ever so patient: “BaBoker Yochal Ad,” “In the morning he consumes the foe” – it is true that in the morning, when we finally see the light of day after years of suffering, we will possess the might to devour those who desire to annihilate the Jewish people, but “VeLaErev Yechaleik Shalal,” “At evening-time he will divide the spoils” – it will be only by “evening-time”, i.e. a long process, until we will be able to sit in peace and tranquility in our land and restore to our people what is rightfully theirs.

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