Parshat Vayigash opens with Yosef’s brothers arguing with him as to whether or not Binyamin, the youngest brother, will be allowed to go back to his father Yaakov. Yehudah, speaking for the brothers, makes the argument that Binyamin has to return to Yaakov, for if Binyamin will be kept away, Yaakov will die. This does not seem to make sense. The brothers apparently did not care a bit about what would befall Yaakov when they sold Yosef; why are they so worried now about what will happen to him if Binyamin stays in Egypt?
There are many answers to this question. Rav Zalman Sorotzkin suggests that the brothers are not actually arguing about Binyamin, but rather about themselves. What Yosef really wanted was to imprison all the brothers save Binyamin. Then Binyamin would go back home while the other brothers would remain imprisoned in Egypt. However, the brothers now object to this idea, ostensibly because they are looking out for Yaakov. Not only do they want Binyamin to go back home; they want every brother to go back except for one (not Binyamin), a desire that they couch in terms of danger to Yaakov.
We may also suggest a different answer based on an alternate reading of Yehudah’s concern. We so far have assumed that when he voices the fear that “he will die” (44:31), Yehudah refers to Yaakov. However, one could argue that he is actually saying that Binyamin is delicate, so Yosef should not imprison him because it might be fatal. Rather, Yehudah suggests that he be imprisoned in place of Binyamin. Thus, the brothers are not concerned for Yaakov’s safety any more than before; they are expressing concern for Binyamin’s life.
One word in the Pasuk particularly supports this alternative answer. The Pasuk consistently describes Binyamin as a “Na’ar” (44:22, 30, 32, and more). The Mishnah teaches that a Na’arah is a girl between the ages of twelve and twelve and a half years of age. The male equivalent, Na’ar, also refers to a very young male. Yet by the end of this week’s Parsha, Binyamin already has ten children! How is it possible for a twelve-year-old to have so many children? Obviously, Binyamin must be much older than twelve. If so, why is Binyamin referred to as a Na’ar?
To answer this question, we return to the Mishnah, which indicates that a Na’arah is an adult in some senses but still has specific connections to her parents. This is apparently true of Binyamin, as well. Although he is an adult in terms of age, he is still very dependent on Yaakov. All the other brothers are shepherds and can live on their own, but ever since the disappearance of Yosef, Yaakov would not let Binyamin go out, which created in Binyamin a strong connection to and dependency upon Yaakov. By using this term “Na’ar,” the brothers are relating how important it is that Binyamin be safely returned to Yaakov.