In the beginning of this week’s Parashah, the brothers find themselves in a difficult predicament as Yosef has forced Binyamin to stay with him. To make matters worse, Yehudah, after promising to bring Binyamin home, feels that his only option is to confront Yosef directly. The brothers do not yet know Yosef’s true identity and are therefore terrified of what he might do to them. Luckily for the brothers, Yehudah’s efforts are successful, and Yosef ends up revealing his identity to his brothers. This episode is probably one of the most important events not only in Sefer BeReishit, but in the entire Tanach. Why?
Sibling rivalry seems to play a major role in this Sefer, from Kayin and Hevel - the first brothers in Tanach - to Yitzchak and Yishma’el, Ya’akov and Eisav, and finally the Shevatim. While conflicts such as these are unfortunate, it is at least understandable that brothers with completely opposite mindsets, such as Ya’akov and Eisav, fight. Therefore, the issue of sibling rivalry is especially egregious in the discussion of Ya’akov’s children, as they represent the Shevatim of the Jewish people, and each one of them was a great Tzaddik. Why couldn’t these Tzaddikim figure out a way to get along with each other?
It seems that this specific conflict with Yosef can be traced back to the tension that existed between Rachel and Lei’ah. The two wives of Ya’akov were constantly vying for the status of Ya’akov’s favorite wife. Their children continued the struggle as they fought to become Ya’akov’s choice child.
Unfortunately, this tension does not end in Sefer BeReishit. We see time and time again throughout Tanach that the children of Lei’ah seem to have conflicts with the children of Rachel. In the end of Sefer Shofetim, we learn of the story of the Pilegesh BeGiv’ah, where the tribes of Lei’ah declare war on Binyamin, the son of Rachel. This story reflects just how ruptured the relationship between the brothers was. Perhaps more famously, in the beginning of Sefer Melachim, the children of Yosef (Efrayim) separate from the Malchut of Yehudah, and start their own kingdom. The country remained split until the ten tribes were exiled, and consequently “lost.” This sibling rivalry ends only at the conclusion of Tanach, in the story of Purim. Haman’s declaration of war against Judaism is, interestingly, targeted specifically at Sheivet Yehudah. Most of the tribes had been exiled many years prior, and the only Jews living in Shushan were those from the kingdom of Yehudah. Interestingly, the Megilah only refers to the Jews as “Yehudim” and never as “Yisraelim.”
Rav David Fohrman points out that the Megilah is very specific when it describes Mordechai as an “Ish Yemini,” one who hails from Sheivet Binyamin. The Megilah is emphasizing that the individual who saved all of the Jews living in Shushan was from Sheivet Binyamin. The Tanach is pointing out that the last story is of Binyamin rescuing Yehudah.
Chazal teach us a very well-known concept, “Ma’aseh Avot Siman LeBanim,” the actions of our forefathers are a sign for what is to come upon their descendants. In Parashat VaYigash, the sibling rivalries between the children of Ya’akov end when Yehudah defends his brother Binyamin from Yosef, despite the fact that Yehudah was a child of Lei’ah, and Binyamin a child of Rachel. He puts aside their previous conflict and makes a bold statement that Am Yisrael in its entirety needs to be united despite their different mothers. It is precisely this episode that sets the stage hundreds of years later when Binyamin is able to repay Yehudah’s kindness by saving his descendants in the story of Purim.
We should be blessed to learn from Yehudah’s deeds, and always stand up for our fellow brothers of Am Yisrael, regardless of our differences.