Between the Lines—Va-yiggash

Weekly Midrash Learning with Rabbi David Levy

 

בראשית פרק מה פסוק יד

וַיִּפֹּל עַל צַוְּארֵי בִנְיָמִן אָחִיו וַיֵּבְךְּ וּבִנְיָמִן בָּכָה עַל צַוָּארָיו:

 

Genesis 45:14

And he (Joseph) fell on the necks of Benjamin his brother, and wept, and Benjamin wept on his neck.

בראשית רבה (וילנא) פרשה צג

יב וכי שני צוארים היו לו לבנימין אלא אמר רבי אלעזר בן פדת יוסף ראה ברוח הקודש ששני בית המקדשות עתידין ליבנות בחלקו של בנימין ועתידין ליחרב, ובנימין בכה על צואריו, ראה שמשכן שילה עתיד להעשות בחלקו של יוסף ועתיד ליחרב, ויתן את קולו בבכי,

Genesis Rabbah Parashah 93
Did Benjamin then have two necks? In fact, said Rabbi Elazar b. Pdat, "Joseph saw with a prophetic vision, that the two Temples would be in the future built on the portion of Benjamin, and that in the future they would both be destroyed." "And Benjamin cried on his neck" he saw that the Tabernacle would be in the future built in Shiloh on Joseph's portion and that in the future it would be destroyed, and he cried out.

This is an interesting moment in our midrash on Parashat Va-yiggash. In asking why the plural of neck is used in reference to Benjamin, Rabbi Elazar takes us far afield to the doubling of the word neck being a reference to both the first and second Temples. It is jarring, in this tender moment of reunion between Joseph and Benjamin, to imagine their attention drawn into the future and in that moment weeping for the destruction of the Temple rather than crying tears of joy.

Reading this makes me think of the breaking of the glass during a Jewish wedding ceremony. In a moment of sheer joy at the marriage, we break a glass to remember the Temple and that our joy cannot be complete in light of its destruction. Here, too, the Rabbis imagine, Joseph and Benjamin cannot fully enjoy their moment with the foreknowledge that the Temples will be destroyed.

Sometimes a midrash like this seems distant to us, in light of the fact that we don't mourn the Temple on a regular basis beyond a few comments in our liturgy. However, this week as we completed Hanukkah, we spent eight nights engaged joyously in the rededication of the Temple. In that light, I think we are more connected to the Temple and its symbolism than we tend to think. Moving from the shattered glass of the wedding to the celebration of Hanukkah, we can see then that the Temple is a symbol of the wholeness of the Jewish community living together with a shared vision and purpose. We celebrated, then, the moment of its restored glory this past week on Hanukkah, but we can also relate to the tears of Joseph and Benjamin, who sadly realize these moments are fleeting. May it be our blessing to build a stronger Jewish community so that our embraces need not be tearful but rather optimistic of a brighter future.