Project Genesis




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Jewish History

Post-Biblical History

The Preservation of the Tribes of Judah and Benjamin

Question: What were the merits of Benjamin, so that his tribe, in addition to Judah’s, was preserved into modern times?

Answer: Thank you for your interesting question! I think it’s important to point out that all the tribes were preserved. The large majority of ten of the tribes went into exile, but they are still out there somewhere. Someday they will return to us. Moreover, even among the Jews we know today, all the tribes are represented. There were some people from different tribes who were living in the area of Judah, and went into exile along with the rest of us. Thus, we find in the Midrash and Talmud people who were descended from Joseph, as well as from other tribes.

Still, you are certainly correct that most people of the other tribes were exiled out of our present kin. Benjamin was not, and that requires an explanation. I would start by mentioning that Benjamin is listed in the Gemara Shabbos 55b as being one of the four human beings who never did a sin in their lives. He wasn’t involved in the sale of Joseph (by circumstance, of course), and that counts for a lot; much of what caused the destruction of the first Temple had to do with strife between the brothers, which was never fully healed. Benjamin also avoided bowing to Esau, also by circumstance: He hadn’t yet been born! This is one of the explanations given as to why his descendant Mordechai would not bow to Haman: Benjamin doesn’t have to. All of these things contribute to his being (relatively) immune to exile by the nations.

Each of the tribes had its own focus and its own specialness. The truth is that Benjamin, in a certain sense, is really the central tribe. Both Jacob and Moses blessed him that the Temple should be built in his territory (see Rashi on their blessings). The Temple was actually built on the border between Benjamin and Judah, but the Talmud explains that all the most important parts, and the Shechinah, were entirely in Benjamin’s section. As I mentioned before, Benjamin never sinned (though of course his descendants often did); therefore he represents the part of our nation that remains pure in its service to G-d.

In a very real sense, I might want to turn your question around: Why did Judah get to stay with Benjamin more than the other tribes? To that question, we can use Nachmanides’ principle: Events in the lives of our forefathers are precursors to the subsequent history of the nation. When Judah offers himself as a slave in place of Benjamin and wins him back from Joseph (see Genesis Chapter 44), he forged a permanent connection between himself and Benjamin that could never be broken. That’s when Judah earned kingship and dominion over the place (and tribe) that is the focus of connection to God.

Best wishes,
Michoel Reach

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