Tuesday, December 22, 2009


An Eternal Convenant
Rabbi Gustavo Surazski

Sibling rivalry is a common phenomenon in the Bible, especially in Genesis. Without any doubt this is one of the most complex and problematic relationships within the family framework. There is a certain logic here. Siblings feel they must compete for parental love and attention and so it is logical that there will be friction at one stage or another.

Midrash Tanchuma bears witness to the complexity of this relationship when referring to the verse in "The Song of Songs" (8, 1) "O that thou wert as my brother". Israel exclaims before the Lord, "O that thou wert as my brother" but in the Bible all brothers hate one another, Cain hates Abel...Ishmael hates Yitzhak...Esau hates Ya'acov...and Yosef is hated by his brothers, and so who is the brother that Israel refers to when speaking to the Lord? Israel is referring to Moses and Aaron as in Psalm 133, "Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity".

There is however a precedent in the Book of Genesis for the desirable relation
between Moses and Aaron, it is the relationship between Yehuda and Benjamin. We can say that in Genesis a circle is closed. The problematic relations between brothers begin with Cain's chance remark after the murder, "Am I my brother's keeper?" (Genesis 4, 9). The circle is closed in last week's Parasha. The same Yehuda that in the beginning of Parashat Va-Yeshev suggests selling his brother Yosef to the Ishmaelites is the one who is the guarantor for Benjamin. Yehuda's words to his father, "I will be a surety for him, and of my hand shalt thou require him" (43, 9), are the exact opposite of Cain's words.

In the beginning of parashat Va-Yigash we see for the first time in the Bible, a man who endangers himself for his brother's sake. Benjamin is held on Yosef's orders and Yehuda is willing to fight, as Rabbi Yehuda noted in a midrash in Bereshit Rabba (63, 6). Yehuda puts himself in danger. He may even end his life in the same pit that Yosef came out of, but he keeps his promise to his father and brings his son back to him. He does not let Benjamin remain in Egypt...

At this time, Yehuda and Benjamin sign an eternal covenant. They are the tribes that composed the kingdom of Judah and the same ones who survived destruction and exile. We are the offspring of this covenant of mutual obligation made by two brothers for the first time since the creation of the world.

And when the Lord searched for a place for His Shekhinah, He decided on the place where these brothers dwelt. The Temple was built on the border between the tribe of Yehuda and the tribe of Benjamin