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Benjamin, The Son of Jacob

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JewishTreats.org

The youngest of twelve brothers and one sister, Benjamin, the son of Jacob, appears in the Biblical narrative to be a passive personality whose life is seemingly dictated by the fate of those around him. His mother, Rachel, died while giving birth to him. Knowing that she would not survive, with her last breath she called him Ben-Onee, the son of my mourning. His father, however, called him Binyamin (Benjamin), which means son of my right hand.

Eight years younger than his charismatic brother Joseph, Benjamin was only nine when their father was informed that Joseph had been killed. The sole surviving son of Rachel, Benjamin took Joseph’s place as his father’s beloved child.

After their first trip to Egypt to buy grain because of the famine in Canaan, Jacob’s 10 eldest sons were afraid to return to Egypt for more food, since the Viceroy (really Joseph incognito) had commanded that they not appear before him again without their brother Benjamin. But when the grain ran out, and with great reluctance–only after Judah vowed to protect Benjamin–Jacob allowed his youngest to leave.

When the brothers arrived in Egypt with Benjamin, they were greeted with a feast at which “Benjamin’s portion was five times as much as any of them” (Genesis 43:34). Afterward, however, Joseph planted a cup in Benjamin’s sack and had Benjamin arrested for theft. Horrified, the brothers returned to Joseph, pleading Benjamin’s innocence. Judah even offered serve as a slave for life in Benjamin’s stead. Seeing the brothers’ strong commitment to protect Benjamin spurred Joseph to reveal himself.

Oddly, throughout all this action, nothing is actually heard from Benjamin himself. Benjamin is an enigmatic character. According to one Midrash, he knew all along that Joseph was alive but did not tell Jacob. Passive as he may seem, the Midrash reveals that Benjamin was one of the few completely righteous individuals to ever live.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

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