Benjamin’s Fear

Genesis: Miketz

Benjamin’s Fear

“That was not as terrible as I feared,” Benjamin exhaled. “In fact, it was truly pleasant. The Viceroy was a gracious and generous host.”

“Yes,” Simeon added. “Even after he imprisoned me, I was treated as a royal guest.”

Benjamin and his ten half-brothers were riding their grain-laden donkeys out of the Egyptian capital.

“The entire encounter was bizarre,” Judah warned pensively. “The Viceroy’s behavior was unusual. First he accuses us of being spies, and when we bring Benjamin he treats us as long lost brothers. His line of questioning was also strange. Very personal. I think he was not convinced Benjamin is our brother. It was as if he was trying to ascertain our feelings towards Benjamin – why would he care?”

“Let us be thankful that we retrieved Simeon,” Reuben counseled. “There is no need to seek further worries. Let us make haste back home to Canaan and put this episode behind us.”

Agreeing with Reuben, Benjamin looked behind as if to say a final farewell to the capital. “What is that cloud?” he asked, perplexed.

It is moving towards us quickly, Benjamin thought.

All the brothers turned around.

“It is not good,” Judah stated.

“It is an army,” Simeon noted.

Yes. The rising dust of a quickly moving platoon. Benjamin’s heart beat faster.

“Perhaps it is some troop redeployment?” Reuben said hopefully.

“No. It is an army in pursuit,” Judah declared.

“Who are they after?” Benjamin asked nervously.

“Seeing as there are no other groups on this road that have entangled with the rulers, I suspect it may be us,” Judah concluded.

“Let us run,” Simeon urged.

“Our donkeys will never outrun their horses,” Judah replied, “and we have done nothing wrong, though I am apprehensive. Form a perimeter around Benjamin, and let us continue casually.”

“I do not need special protection,” Benjamin protested weakly. Will they sell me out at the first sign of trouble? My half-brothers have a history of treachery to the sons of Rachel.

“I promised Father your safety,” Judah answered. “If something were to happen to you, son of his favorite Rachel, Father would probably die from the grief. He would not take such news of the rest of us as badly.”

Benjamin nodded his understanding as his brothers surrounded him on their mounts. Judah is a man of his word, the rest might follow his lead.

Moments later a cavalry one hundred men strong encircled them. They were led by the Viceroy’s Captain, the young but authoritative Menasheh.

“Halt! Brigands!” Menasheh called as one hundred spears enclosed them.

“Why do you address us so, my Lord,” Reuben responded.

“Why have you repaid evil to my master’s generosity?” Menasheh retorted angrily. “You have stolen his precious drinking vessel. Did you not expect him to discover its absence? You have done wrong by him.”

“Heaven forbid that your humble servants should do such a thing,” Reuben replied. “We have already returned the money that was mistakenly placed in our bags. How could we take anything from your master’s house, whether silver or gold? Search us! By whomever you shall find a stolen object we shall put to death, and the rest of us shall become your slaves.”

“It shall be as you speak,” Menasheh grinned, “though we shall not be as harsh as your judgment. Simple Egyptian justice shall suffice. The thief shall become my slave and the rest of you shall be free to go.”

Reuben unloaded his heavy burlap bag from his donkey, placed it on the floor and opened it for Menasheh’s inspection. Each of the brothers in turn repeated the gesture.

Menasheh dismounted from his proud Egyptian steed and under cover of his cavalry’s spears approached the bags. He retrieved a short sword from his right side and thrust it into Reuben’s open bag. Menasheh then swirled the sword in the bag, only to hear the swish of grain on steel.

Menasheh repeated the motions with each of the subsequent brothers: Simeon, Levi, Judah, Gad, Asher, Yissachar, Zevulun, Dan and Naftali. The brothers had relaxed, feeling that they were being proven innocent of their wrongful accusation. Judah was wary, sensing trouble.

Menasheh thrust his sword into Benjamin’s bag. “Clink!” was clearly heard as metal hit metal. Menasheh plunged his hand into the bag of grain and triumphantly revealed the Viceroy’s silver goblet.

The brothers gasped in shock. They tore their garments in the symbol of grief. Benjamin was incredulous. Simeon whispered angrily, “Thief, son of thief! Just as your mother was a petty bandit, so have you turned out!”

Simeon has always been the roughest, Benjamin fought back his despair. I cannot let him turn the other brothers against me.

“Do not speak to me of chicanery,” Benjamin hissed back. “Was I the one who sold Joseph into slavery? Who deceived our Father? Do not presume to show righteousness with me, Simeon. I am as blameless of this theft as I am of Joseph’s sale. This is not my doing.”

“I do not care to endure a family squabble,” Menasheh interrupted. “You! Benjamin. Come with me. I shall be a firm master, my new slave. The rest of you are dismissed.”

This is it. This is the moment of truth. Shall my brothers again betray a child of Rachel – shall they prove themselves to still be jealous half-brothers?

No one moved. The brothers looked at Menasheh blankly and then again at Benjamin. They did not react to the new situation.

“Are your brains addled Hebrews?” Menasheh grunted. “Did you not hear me? Move away from the slave, so that I my take my lawful property. The rest of you are free to go.”

Do not forsake me! Benjamin thought to his brothers. If you leave me, we shall all perish! I will be enslaved, Father will die from heartbreak and the family will fall apart. Do not let the family of Israel end before it has begun.

Menasheh motioned to his troops and the ring of spears became tighter around the brothers. Instinctively, the brothers encircled Benjamin in a closer formation, each with their back to Benjamin, facing the soldiers.

My brothers are with me. Benjamin felt hopeful.

Then an opening of spears was formed towards the north.

“Sons of Jacob!” Menasheh commanded. “You are now interfering in my business. Please leave my new slave. I assume you do not want to entangle with my troops. Furthermore, if you ever want to purchase more grain from Egypt, I strongly suggest that you leave forthwith, with no further delay or resistance.”

Do not leave me. Benjamin prayed. Judah, please, say something!

“We shall all return with Benjamin,” Judah stated, standing taller.

“That is not required or preferred,” Menasheh replied, trying to hide a smile.

“Nonetheless, we insist,” Judah reaffirmed. “We shall go together, or you will have a nice little brawl on your hands.” At that all the sons of Jacob took a step forward, sword in hand. The spears moved back apprehensively.

“I will not risk harm to my new acquisition,” Menasheh was taken aback by the Hebrew determination. “We shall escort all of you back to the Viceroy, where he shall lay his judgment.”

With another motion of Menashe’s hand, the spears parted way southward and closed in on the north side, pushing the brothers back to the city.

“We shall not abandon you,” Judah whispered to Benjamin. “We shall never abandon you. We shall never again betray a brother.” And then in an undertone to himself Judah continued, “I have made that mistake once already.”

* * * * * *

Sources:

“And my goblet – the silver goblet – place in the mouth of the youngest one’s sack along with the money of his purchase.” And he followed Joseph’s word exactly.

The day dawned and the men were sent off, they and their donkeys. They had left the city, had not gone far, when Joseph said to the one in charge of the house, “Get up, chase after the men; when you overtake them, you are to say to them, “Why do you repay evil for good? Is it not the one from which my master drinks, and with which he regularly divines? You have done evil in how you acted!”

He overtook them and spoke those words to them. And they said to him, “Why does my lord say such things? It would be sacrilegious for your servants to do such a thing. Here, look: The money that we found in the mouth of our sacks we brought back to you from the land of Canaan. How then could we have stolen from your master’s house any silver or gold? Anyone among your servants with whom it is found shall die, and we will become slaves to my lord?”

He replied, “What you say now is also correct. The one with whom it is found shall be my slave, but the rest of you shall be exonerated.”

Hurriedly, each one lowered his sack to the ground, and each one opened his sack. He searched; he began with the oldest and ended with the youngest; and the goblet was found in Benjamin’s sack. They rent their garments. Each one reloaded his donkey and they returned to the city. Genesis 44:2-13

When the time came for Benjamin to go down with the brothers to Egypt, they placed him between themselves and guarded him. Bereshit Rabbah 95:1

When the goblet of Egypt’s viceroy was found in Benjamin’s sack, his brothers said to him, “Thief, son of a thief (referring to Rachel, who stole the teraphim)!” He replied, “Is my master Joseph here? Is the goat (that you slaughtered in order to dip Joseph’s coat in its blood) here? Brothers who sold their brother!” Bereshit Rabbah 92:8

When the goblet was found in Benjamin’s sack, each of the brothers turned his face away. Who stood up? The one who became surety for Benjamin – Judah. Tanchuma, Vayigash.

Because Menasheh caused the Tribes to tear their garments in grief over the episode of the ‘stolen’ goblet (when he chased after them and accused them of stealing it), his inheritance was torn: half was in the land of the Jordan and half in the land of Canaan. Bereshit Rabbah 84:20

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