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Inheritance of Binyamin ֠Portion of the Divine Presence (part IV)

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Jerusalem in the Bible
Yeshivat Har Etzion


Shiur #19: Inheritance of Binyamin – Portion of the Divine Presence (part IV)


By Rav Yitzchak Levi



            Having examined various aspects of the inheritance of Binyamin as the portion of the Divine Presence, and having reviewed various proofs of this connection, let us now attempt to define the uniqueness of Binyamin. How did this tribe merit the honor of God choosing to rest His Presence there, and what is the significance of this choice?


A.  Why does the Divine Presence rest in the portion of Binyamin?


Reasons given by Chazal


            The reason for the Divine choice of the portion of Binyamin is not stated explicitly in the Torah.  Hence, our point of departure will be various rabbinical sources that try to explain it.


1.  Sifri Devarim (Ve-Zot ha-Berakha, piska 352):


For what reason did Binyamin merit to have the Divine Presence rest in his portion? The situation may be compared to a king who visits each of his sons for a period of time.  Each of them says, "He is staying with me!" The youngest son says, "Surely my father will not leave my older brothers and stay with me." He goes about with a gloomy countenance and a heavy heart.  His father sees him standing, sad and dejected.  He says [to the older brothers], "You will all have a portion at the banquets, but I shall sleep over with him." So the Holy One said: The Temple will stand in the portion of Binyamin, while sacrifices will be brought from all of the tribes.


Another explanation: For what reason did Binyamin merit to have the Divine Presence rest in his portion? Because all the other brothers were born outside of the land, while Binyamin was born in Eretz Yisrael.


Another explanation: For what reason did Binyamin merit to have the Divine Presence rest in his portion? Because all of the other brothers participated in the sale of Yosef, while Binyamin was not party to the sale.  The Holy One said: If I tell these [other tribes] to build the Temple, when they pray before Me I will not be filled with mercy towards them.  I shall not rest My Presence in their portion, for they were not merciful towards their brother.


Another explanation: For what reason did Binyamin merit to have the Divine Presence rest in his portion? The situation may be compared to a king who had many sons.  When they grew up, each went his own way.  The youngest of all of them was beloved by his father; he would eat with him and drink with him; he would lean upon him when he went out and lean upon him when he came in.  Thus, the righteous Binyamin was the youngest among the brothers, and Yaakov would eat with him and drink with him, lean upon him when he went out and lean upon him when he came in.  The Holy One said: The place where that righteous one [Yaakov] rested his hands – there I shall cause My Presence to rest.  Therefore it is written, "He dwells between his shoulders" (Devarim 33:12).


            Let us now analyze the four explanations that the Midrash provides, and try to deduce the necessary conditions for the resting of the Divine Presence.


            The first explanation points to Binyamin's humility.  There are two ways of understanding the metaphor.  Either Binyamin is uncomfortable with the idea that God will rest with him rather than with his older brothers, or he believes that it is impossible that the Divine Presence would rest specifically in his portion, rather than in the portion of one of his older brothers.


            The connection between humility and the Divine Presence is not difficult to find (see, for example, Sota 5a).  Furthermore, the principle of humility is also connected – as we noted in shiur no.  16 – with the  Divine choice of Mount Moriah, which is the lowest of the mountains in the Jerusalem area.  This choice reflects God's own trait of modesty, and the same message is conveyed by the choice of Mount Sinai, which – according to the Midrash that was quoted in the same shiur - "broke off" from Mount Moriah:


"The mountain which God has desired as His abode" (Tehillim 68:17) – I desire only Sinai, which is lower than all of you.  As it is written, "I dwell in a high, holy place, but also with those of a contrite, humble spirit" (Yishayahu 57:15)… And where did Sinai come from? Rabbi Yossi taught: It was broken off from Mount Moriah, just as challa is separated from the dough" (Midrash Tehillim ad loc.)


According to the Sifri there is an internal connection between the humility of Binyamin the man, and his entire tribal inheritance – which is a particularly low-lying area between the mountain of Ephraim and the mountains of Chevron, and especially Mount Moriah – which is the lowest of the mountains in the area.


            The second explanation: Binyamin is the only one of the brothers who was born in Eretz Yisrael.  On the simplest level, Eretz Yisrael as a whole is God's inheritance, as it were – the place where God chooses as the abode for His nation.  Therefore, whoever is born in Eretz Yisrael enjoys, in a certain sense, a more authentic and significant connection with the dwelling of the Divine Presence.


            The Mishna in Kelim (1:6-9) lists ten levels of sanctity – ten concentric circles that converge towards the place where the Divine Presence rests, with increasing degrees of sanctity.  First there is Eretz Yisrael, which is the holiest of lands; then the cities surrounded by walls, then the area inside the wall of Jerusalem with the Temple Mount, and then the various parts of the Temple, culminating in the Holy of Holies [1].  For our purposes, what arises from the assertion that "Eretz Yisrael is holier than all other lands" is that whoever is born in Eretz Yisrael has a stronger connection to the portion of the Divine Presence than those who are born outside of the land [2].


            The third explanation is that Binyamin was not involved in the sale of Yosef.  Since all of the other brothers did participate, there was no possibility of the Divine Presence resting within their borders because of the cruelty that they had demonstrated.  From this we may deduce the corollary: that the trait of kindness and mercy is related to the dwelling of the Divine Presence.  Indeed, we find many contexts in which this connection appears explicitly [3].


            The fourth explanation attributes Binyamin's special merit to the commandment of honoring one's parents.  Perhaps honor for one's parents – two of the three partners in bringing a person into the world – facilitates and leads naturally to honoring God, the third partner, as a result of the person's very recognition of those who have given him life, who watch over him and sustain him.  The recognition and acknowledgment make Binyamin deserving of hosting the Divine Presence.


2.  A Beraita in Massekhet Sota (36b-37a) quotes different opinions as to who was first to cast himself into the Red Sea:


Rabbi Meir said: When Israel stood at the sea, the tribes argued amongst themselves.  One said, "I shall go into the sea first"; another said, "I shall go first into the sea."  The tribe of Binyamin took the initiative and entered the sea first, as it is written, "There Binyamin, the youngest, rules over them ("rodem")" (Tehillim 68:28).  Do not read "rodem," but rather, "reid yam" (enters the sea).  The princes of Yehuda stoned them, as it is written, "The princes of Yehuda stoning them ("rigmatam")" (Ibid.).  Therefore the righteous Binyamin merited to become the host of the Almighty, as it is written, "He rests between his shoulders" (Bereishit 49:27).


Rabbi Yehuda replied: That is not what happened.  Rather, one tribe said, "I shall not go first into the sea," and another said, "I shall not go into the sea first."  Nachshon ben Aminadav took the initiative and entered the sea first, as it is written, "Ephraim surrounds Me with deception, and the house of Israel with lies; Yehuda still rules (rad) with God" (Hoshea 12:1).  Concerning this it is explained in our tradition: "Deliver me, God, for water has come up to my soul; I am sinking in deep mire where there is nowhere to stand…"; "Let the flood of water not overwhelm me, nor the deep swallow me up" (Tehillim 69:2-3,16)."


            According to the opinion of Rabbi Meir, the tribe of Binyamin jumped in first, and in the wake of this act merited to host the Divine Presence.  In other words, the way to meriting the Divine Presence is through selflessness.


            The connection between selflessness and the Divine Presence is to be found, first and foremost, in the Torah's demand, "You shall seek out His abode and come there" (Devarim 12:5).  The very discovery and revelation of the site of the Temple is dependent on the selflessness of Am Yisrael in seeking it [4].


            David, too, merited to find the site by virtue of his devotion to it.  His searching and longing for it, the discovery and the building of the altar, and – later on – the appointment of the artisans, preparation of the materials, the plans, the shifts and posts – and all this knowing that he himself would not be able to build the Temple.  So great was David's selflessness on behalf of the Temple that it was called in his name even though he did not build it (Bamidbar Rabba 12,11).


3.  Midrash Ha-gadol on Parashat Miketz (Bereishit 44:12) addresses the finding of Yosef's silver goblet in Binyamin's sack:


"And the goblet was found in the sack of Binyamin' (Bereishit 44:12).  Since the goblet was found in Binaymin's sack, [the brothers] were immediately angry at him and said: "You are a thief, son of a thieving mother.  Your mother brought shame to our father, and you have brought shame upon us." He said to them: "Is there a goat here? Are you brothers ready to sell your brother again?" Immediately, "They tore their garments" (Ibid. 13).  Rabbi Yossi said: "Let my portion be with he who is suspected, while in fact he is innocent.  Know that Binyamin, whom the brothers suspected [of stealing the goblet] while he was innocent, and whom they struck between his shoulders – what did he merit? That the Divine Presence would rest in his portion, and he was called God's beloved, as it is written: "To Binyamin he said: The beloved of God – he shall dwell in safety with Him… and He shall dwell between his shoulders" (Devarim 33:12).


Rabbi Yossi offers an interesting opinion that what gave Binyamin the merit of hosting the Divine Presence was that "they suspected him while he was innocent" in the matter of the goblet [5].


4.  Yalkut Shimoni (I Shemuel, siman 126) addresses Yehuda's guarantee for Binyamin's safety, in the context of the battle between David and Goliat:


"… And take their token" (I Shemuel 17:18) – their surety.  Rabbi Yuda son of R. Simon said: Let that tribe learn to be responsible for another, as it is written, "I shall be his surety" (Bereishit 43:9).  Yishai said to David, his son: Now is the time for you to go and fulfill the surety of Yehuda, your ancestor, who was the surety for Binyamin at the hand of his father, as it is written, "I shall be his surety." Go and free him of his surety. What did David do? He went and fulfilled the surety by killing Goliath.  The Holy One said to him: By your life, just as you were ready to give your life for Shaul, who is from the tribe of Binyamin – just as Yehuda, your ancestor, did, as it is written, "Let your servant be imprisoned instead of the boy" (Ibid. 44:33), so I shall place the Temple in the portion of Yehuda and Binyamin.  Not only that, but when all the other tribes are exiled, Yehuda and Binyamin will not be exiled together with them.  Why? Because these two tribes believed in Me and sanctified My Name at the sea, as it is written: "There Binyamin, the youngest, rules over them; the princes of Yehuda – their council" (Tehillim 68:28).


According to this Midrash, the guarantee that Yehuda gives for Binyamin gives both of these tribes the merit of having the Divine Presence dwell in their portions, in the Temple.  Likewise, the guarantee, along with their selflessness in entering the sea first, gave them the merit of not being exiled along with the other tribes.  The connection between the guarantee for Binyamin and the Temple is clear: it pertains to the unity [6] and mutual concern that should prevail among the tribes.  It should be emphasized that the opinion of the Midrash that the Temple is built in the portion of Yehuda and Binyamin matches the opinion of Chazal elsewhere, that in the region of Mount Moriah there is a strip that protrudes from the portion of Yehuda into the portion of Binyamin, such that the area of the mountain is divided between these two tribes [7].




            We have discussed here the main reasons arising from the Midrash for the Divine Presence dwelling in the portion of Binyamin [8].  We may divide these reasons into two groups.  One group focuses on Binyamin's traits and the actions that are dependent upon him: humility, honoring parents, mutual responsibility and selflessness.  The reasons in the other group are not functions of Binyamin's own efforts: the fact that he is born in Eretz Yisrael, his absence from the sale of Yosef, the fact that he is suspected falsely, and the fact that he did not bow down to Esav (because he was not yet born!).  Binyamin did nothing to achieve these latter merits, but nevertheless they made him deserving.  Perhaps we may say that the Holy One brought about the circumstances in which he gathered these merits, and that this reality itself represents some aspect of the revelation of the Divine Presence.  For this reason Binyamin was granted the privilege of having the Divine Presence rest in his portion: both because of those elements that were dependent on his efforts, and because of those merits that had nothing to do with his efforts, but rather resulted from his absence from certain situations.


Binyamin – Unifying and Connecting


            Having examined the above rabbinical sources, let us now propose an additional aspect of the subject, based upon a review of some important points relating to Binyamin and his essence.


            Binyamin is the youngest of the brothers.  With his birth, the twelve-tribe unit is completed, creating the nation of Israel – Am Yisrael.


            One of the events of great significance for our understanding of Binyamin's role is when the brothers come to Yosef in Egypt [9].  After his goblet is "found" in Binyamin's sack, Yosef declares his intention to keep Binyamin as a slave, but Yehuda – in the wake of his guarantee to Yaakov concerning Binyamin's safety (Bereishit 43:9 – "I shall be his surety; from my hand you can seek him") asks: "Let your servant remain in place of the boy as a servant to my master, and let the boy go up with his brothers" (Ibid. 44:33).  This original guarantee that Yehuda gives for Binyamin is the one referred to in the Midrash that we quoted above (Yalkut Shimoni, I Shemuel siman 126), and by virtue of which the Temple was built in the portion of Yehuda and Binyamin [10].  In any event, the arrival of Binyamin and the discussion between Yosef and Yehuda ultimately do bring about the reunification of the family.


            In this story, too, Binyamin is not active at all; the discussion is conducted between Yosef and Yehuda.  There is a fascinating correspondence between this reality and the location of Binyamin's portion in Eretz Yisrael, bridging the two central focuses of power in the nation: Yosef (Ephraim) in the north and Yehuda in the south.


            In light of this, let us now return to the issue of the relatively low-lying position of the tribe, between two higher portions: those of Ephraim and Yehuda.  We posit that this topographical reality also hints at a spiritual reality.  As we remember, the Midrash we quoted from the Sifri (Devarim piska 352) characterizes Binyamin as being humble.  This trait is expressed, according to our hypothesis, in the relatively lowliness of the portion of Binyamin in relation to its neighboring tribes (and, for the same reason – the low position of Jerusalem in relation to the rest of the portion of Binyamin).  In order to unify and connect the two neighboring tribes – the two central powers of the nation – humility and contriteness are required; only one who is humble, who does not make an issue of his own honor, can join together different and opposing forces.


            An understanding of Binyamin's role as unifier and connector is emphasized in several different sources.  The Zohar (Bereishit, 158b) teaches: "When Binyamin was born, the Divine Presence joined itself to all of the tribes."


            Rabbeinu Bechaye, in his commentary on Yaakov's blessing to Binyamin (Bereishit 49:27), provides the following kabbalistic insight:


"Binyamin is a ravenous wolf" – Binyamin was comprised of two qualities, which included the entire edifice and connected the upper and nether realms; likewise the Divine Presence, which rested in his portion, includes everything.  He was therefore compared to a ravenous wolf, consuming the daily sacrifice offered in the morning and the daily sacrifice offered towards evening.  And because he is composed of the ten of them, he bore sons according to their number, corresponding to them, and this is the meaning of the expression, "He shall divide the spoils…" – this is the Divine Presence.  Onkelos translates this, "In his land the Shekhina will rest."; understand this… And Binyamin, composed of all the qualities, is represented by the jasper stone, which has many hues.


In other words, the uniqueness of Binyamin lies in his embodiment of all the positive traits.


            In his letter to his teacher, Rabbi Yishaya Bassan, in which he clarifies the special role of Yosef and Yehuda in building the Kingdom of Israel, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato talks about the additional strength necessary for their unification into a single tree:


Now I shall say who it is that joins them, FOR IT IS BINYAMIN WHO JOINS THEM.  And therefore he assumed the first kingship, in order that the two would join together.  But because Shaul himself did not repair the situation as he should have, the matter was postponed for the end of days.  The repair will therefore be at the time of the redemption, as hinted to in the words, "They shall become one in your hand" (Yechezkel 37:17) [11].


In summary, from all of the different aspects that we have examined it arises that Binyamin's power lies in his ability to connect and unite; for this reason he merits to have the Divine Presence in his portion.


B.  What is the significance of the "portion of the Divine Presence"?


            The final point that remains to be clarified in our discussion is the significance of the assertion that the portion of Binyamin is the portion of the Divine Presence.  Rav Yoel bin-Nun [12] summarizes our discussion in this shiur and the previous one with the following points:


-           The portion of Binyamin is a central, inner portion, surrounded and protected by the tribes that bore the four flags in the desert; it shares no external border with an enemy nation.  The building of the Temple in this portion therefore stands in contrast to the pagan conception, according to which national border temples were established to demarcate the territory of the ruling god – the master of that portion.


-           The area of the Temple is an inner, priestly area, separated from the kingship and its wars.  The borders of the Temple are peaceful borders – in contrast to the borders of the land, which are the result of war.  This is one of many expressions of the connection between the Temple and peace.  We may mention here the prohibition against raising a sword over the stones of the altar; the timing of the building of the Temple – after the nation has achieved rest from its enemies and annihilated Amalek (see Sanhedrin 20b); the service of the tribe of Levi, which does not participate in war, receives no inheritance, and is not party to the division of spoils.


-           The nature of the Temple, as a Temple of peace, and its internal location with no connection to national borders, mean that the influence of the Temple is not restricted by any borders; its sanctity may spread and influence the entire world.  The borders concern only additional levels of sanctity – and the additional commandments that they entail (such as the agricultural commandments that apply on in Eretz Yisrael)as one approaches the site of the Temple.



      With this shiur we complete our discussion of Jerusalem in the Torah.  As we have demonstrated, an examination of the hints to the city in the Torah gives rise to a sketch of the path of the forefathers, and shows in which ways this path represents a sign and precedent for their descendants – a clearing of the way for future generations.  Within this framework we focused on five main subjects:


a.  The spiritual significance of the path to Jerusalem (passing through Shekhem, Beit-El, Ai and Chevron on the way);

b.  The encounter between Avram, Malki-Tzedek – King of Shalem, and the King of Sodom, and the significance of the city as a city of justice and righteousness and as the city of kingship;

c.  The Akeida and the establishment of the permanent sanctuary on Mount Moriah;

d.  An understanding of the expression "The place that God will choose" and its essential meaning;

e.  The portion of Binyamin as the portion of the Divine Presence.


In the next shiur we shall hopefully begin to address the historical revelations of Jerusalem, and examine the city's history and character as arising from different periods.  We shall start our discussion in the period of the conquest and settlement of the land.



[1] The portion of Binyamin is not listed as a separate level of sanctity in its own right because the Mishna lists only those levels of sanctity that have halakhic significance.

[2] Chazal also describe a special quality inherent to living in the land: "Anyone who lives in Eretz Yisrael is compared to one who has a God, and anyone who lives outside of the land is compared to one who has no God" (Ketubot 110b).  "Happy are those who dwell in Eretz Yisrael, for they have no sin and no iniquity, neither in life nor in death…" (Midrash Tehillim, mizmor 85).  But our basic understanding, as stated, follows the literal meaning of the text.

[3] In Bereishit Rabba (99,1) Rabbi Akiva gives a similar explanation for the Temple being built in the portion of Binyamin, commenting on the verse, "Why do you look askance, peaked mountains?" (Tehillim 68:17): "At the time when Shelomo was ready to build the Temple, the tribes ran about and argued among themselves.  One said, "It shall be built in my borders," another said, "In my borders it shall be built."  The Holy One said to them: "Tribes! Why do you look askance at each other? All of you are tribes, all are righteous, but 'peaked' (gavnunim)."  What is the meaning of the word "peaked"? [It hints to the word] Thieves ["ganavim" - kidnappers]; all of you were party to the sale of Yosef.  But Binyamin, who did not participate in the sale of Yosef, is "the mountain that God desired for His abode" (Tehillim ad loc.).  Similarly, we find that 470 years earlier, Korach's children prophesized that [the Divine Presence] was destined to rest in the portion of Binyamin.  As it is written, "My soul longs and faints…" (Tehillim 84:3), and it is also written, "Behold, it is heard in Efrata…" (Ibid. 132:12). 

Rabbi Yehuda taught: the Temple was built in the portion of Yehuda, as it is written, "This Efrati of Beit Lechem in Yehuda" (I Shemuel 17:12).  Rabbi Shimon taught: "[This means,] in [the portion of] the one who died in Efrata.  Who died in Efrata? Rachel.  Perhaps, then, it refers to the portion of Yosef, who was also her son? This is not so, as the verse [from Tehillim] continues; "… we found it in Sedei-Ya'ar" (Ibid.) – i.e., in the portion of the one who is compared to an animal of the forest ("ya'ar").  Who is compared to an animal of the forest? Binyamin, as it is written, "Binyamin is a ravenous wolf" (Bereishit 49:27)."

[4] In this context we may refer to the Sifri on the above verse, "You shall seek His abode and come there": "Perhaps it is permissible for you to wait until a prophet tells you [where it is]? [This is not the case, for] it is written, 'You shall seek His abode and come there' – you shall seek and you shall find it, and afterwards the prophet will confirm it" (Sifri Devarim, Parashat Re'eh, piska 62).

[5] This assertion requires further exploration: why does the very fact of a false accusation give Binyamin this great merit? No doubt the reward represents further proof of the suspect's innocence, but the formulation requires explanation.

[6] We addressed unity as a significant factor in the building of the Temple in shiur no. 4, and the above follows on from our discussion there.

[7] We shall discuss the details of this division and its significance in a shiur about the border between Yehuda and Binyamin.

[8] There is a Midrash that brings an additional reason for Binyamin's special merit in this regard: because he did not bow down to Eisav.  The Midrash Ha-gadol (on Bereishit 33:3) comments on Yaakov's seven prostrations before his brother, Eisav, that "Correspondingly, seven [things] were taken from him.  These were: the Tent of Meeting, Gilgal, Shilo, Nov, Giv'on, the First Temple, and the Second Temple." In other words, for each prostration, one of the holy places was destroyed.  The essential message here is that prostration before another person represents a certain dimension of idolatry – or, at the very least, acknowledgment of the mastery of the other person; a subservience that directly contradicts the recognition of the Kingship of God – and hence the existence of the Sanctuary.  In light of this we may also understand why the fact that Binyamin did not prostrate himself before Eisav grants him the merit of the Divine Presence resting in his portion – for he is subservient to God alone.

[9] Yosef's intention is clear: he wants to clarify whether the brothers have mended their ways with regard to Rachel's second son; it is for this purpose, inter alia, that the goblet is hidden in Binyamin's sack.

[10] The continuation of the guarantee between Yehuda and Binyamin is expressed in the fact that Binyamin goes along with Yehuda in the split of the kingdom – contrary to the seemingly more natural option of going along with the children of Rachel – Ephraim and Menasheh.  We shall not elaborate further here.

[11] My thanks to Rav Chanan Porat for pointing out this source to me.

[12] Rav Yoel bin-Nun, "Nachalat BinyaminNachalat Shekhina," in Lifnei Ephraim, Binyamin u-Menasheh," Midreshet Binyamin, Ofra Field School, pp. 25-46.


Translated by Kaeren Fish