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By: Ms. Sefi Kraut

In his first decision in Parshat Miketz, Yaakov sent his sons down to Mitzrayim, with the exception of Binyamin, to buy food for the family and return with it to Cana’an. That decision ultimately resulted in the incarceration of Shimon in an Egyptian jail. Just one chapter later, the text reports a famine in the land of Cana’an and that the food supply acquired by the brothers in Mitzrayim had been depleted. Thus, Yaakov is once again faced with a decision as to how to prevent his family from starving.

Yaakov turns to his sons and says, “Go again, buy us a little food” (43:2). Yehuda immediately reminds his father that the ruler in Mitzrayim warned the brothers never to step foot in Mitzrayim again unless they bring their youngest brother with them. Yaakov lashes out at the brothers and asks why they revealed that they had a younger brother. The brothers defend themselves and remind Yaakov that they had no choice but to tell the truth when the Egyptian ruler asked them explicitly whether they had another brother.

Upon their return from Mitzrayim, the brothers had informed Yaakov of the Egyptian ruler’s strange inquiries into their family and the odd condition for returning to Egypt. However, Yaakov is so anguished at the thought of losing his beloved Binyamin that he refuses to accept the need to send Binyamin to Egypt. Recognizing his father’s deep anxiety, Yehuda pledges to his father that he will take responsibility for Binyamin:

"Yehudah said to his father, Israel: Send the boy in my care, and let us be on our way, that we may live and not die – you and we and our children. I myself will be surety for him; you may hold me responsible. If I do not bring him back to you and set him before you, I shall stand guilty forever. For we could have been there and back twice had we not dawdled." (43:8-9)

After hearing Yehuda’s words, Yaakov agrees to allow Binyamin to join his brothers on their second trip to Egypt. Despite Yehuda’s sincerest intentions, neither he nor Yaakov could not know with certainty that Yehuda would be able to deliver on his promise to keep Binyamin safe. So what did Yehuda say that ultimately convinced Yaakov to release Binyamin into his care?

Rav Alex Israel suggests that the answer begins in the laws of shepherding found in Parshat Mishpatim.

"If a man gives a donkey, an ox, a sheep or any other animal to his neighbor for safekeeping and it dies or is injured or is taken away while no one is looking, the issue between them will be settled by the taking of an oath before the Lord that the neighbor did not lay hands on the other person’s property . . . If it was torn to pieces by a wild animal (טרף יטרף), he shall bring the remains as evidence and he will not be required to pay for the torn animal." (Shemot 22: 10-13)

If a shepherd is entrusted with a sheep to watch and that sheep is mauled by a wild animal, the shepherd must bring evidence that the animal was attacked in order to prove that the animal did not die as a result of the shepherd’s neglect. This reminds us of the “evidence” that the brothers brought Yaakov proving that Yosef died from an attack by a wild animal. They bring Yosef’s distinctive coat covered in blood to Yaakov and ask their father if he recognizes it. Upon seeing the “evidence”, Yaakov concludes that Yosef had been mauled by an animal and despairingly says, "טרף טרף יוסף" – “Yosef was torn by a beast (37:33)” The brothers absolve themselves of responsibility for Yosef’s death by applying the “shepherd principle”.

Yaakov had been a shepherd himself for 20 years when working for his father-in-law, Lavan. When Lavan questioned Yaakov’s integrity, Yaakov responded:

“These twenty years I have spent in your service, your ewes and she-goats never miscarried, nor did I feast on rams from your flock. That which was torn (טרפה) by wild beasts, I did not bring to you; I bore the loss myself, you demanded it of me, whether snatched by day or snatched by night.” (31: 39).

Yaakov defends his honor by reminding Lavan that he never once brought a mauled animal to Lavan and asked Lavan to cover the loss. Instead, Yaakov absorbed the cost of every mauled animal, thereby holding himself to a higher standard of responsibility than demanded by law.

Yaakov ultimately agrees to entrust Yehuda with Binyamin, because Yehuda’s words echo his own reply to Lavan years earlier. Yaakov told Lavan, “אנכי אחטנה, מידי "תבקשנה (31:39) and Yehuda says to Yaakov "אנכי אערבנו, מידי תבקשנו" (43:9) In other words, Yehuda pledges the same higher standard of care and accountability for Binyamin that Yaakov had demonstrated in his own life years earlier. In this instance, implies Yehuda, he accepts complete responsibility for his brother’s fate under every circumstance and will not fall back on any excuse, as the brothers had in the case of Yosef’s death.

Yehuda understands his father’s fears, as well as the absolute necessity to send Binyamin to Egypt. His courageous acceptance of total accountability inspires Yaakov with the faith to make an agonizing, yet necessary, decision.

Shabbat Shalom





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