Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Bond of Brothers

Caring for the psychological well-being of children (and adults) is of great concern to modern society. Of course, parents have always wanted to shield their children from pain, but, for most of human history, it was often not possible to do this.

While the Torah never directly talks about children’s psychology, many such topics are indirectly referred to in the biblical narratives. For instance, Benjamin, the youngest son of Jacob and Rachel, was 9 years old when Joseph was sold into slavery. (Joseph was 17 at the time.) The mysterious disappearance of his older brother affected Benjamin deeply. The impact of his brother’s disappearance may be seen from an interesting Midrash (Sotah 36b) referring to the names of Benjamin’s 10 sons (Genesis 46:21), each of whom was given a name that specifically reminded their father of Joseph.

1 - Bela, because [Joseph] was swallowed up (nivla’) among the peoples.

2 - Becher, because [Joseph] was the firstborn (bechor) of his mother.

3 - Ashbel, because God sent [Joseph] into captivity (sheva'o el).

4 - Gera, because [Joseph] dwelt (gar) in [strangers'] lodgings.

5 - Naaman, because he was especially beloved (na'im).

6, 7 - Ehi and Rosh, because [Joseph] is my brother (ahi) and chief (rosh).

8,9 - Muppim* and Huppim, because [Benjamin said: ‘Joseph] did not see my marriage-canopy (huppah) and I did not see his.’

10 - Ard, because [Joseph] descended (yarad) among the nations. Others [say] because [Joseph's] face was like a rose (vered).

* According to Midrash Tanchuma, Muppim derives from “his mouth (pi) was like that of our father [in Torah learning].”

Benjamin spent 22 years enduring the after-affects of his brother’s disappearance. Benjamin didn’t become wild or angry. In fact, the Midrash implies that he was a complete tzadik (righteous man)--and, perhaps, this too, is a reflection of the impact of Joseph’s disappearance.

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