Friday, April 25, 2014

The Tribe of Benjamin

As ancestors of the Tribes of Israel, the lives and personalities of each of the twelve sons of Jacob significantly impacted the history and the behavior of the tribe members who descended from them.

The Midrash relates that Benjamin was one of the few completely righteous individuals to ever live. This righteousness appears to be acknowledged in the blessings that Moses bestowed upon the tribes of Israel just before they entered the Promised Land: "Of Benjamin he said, 'the beloved of God shall dwell in safety by Him, He covered him all the day and He shall dwell between his shoulders (Deuteronomy 33:12). Given this blessing, it is not at all surprising that the land settled by the tribe of Benjamin included the holy City of Jerusalem.

Despite being righteous, the blessing that Benjamin received from Jacob was "Benjamin is a wolf that ravages; in the morning he divides the spoil" (Genesis 49:27). This is understood by some as referring to Benjamin's military skill. Indeed, Benjamin is one of the five tribes praised by Deborah for joining the battle against Sisera. Perhaps their military prowess came from emulating the famed  Ehud, the second judge of the people of Israel, who used his left-handed swordsmanship to take out the Moabite king, Eglon.

In Judges 20, it is cited that among Benjamin's warriors was a special troop of 700 men trained to fight left-handed, who used slingshots with incredible accuracy. Unfortunately, this detail is noted during a tragic episode that resulted in the near-demise of the entire tribe of Benjamin. This all began when a mob of Benjaminites raped the concubine of a traveling Levite. The Levite let all the other tribes know of the treachery that had been committed. When the tribe of Benjamin refused to punish the rapists, a civil war began. At the end of the war, only 600 Benjaminites remained.*

Benjamin was now the smallest tribe of Israel. However, it was the tribe of King Saul, the first king of Israel, as well as his descendant Mordechai.

*This is a simplified summary of a very complicated event in Jewish history. 

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