Vayigash: Responsibility- Jewish style

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31 Dec 2008

The stakes are high. Yehuda is pleading for Binyamin’s life (1):

For your servant became surety for the lad, to my father, saying, ‘If I do not bring him to you, I will have sinned to my father for all time

… and for his own!

If you should ask why I involve myself in this fray more than my other brothers? [the reason is that] they are all out [of this matter] whereas, I have tied myself [to it] with a strong bond by accepting to be an outcast in both worlds.

All of a sudden, Yehuda’s own fate becomes contingent upon Binyamin’s. How did it happen?

Remember Yaakov’s original fear (2):

My son [Binyamin] shall not go down with you; for his brother is dead, and he is left alone; if harm befall him on the journey that you are to make, then shall you bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave.

The road and the children of Rachel are not made for each other. Rachel dies on the road. Yosef, (to the best of Yaakov’s knowledge) dies on the road. Yaakov adamantly refuses to allow Binyomin on the road (3).

Could misfortune not befall him at home? R. Eliezer ben Yaakov said: We learn from this that the Satan accuses [attempts to harm] during a time of danger.

Food supplies dwindle. Reuven tries to convince Yaakov and is unsuccessful. Finally, Yehuda presents his gambit to Yaakov (4):

Anochi E’ervenu- I will be surety for him; from my hand shall you require him; if I bring him not to you, and set him before you, then let me bear the blame forever;

Yehuda assumes the position of Binyomin’s areiv (guarantor). Inexplicably, this arrangement assuages Yaakov, who agrees to release Binyomin to Yehuda’s care. But there is an obvious difficulty.

An areiv, seen through the prism of choshen mishpat (business ethics – section of Shulchan Aruch dealing with the laws of business), is the guarantor who provides the confidence of capital necessary for the lender to proceed. Should the borrower default, then the areiv will assume responsibility. How can we transpose this notion to our situation? Can one be a guarantor on another’s life? If Binyomin dies, how shall life be repaid? Of what utility is Yehuda’s guarantee?

We must seek another model of areivut, one that we find in Orach Chaim (daily life – section of Shulchan Aruch dealing with laws/customs of daily life). Here too we encounter the notion of areiv; however , far from the practical, we meet the metaphysical areiv, the areiv b’mitzvot.

Consider: We know that a Jew who has fulfilled his personal Kiddush obligation may still recite kiddush for another (who has not yet fulfilled the mitzvah) without worrying about reciting a superfluous blessing. Common knowledge permits this behavior, but why is it so? The Talmud teaches (5):

Ahabah the son of R. Zera learnt: Any blessing which one has already recited on behalf of himself, he can recite again on behalf of others,

And Rashi explains:

For all Jews are areivim (guarantors) for each other in mitzvos.

What are the spiritual mechanics of this halacha? Mere responsibility would not permit a wasteful blessing, for one may not sin for the other’s benefit. Rav Nisson Alpert zt”l taught that the secret of areivut transcends responsibility and encompasses the notion of merged destiny (6).

Areivut, in its halachic depth bespeaks the notion that Klal Yisrael is one entity (7). If one individual Jew has fulfilled his mitzvah and the other has not, then neither are complete. Therefore, I can bless for you, because I am really blessing for me.

Yehuda creates an areivut with Binyomin. He literally creates the concept. For the very first time the word areiv appears in the Torah. Yehuda and Binyomin are forged into one unit, a merged spiritual persona with intertwined destinies. Yaakov’s fears are now allayed – for whilst Binyomin alone may not be safe on the road, Yehuda-Binyomin is not a composite but a new persona. Yehuda literally stakes his own personal destiny for Binyomin. Now and forever, they remain together.

Some 750 years years later, when the kingdom of Yehuda is torn asunder, the lone tribe that does not defect to the Northern Kingdom is Binyomin. Is it not counterintuitive that only the tribe that lost its monarchy to the Davidic line should be the tribe to remain loyal? Consider further that Shaul was so bitterly opposed to David’s kingship. Something transcendent is keeping them together. Rav Alpert explained, this is a direct result of the areivut created so many years earlier.

One final note: The prophet Achiyah HaShiloni, speaking to Achav, (King of the Northern Kingdom) states “I have given you ten tribes, and him (Rechavam, son of Shlomo) only one.” (8)

In fact Yehuda-Binyomin is only one (9).

Oneness, unity and ultimate areivut. Perhaps that’s why we are all Yehudim.

Let us merit to live up to our exalted name.

Good Shabbos, Asher Brander



1. Bereishis, 44:32, Rashi ibid

2. Bereishis 42:38

3. Rashi, ibid 42:4

4. Bereishis, 29:3

5. Rosh Hashana 29a, Rashi,ibid

6. Thus areiv and eiruv (merge or mix) are etymologically linked

7. The Yerushalmi Nedarim 9:4 explains the prohibition of nekama (revenge) in a most stunning fashion. כתיב לא תקום ולא תטור את בני עמך היך עביד’ הוה מקטע קופד ומחת סכינא לידוי תחזור ותמחי לידיה ואהבת לרעך כמוך. One who cutting with a knife in one hand, and accidentally cut the other hand, would the injured hand slap (or stab) the other hand out of revenge?

8. Melachim 1:11, 31-32

9. With this notion, Rav Neventzahl shlit”a explains why even though Rav Yochanan and Reish Lakish debate whether a city of Israel can be divided between two tribes (Sanhedrin 111b), neither brings as a proof the example of Jerusalem, which is divided between Binyomin and Yehuda, (Yehoshua 8:16, and 15:8). Note also that the area of the outer altar was on the joint land of Yehuda and Binyomin even as the actual altar was solely in Binyomin’s property.

Rabbi Asher Brander is the Rabbi of the Westwood Kehilla, Founder/Dean of LINK (Los Angeles Intercommunity Kollel) and is a Rebbe at Yeshiva University High Schools of Los Angeles

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.