Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Vayigash #1: Pesukim that imply that Binyamin is Young

How old is Binyamin when he and the brothers go down to Egypt? Assuming Yosef was sold at 17 (which is NOT clear - we only know that he was רֹעֶה אֶת-אֶחָיו בַּצֹּאן at that age - Bereishit 27:2) and stood before Pharoah at age 30 (41:46: וְיוֹסֵף בֶּן-שְׁלֹשִׁים שָׁנָה בְּעָמְדוֹ לִפְנֵי פַּרְעֹה מֶלֶךְ-מִצְרָיִם), and furthermore the years of plenty and famine began immediately and proceeded 9 years before Yosef revealed himself to his brothers as we see in Vayigash, Bereishit 43:11:

וְכִלְכַּלְתִּי אֹתְךָ שָׁם, כִּי-עוֹד חָמֵשׁ שָׁנִים רָעָב: פֶּן-תִּוָּרֵשׁ אַתָּה וּבֵיתְךָ, וְכָל-אֲשֶׁר-לָךְ.
"and there will I sustain thee; for there are yet five years of famine; lest thou come to poverty, thou, and thy household, and all that thou hast."

then Yosef was 39. 39 - 17 = 22 years in Egypt. If Binyamin had been born immediately before Yosef was sold, then he would be 22. Yet we assume Rachel had died in childbirth of Binyamin long before this started, as the pasuk says, as Yaakov was going returning from Padan, so he might be about 30. This is somewhat necessary since the geneology of people who went down to Egypt lists his 10 sons.

I am not convinced that all these constraints are really constraints - those psukim might mean things other than what a simple reading might imply. What I want to focus upon here though are the psukim that imply that Binyamin is really young - certainly not 30, and unlikely to be 22.

Neutral is the reason Yaakov does not send Binyamin down: In Bereishit 42:4:
וְאֶת-בִּנְיָמִין אֲחִי יוֹסֵף, לֹא-שָׁלַח יַעֲקֹב אֶת-אֶחָיו: כִּי אָמַר, פֶּן-יִקְרָאֶנּוּ אָסוֹן
"But Benjamin, Joseph's brother, Jacob sent not with his brethren; for he said: 'Lest peradventure harm befall him.'"

Yosef accuses his brothers of being spies and in pasuk 13 the brothers respond:
וַיֹּאמְרוּ, שְׁנֵים עָשָׂר עֲבָדֶיךָ אַחִים אֲנַחְנוּ בְּנֵי אִישׁ-אֶחָד--בְּאֶרֶץ כְּנָעַן; וְהִנֵּה הַקָּטֹן אֶת-אָבִינוּ הַיּוֹם, וְהָאֶחָד אֵינֶנּוּ.
"And they said: 'We thy servants are twelve brethren, the sons of one man in the land of Canaan; and, behold, the youngest is this day with our father, and one is not.'"

Yosef replies in pasuk 15:
בְּזֹאת, תִּבָּחֵנוּ: חֵי פַרְעֹה אִם-תֵּצְאוּ מִזֶּה, כִּי אִם-בְּבוֹא אֲחִיכֶם הַקָּטֹן הֵנָּה.
"Hereby ye shall be proved, as Pharaoh liveth, ye shall not go forth hence, except your youngest brother come hither."

and in pasuk 20 again:
וְאֶת-אֲחִיכֶם הַקָּטֹן תָּבִיאוּ אֵלַי, וְיֵאָמְנוּ דִבְרֵיכֶם וְלֹא תָמוּתוּ; וַיַּעֲשׂוּ-כֵן.
"and bring your youngest brother unto me; so shall your words be verified, and ye shall not die.' And they did so. "

They call Binyamin הַקָּטֹן, which means both "the youngest" in terms of being in comparison with the ages of the other brothers, but also might mean "out young brother." This is neutral but slightly leaning towards Binyamin being young, and not 30 years old.

Yaakov again refuses to send Binyamin because he fears for his safety. In pasuk 36:
וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵהֶם יַעֲקֹב אֲבִיהֶם, אֹתִי שִׁכַּלְתֶּם: יוֹסֵף אֵינֶנּוּ, וְשִׁמְעוֹן אֵינֶנּוּ, וְאֶת-בִּנְיָמִן תִּקָּחוּ, עָלַי הָיוּ כֻלָּנָה.
"And Jacob their father said unto them: 'Me have ye bereaved of my children: Joseph is not, and Simeon is not, and ye will take Benjamin away; upon me are all these things come."

And again in pasuk 38 in a response to Reuven:
וַיֹּאמֶר, לֹא-יֵרֵד בְּנִי עִמָּכֶם: כִּי-אָחִיו מֵת וְהוּא לְבַדּוֹ נִשְׁאָר, וּקְרָאָהוּ אָסוֹן בַּדֶּרֶךְ אֲשֶׁר תֵּלְכוּ-בָהּ, וְהוֹרַדְתֶּם אֶת-שֵׂיבָתִי בְּיָגוֹן, שְׁאוֹלָה.
"And he said: 'My son shall not go down with you; for his brother is dead, and he only is left; if harm befall him by the way in which ye go, then will ye bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave."

Then in perek 43, Yisrael is asked, this time by Yehuda. Yehuda calls Binyamin a נער. In pasuk 8:
וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוּדָה אֶל-יִשְׂרָאֵל אָבִיו, שִׁלְחָה הַנַּעַר אִתִּי--וְנָקוּמָה וְנֵלֵכָה; וְנִחְיֶה וְלֹא נָמוּת, גַּם-אֲנַחְנוּ גַם-אַתָּה גַּם-טַפֵּנוּ.
"And Judah said unto Israel his father: 'Send the lad with me, and we will arise and go, that we may live, and not die, both we, and thou, and also our little ones."

A naar seems to be someone young. Yosef was a naar. (Although perhaps he is called a naar at the age of 28 by the royal butler - see my previous post). 22 might still be a naar. But a 30 year old with 10 children?

In pasuk 28, Yosef sees Binyamin and says:
וַיִּשָּׂא עֵינָיו, וַיַּרְא אֶת-בִּנְיָמִין אָחִיו בֶּן-אִמּוֹ, וַיֹּאמֶר הֲזֶה אֲחִיכֶם הַקָּטֹן, אֲשֶׁר אֲמַרְתֶּם אֵלָי; וַיֹּאמַר, אֱלֹקִים יָחְנְךָ בְּנִי.
"And he lifted up his eyes, and saw Benjamin his brother, his mother's son, and said: 'Is this your youngest brother of whom ye spoke unto me?' And he said: 'God be gracious unto thee, my son.'"

Again, הַקָּטֹן might mean young or youngest. A hint that it is relative vs. absolute age can be seen in pasuk 33:
וַיֵּשְׁבוּ לְפָנָיו--הַבְּכֹר כִּבְכֹרָתוֹ, וְהַצָּעִיר כִּצְעִרָתוֹ; וַיִּתְמְהוּ הָאֲנָשִׁים, אִישׁ אֶל-רֵעֵהוּ.
"And they sat before him, the firstborn according to his birthright, and the youngest according to his youth; and the men marvelled one with another."

Thus relative ages are in play. הַבְּכֹר is the eldest and הַצָּעִיר is the youngest, and each along the way Yosef knew their ages. This focus suggests that הַקָּטֹן means relative rather than absolute age.

Then in perek 44 Yosef tells his steward to place the goblet in Binyamin's sack, in pasuk 2:
וְאֶת-גְּבִיעִי גְּבִיעַ הַכֶּסֶף, תָּשִׂים בְּפִי אַמְתַּחַת הַקָּטֹן, וְאֵת, כֶּסֶף שִׁבְרוֹ; וַיַּעַשׂ, כִּדְבַר יוֹסֵף אֲשֶׁר דִּבֵּר.
"And put my goblet, the silver goblet, in the sack's mouth of the youngest, and his corn money.' And he did according to the word that Joseph had spoken. "

Again Binyamin is הַקָּטֹן.

And again suggesting that הַקָּטֹן is relative age, the steward overtakes them and searches their sacks, again in age order. Pasuk 12:
וַיְחַפֵּשׂ--בַּגָּדוֹל הֵחֵל, וּבַקָּטֹן כִּלָּה; וַיִּמָּצֵא, הַגָּבִיעַ, בְּאַמְתַּחַת, בִּנְיָמִן.
"And he searched, beginning at the eldest, and leaving off at the youngest; and the goblet was found in Benjamin's sack."

Here בַּגָּדוֹל and וּבַקָּטֹן match the earlier הַבְּכֹר and הַצָּעִיר.

Once Vayigash starts we have more psukim implying that Yosef in young. In 44:19-20, Yehuda says:
אֲדֹנִי שָׁאַל, אֶת-עֲבָדָיו לֵאמֹר: הֲיֵשׁ-לָכֶם אָב, אוֹ-אָח.
וַנֹּאמֶר, אֶל-אֲדֹנִי, יֶשׁ-לָנוּ אָב זָקֵן, וְיֶלֶד זְקֻנִים קָטָן; וְאָחִיו מֵת, וַיִּוָּתֵר הוּא לְבַדּוֹ לְאִמּוֹ וְאָבִיו אֲהֵבוֹ.
"My lord asked his servants, saying: Have ye a father, or a brother?
And we said unto my lord: We have a father, an old man, and a child of his old age, a little one; and his brother is dead, and he alone is left of his mother, and his father loveth him."

Here Binyamin is called a יֶלֶד זְקֻנִים קָטָן. Now it may be to contrast rhetorically יֶשׁ-לָנוּ אָב זָקֵן, or to match the fact that in the beginning of Vayeishev, Yosef is the Ben Zekunim and his father loves him, sparking jealously in his brothers (and likely so). However, it it strange to call a 30 year old a ben zekunim.

Further, we have the pasuk 22:
וַנֹּאמֶר, אֶל-אֲדֹנִי, לֹא-יוּכַל הַנַּעַר, לַעֲזֹב אֶת-אָבִיו: וְעָזַב אֶת-אָבִיו, וָמֵת.
"And we said unto my lord: The lad cannot leave his father; for if he should leave his father, [his father would] die."

Now it is not really clear who וָמֵת applies to - Binyamin or Yaakov. Rashbam says Yaakov, Rashi says Binyamin. The idea of a young boy unable to leave his father, and perhaps the fear that the journey is too much for a child parallels what Yaakov tells Esav when he begs out of going with him, in 33:13:
וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו, אֲדֹנִי יֹדֵעַ כִּי-הַיְלָדִים רַכִּים, וְהַצֹּאן וְהַבָּקָר, עָלוֹת עָלָי; וּדְפָקוּם יוֹם אֶחָד, וָמֵתוּ כָּל-הַצֹּאן.
"And he said unto him: 'My lord knoweth that the children are tender, and that the flocks and herds giving suck are a care to me; and if they overdrive them one day, all the flocks will die."

Yehuda also reiterates his father's relutance to send Binyamin, back in perek 44, and every single pasuk in the rest of the perek calls Binyamin a naar.

וְעַתָּה, כְּבֹאִי אֶל-עַבְדְּךָ אָבִי, וְהַנַּעַר, אֵינֶנּוּ אִתָּנוּ; וְנַפְשׁוֹ, קְשׁוּרָה בְנַפְשׁוֹ.
וְהָיָה, כִּרְאוֹתוֹ כִּי-אֵין הַנַּעַר--וָמֵת; וְהוֹרִידוּ עֲבָדֶיךָ אֶת-שֵׂיבַת עַבְדְּךָ אָבִינוּ, בְּיָגוֹן--שְׁאֹלָה
כִּי עַבְדְּךָ עָרַב אֶת-הַנַּעַר, מֵעִם אָבִי לֵאמֹר: אִם-לֹא אֲבִיאֶנּוּ אֵלֶיךָ, וְחָטָאתִי לְאָבִי כָּל-הַיָּמִים.
וְעַתָּה, יֵשֶׁב-נָא עַבְדְּךָ תַּחַת הַנַּעַר--עֶבֶד, לַאדֹנִי; וְהַנַּעַר, יַעַל עִם-אֶחָיו.
כִּי-אֵיךְ אֶעֱלֶה אֶל-אָבִי, וְהַנַּעַר אֵינֶנּוּ אִתִּי: פֶּן אֶרְאֶה בָרָע, אֲשֶׁר יִמְצָא אֶת-אָבִי.

"Now therefore when I come to thy servant my father, and the lad is not with us; seeing that his soul is bound up with the lad's soul;
it will come to pass, when he seeth that the lad is not with us, that he will die; and thy servants will bring down the gray hairs of thy servant our father with sorrow to the grave.
For thy servant became surety for the lad unto my father, saying: If I bring him not unto thee, then shall I bear the blame to my father for ever.
Now therefore, let thy servant, I pray thee, abide instead of the lad a bondman to my lord; and let the lad go up with his brethren.
For how shall I go up to my father, if the lad be not with me? lest I look upon the evil that shall come on my father.'"

That is the body of evidence. It is possible that he is 22, or 30, but I have issues with it. Further we have the pasuk in the begining of Vayeishev that calls Yosef and not Binyamin the ben zekunim, and the fact that Yaakov refers to Yosef's mother Rachel when Yosef relates his second dream, and Rachel will not be alive once Binyamin is born which I touched upon earlier.

I hope to return to this topic later, perhaps looking at the psukim surrounding Binyamin's birth and seeing if his birth must really (based on pshat) be fixed before Yosef is sold.


Anonymous said...

Actually,rahi based on the gemara makes it very clear he was 17.

joshwaxman said...

please choose a pseudonym.

that is not an "actually".
rashi, operating based on the gemara, has one way of interpreting the pesukim. that does not preclude others from analyzing the pesukim differently. (ibn ezra, ramban, rashbam, etc. do it all the time.)

kol tuv,


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