Why did the Shechina rest in the portion of Binyamin? All the tribes (i.e. the sons of Ya’akov) were involved in the sale of Yosef except for Binyamin who was not with them; another reason: all the tribes were born outside the Land, while Binyamin was born in Eretz Yisrael.
[Midrash Mechilta, Parashat Yitro 4]
Questions on the Midrash
1) Why does the Midrash present two reasons for the Divine choice of building the Beit HaMikdash (Temple) in the portion of Binyamin? What lessons does the Midrash teach that require two separate reasons?
2) Is there significance to the order of the Midrash’s presentation of its two reasons?
3) The first reason is difficult to understand. Binyamin was not present at the sale of his brother Yosef. Why then, does he receive such a great reward for not being party to something in which he could not have participated?
4) Why is Binyamin’s birth in Eretz Yisrael so great that it leads to having the Temple built in his portion of the Land?
Fulfillment of Mitzvot Between Man and Fellow-Man and Between Man and God Bring Manifestation of the Shechina into the World
The Gemara [Yoma 9b] teaches that the First Temple was destroyed because of violations of the three cardinal sins (idolatry, adultery and murder), which are essentially sins between man and God; while the Second Temple was destroyed because of sins between man and fellow-man, specifically, unfounded hatred (sin’at ḥinam).
In his work Netzaḥ Yisrael [chapter 3], Maharal of Prague explains the appropriateness of the reasons for the destruction to each of the Temples. It is by virtue of the Temple that we merit the two things which are most basic in the life of the Nation of Israel: 1) manifestation of the Shechina; 2) national unity. When the Beit HaMikdash (Temple) stands, God allows His Shechina to be manifest within the Am Yisrael (Nation of Israel) and within the world, as the verse states “And they shall make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell in their midst” [Shemot 25:8]. The Nation of Israel unites around the sanctity of the Beit HaMikdash (Temple), and thus the Beit HaMikdash also fosters national unity. Am Yisrael is unique among the nations of the world in the fact that the goal of its unity is to be a holy nation engaged in Divine service. When Am Yisrael sins against God, the nation is unworthy of the manifestation of His Shechina, which brings about the Temple’s destruction. Sins against fellow-men undercut Am Yisrael’s unity, which too brings about the Temple’s destruction. If we want the Beit HaMikdash (Temple) to be built, the Shechina to be manifest in the world and the Nation of Israel to achieve unity, it is necessary to fulfill mitzvot between man and God and between man and fellow man to the fullest extent.
In presenting two reasons for the choice of building the Beit HaMikdash (Temple) in Binyamin’s portion, the Midrash alludes to mitzvot between man and God and mitzvot between man and fellow-man. Binyamin stood out in both areas; he was not at all involved in the sale of Yosef and did not sin in the area of man to fellow-man. Being born in Eretz Yisrael is an indication that Binyamin reached a higher level of serving God in the realm of mitzvot between man and God. Maharal [Gur Aryeh, Bereishit 38:5] comments that God delayed the birth of Binyamin because he possessed a unique soul and was therefore worthy of being born in Eretz Yisrael.
The Midrash presents the reason that Binyamin was not involved in Yosef’s sale first because this is the realm of interpersonal mitzvot, which is greater than the realm of mitzvot between man and God. The additional reason, the fact of Binyamin having been born in Eretz Yisrael, which represents the realm of mitzvot between man and God, is presented as a secondary reason because such sins are less severe than interpersonal sins. Indeed, the destruction of the First Temple, resulting from sins between man and God, lasted seventy years, while the destruction of the Second Temple, resulting from interpersonal sins, has lasted almost two-thousand years.
We can now answer our third question. Seeing how severe and reprehensible internal dissension is in God’s eyes, the fact that Binyamin was not at all involved in his brother’s sale and his family’s disunity indeed conveys great merit.
The practical lesson for us is to avoid argument and dissension and to do what we can to foster Am Yisrael’s unity. With God’s help, our aspirations to achieve national unity will hasten the rebuilding of the Temple.
Eretz Yisrael – the Holiest Place in the World
In his work Kuzari, Rabbi Yehuda Halevi deals at length with praise of Eretz Yisrael, which is the holiest place in the world. Eretz Yisrael has the ability to bring one closer to God and His service. Binyamin, having been born in the Land, as it were, began on a higher spiritual level than his brothers who were born abroad. Netziv [Bamidbar 33:40] asserts that Binyamin, due to having been born in the Land, was better suited for Torah than his brothers. In his comments on Mechilta, Netziv adds that Binyamin had a greater level of personal sanctity than his brothers. The special traits which Binyamin received by virtue of being born in Eretz Yisrael are the additional reason the Temple was built in his portion.
We must note that every Israelite can connect to the high level of sanctity of Eretz Yisrael by coming to the Land and linked up with the holiest place on earth.
The Beit HaMikdash (Temple) is the pinnacle of manifestation of the Shechina in the world. The First Temple was destroyed because of between man and God, the Second Temple because of sins between man and fellow-man. Our sins cause the Shechina to remove itself from our midst. Binyamin merited having the Temple built in his portion because he achieved completion in both realms, and between man and God: he was not involved in the sale of Yosef and he was born in Eretz Yisrael. Mitzvot between man and fellow-man are more important to God than those between man and Him, therefore, the first reason the Midrash presents for building the Beit HaMikdash (Temple) in Binyamin’s portion is from the realm of interpersonal relations. Interpersonal strife is so serious that the Midrash stresses the fact that Binyamin was totally disconnected from his brothers’ sale of Yosef.
By virtue of working to achieve full unity of the Nation of Israel, we will merit having the Beit HaMikdash (Temple) rebuilt, speedily in our days.
Eretz Yisrael, the holiest of lands, endowed Binyamin with a spiritual level above that of his brothers; he was better suited for Torah and his body was holier, thus he merited having the Beit HaMikdash (Temple) built in his portion.
With God’s help, we will all be able to connect to Eretz Yisrael and her unique sanctity, and thereby serve God and ascend to higher spiritual levels.