Unraveling the Mystery of Yerushalayim

Ki avde’cha arav es hana’ar me’im avi (Bereishis 44:32)

The Gemara in Sanhedrin (111b) quotes a disagreement between Rav Yochanan and Reish Lakish regarding the rules of dividing Eretz Yisrael among the tribes. Rabi Yochanan maintains that a city can be split between two different tribes, while Reish Lakish argues that it must belong in its entirety to one tribe. Rabbi Yisroel Reisman points out that their dispute is difficult to understand, for we find in Sefer Yehoshua (15:8, 18:16) that the city of Yerushalayim was divided between the tribes of Yehudah and Binyamin. How can Reish Lakish claim that a city cannot be cut in half when we find that Yerushalayim belonged to two different tribes, and why doesn’t the Gemara raise this difficulty?

Lest one answer that Yerushalayim was unique due to its enhanced holiness, Rav Reisman notes that its status as the home of the Beis Hamikdash was not established until more than 400 years later. When Yehoshua was apportioning the Land of Israel, the Mishkan was still located in Shiloh, yet he split the city of Yerushalayim between the tribes of Yehudah and Binyamin.

Harav Yaakov Kamenetsky, zt”l, writes that Yehudah and Binyamin are often viewed as one tribe. For example, when the prophet Achiyah HaShiloni informs Yeravam that the nation will be divided into two kingdoms, he tells him (Melachim 1 11:31–32), “I will give 10 tribes to you, and one tribe will go to Rechavam.” This only accounts for 11 tribes; what happened to the missing tribe? Radak explains that Yeravam became king over 10 tribes, while Rechavam ruled over two tribes, for the “one tribe” that was promised to him consisted of his own tribe of Yehudah as well as the tribe of Binyamin.

Although Rav Yaakov’s insight is fascinating, it begs the question: Why are the tribes of Yehudah and Binyamin, who came from two different mothers, considered to be one? Rabbi Reisman posits that this anomaly has its origins in Sefer Bereishis. In Parashas Mikeitz, Yehudah begged Yaakov to allow him to return to Egypt with Binyamin, saying (43:9), “Anochi e’ervenu — I will personally guarantee his safety.” In Parashas Vayigash, Yehudah acts on his promise, asking the viceroy (Yosef) to permit him to become his slave in place of Binyamin, explaining that he had guaranteed his father that Binyamin would be safely returned to him.

Rabbi Reisman explains that the term arev — guarantor — is connected to the word eruv — mixture — for a person who guarantees somebody else’s loan becomes legally joined with him. Thus, when Yehudah pledged himself as Binyamin’s guarantor, he created an eternal connection between them. As a result, although they remained two distinct tribes, they are sometimes counted as one due to the linkage that Yehudah formed between them.

Rabbi Reisman adds that this insight can help shed light on a well-known mystery. There is a popular legend regarding two brothers who shared a field in Yerushalayim. One brother had a large family, while the other was single. Since they owned and worked the field as partners, they divided the harvest equally. As the brother with many children observed his bountiful crop, it occurred to him that he had many children to support him in his old age, while his brother lived all alone with nobody to help him and would need more savings to sustain him in the future. Therefore, he decided to go in the middle of the night and secretly donate some of his wheat to his brother.

Meanwhile, the single brother recognized that his married brother’s needs were far greater than his own, so he took part of his share of the harvest and discreetly gave it to his brother to help him sustain his growing family. In the morning, each brother was puzzled to observe that there was no discernible decrease in his pile of grain and that the sheaves he had donated appeared to be replenished, so they both repeated the transfer on the following night.

These nocturnal activities continued until one night, as they were each carrying their grain, when the two brothers encountered one another. As they reflected and understood what had been taking place, they fell into each other’s arms in a loving embrace. When Hashem saw this noble display of brotherly compassion, He declared that this meeting spot would be the ideal location upon which to build the Beis Hamikdash.

Although this story is well-known, Harav Chaim Kanievsky, shlita, has stated that it has no authentic Jewish source and may have been adapted from a non-Jewish legend. Nevertheless, Rabbi Reisman suggests that it may be at least partially rooted in the eternal bond that Yehudah created between himself and his brother Binyamin. When Hashem saw Yehudah’s selfless dedication and love for his brother, He decided to memorialize this connection by building the Beis Hamikdash precisely on the border. between their lands.

Q: Which two people in Parashas Vayigash share their names with both another person and a city mentioned in Sefer Bereishis?

A: One of Reuven’s children was named Chanoch (46:9), which is the name of a son of both Cain (4:17) and Yered (5:18), as well as the name of a city built by Cain (4:17). One of Binyamin’s sons was named Bela (46:21), which is also the name of an Edomite king (36:32) and was the original name of the city of Tzo’ar (14:2), the city to which Lot fled when Sedom was destroyed.


Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.