This week’s Torah reading opens with Yehudah confronting the Egyptian viceroy, who was now about to detain Binyamin as a slave. After Yehudah promised to fight for his younger brother’s freedom, the Egyptian leader finally revealed that he was actually Yosef. The story then continues with Yosef reconciling with his stunned brothers, and sending for Yaakov to join him in Egypt. Yosef kisses the brothers who had sold him as a slave all those years ago, and finally meets his full brother Binyamin. The two hug and cried…
Our Rabbis teach (Gemara Megillah 16b) that the brothers cried about much more than Yosef’s difficulties and reunification with his family; they actually cried about each other’s ‘necks’. As the Talmud explains, the Temple, or Beit Hamikdash (and the Mishkan) is compared to a neck; just as the head, with the brain and with its critical organs, is bridged to the body via the neck, so is the Beit Hamikdash a tool through which we can connect to Hashem and the spiritual and material blessing He wants to send us. In other words, in the same way that the body is dependent on the head for survival, so is the Beit Hamikdash essential to us.
The tribe of Yosef would one day host the Mishkan in its portion of Israel, in the city of Shiloh. Binyamin (together with Yehudah) would later have the Batei Mikdash themselves in its territory. Yosef and Binyamin now mourned the future destruction of these Temples; Yosef thus cried about the ‘necks’ of Binyamin, while Binyamin did the same over the Mishkan Shiloh that Yosef would lose*.
The Rebbe of Kuzmir (Rav Yechiel Tauber, passed away in 1856), asked two simple questions: why did the brothers choose specifically this moment of tremendous joy to mourn future tragedy, and why did each cry about the other’s loss, rather than about his own?
By the same token, the way to rectify this sin is to love one’s fellow Jew. We must not only be kind to one another, but must also learn to empathize with each other, actually feeling the other person’s happiness or pain. Yosef and Binyamin truly felt each other’s suffering, and even mourned each other’s tragedy more than he did his own.
*Although Binyamin also cried over Yosef’s ‘necks’ in the plural form, we find only one destruction relating to Yosef being mourned. This is because Yosef’s sad story was already cause for mourning in its own right- and so was included as well in his ‘necks’.