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Devouring Wolf - ויחי

Friday, 1 January, 2021 - 1:36 pm

Devouring Wolf

Before his passing, Jacob gathered his children and blessed each of them with a unique blessing. Some of those blessings are poetically beautiful: 

A cub [and] a grown lion is Judah… He crouched, rested like a lion, and like a lion, who will rouse him?

[He is] red eyed from wine and white toothed from milk.

Zebulun will dwell on the coast of the seas.

From Asher will come rich food, and he will yield regal delicacies.

Naphtali is a swift gazelle; [he is one] who utters beautiful words.

After blessing eleven of his children, Jacob turned to Benjamin, his youngest son, and spoke the following blessing: 

Benjamin is a wolf, he will prey; in the morning he will devour plunder, and in the evening he will divide the spoil." (Genesis 49:27)

Why is Benjamin likened to a devouring wolf?

Rashi offers two interpretations as to what the devouring wolf represents: 

He is a wolf for he will prey. He prophesied: {1} that they were destined to be “grabbers” : “and you shall grab for yourselves each man his wife”, in the episode of the concubine in Gibeah. 

{2} and he prophesied about Saul , that he would be victorious over his enemies all around.

The second interpretation is indeed a profound blessing, addressing the most glorious period of the tribe of Benjamin: Saul, of the tribe of Benjamin, would be the first king of Israel and would devour his enemies. 

The first interpretation, however, is baffling. 

The “concubine of Gibeah” and its aftermath were one of the most horrific events in the Jewish people's history in the land of Israel. A mob in Gibeah, a town in the tribal portion of Benjamin, violated a Levite's concubine, leading to her death. To demonstrate his outrage, the Levite dismembered her corpse and sent her remains to each of the tribes. After the Benjaminites refused to hand over the perpetrators, the other tribes waged war and decimated the tribe of Benjamin, of whom only 600 men survived. Before the battle, The other tribes had taken an oath not to allow their daughters to marry men from Benjamin. After the war, the other tribes felt remorse at having doomed Binjamin to extinction. To circumvent their oath, the other tribes allowed the Benjaminites to “grab” wives from Shiloh. 

Of all the blessings Jacob could have blessed his beloved child Benjamin, why did he begin with the most tragic event in Benjamin's future? What kind of a blessing is it that after the tribe was nearly wiped out, they had to “grab” “devour” girls of other tribes to avert extinction? 

While, on the surface, “devouring wolf” does not appear to be an appropriate blessing, Chassidic philosophy explains that, in reality, the blessing to Benjamin is perhaps the greatest blessing of all. The blessing to Benjamin, the final blessing Jacob gave to his children, is also the most profound. The devouring wolf represents the ability to turn around after moral and physical failure. Despite being, in the aftermath of the war, in the absolute lowest abyss, physically, spiritually, and morally, the Benjaminites were able to change course. They were able to forcibly “devour” and pull themselves away from the negative behavior and attitudes that led to their downfall and seek to rehabilitate and refine. The devouring wolf represents the inner force, strength, and courage necessary to pull one away from one’s habits and character and begin a new path. 

When the tribes saw the transformation in Benjamin's surviving members, they too sought to help Benjamin rehabilitate and take their place amongst the tribes of Israel once again. 

The blessing to Benjamin, the ability to gather the courage, to transform negativity into growth and rehabilitation, reflects the theme of the second half of the book of Genesis. As Joseph reiterates to his brothers after the passing of his father: “Indeed, you intended evil against me, but G-d designed it for good, in order to bring about what is at present to keep a great populace alive.” The entire episode of Joseph, spanning the last four portions of Genesis, expresses this truth: while there is evil in this world, while the brothers sought to do evil to Joseph, G-d blesses us, as he blessed Joseph, with the ability to transform the evil into an opportunity for growth and life. 

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos Vayechi 25:2 


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