After seeing that Benyamin would be ensnared in a thievery set-up and be retained in Egypt as a slave, Yehuda stepped forward and implored Yosef to reconsider the sentence. Yehuda’s argument, which is recorded in no less than nineteen verses, is quite long and detailed and much of it seems irrelevant or unnecessary. Why did it matter that Ya’akov did not want to let Binyamin leave home to travel to Egypt? Also, Yehuda dramatically describes what will happen to Ya’akov if they return home without Binyamin. The consequence that Binyamin would have to face is a legal and punitive issue which is based on justice, and justice doesn’t take the impact a ruling will have on a criminal’s family into consideration. Why did Yehuda include these factors in his statement?
Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchick (1820 – 1892, commonly referred to as the Beis Halevi), author of Halachic responsa, a commentary on the books of Bereishit and Shemot and progenitor of the Brisker rabbinic dynasty, offers an explanation that enters into the realm of parenting and parental responsibility. When a criminal is punished, his parents and family suffer along with him to some extent. Why do they have to suffer if they never committed a crime? If the parents were somehow negligent in their duty to raise and supervise their child, when their child becomes a criminal and harms society they may deserve to suffer themselves on some level. But parents that were not negligent it their child’s upbringing wouldn’t deserve to suffer if their child wrongs or harms others. Nevertheless, as mentioned above human justice dictates that the unintended suffering of a criminal’s family is an irrelevant but unavoidable factor when punishing for a crime. Yehuda argued that there is one exception to this rule. If a parent is not negligent in raising the child, and the judge himself is a cause or at least an enabler of the child committing the crime, it is not fair for the parent to suffer by the punitive hand of that judge. Ya’akov stubbornly refused to let Binyamin journey out of his home; he was certainly not an irresponsible parent that allowed his son to wander without supervision. He only acquiesced to let him go when coerced by Yosef’s demand and the famine in Canaan. Therefore, said Yehuda, even if Binyamin actually would have committed this crime, in this situation it is wrong for Yosef to punish Binyamin in a way that will impact his father.
Our responsibility for our children’s behavior is an area that is subject to dialectical tension. On the one hand, as parents and grandparents we are responsible for what our children and grandchildren do and how they act; we must therefore educate and train them. On the other hand, children are individuals with their own temperaments, personalities and desires and will often choose to disregard all of our training and educating. In reality, both of these conflicting truths lead to attitudes that parents must maintain in different contexts. When it comes to giving of our love, experience, and attention, we must focus on our responsibility and give them all generously and unceasingly. But when it comes to our expectations of results and compliance with our vision, we must release the reins and acknowledge that we are not in control. With the Almighty’s help, by keeping these ideas in mind we can be both successful and happy parents and grandparents.