Bible studies with Don Isaac Abravanel’s commentary (also spelled Abarbanel) has withstood the test of
time. For over five centuries, Abravanel has delighted – and enlightened – clergy and layman alike,
offering enduring interpretations of the Bible.
Don Isaac Abravanel (1437-1508) was a preeminent Jewish thinker, scholar, and prolific Biblical
commentator. In chapter 43, a heart-wrenching reunion takes place in Egypt. A disguised Joseph sets his
eyes upon his kid brother, Benjamin. However, Pharaoh’s viceroy isn’t ready to reveal his true identity
and keeps up the façade that Jacob’s sons are treacherous scoundrels and spies.
“And he lifted up his eyes, and saw Benjamin his brother, his mother’s
son, and said: Is this your youngest brother of whom you spoke unto
me? And he said: God be gracious unto you, my son.”
Abravanel asks the meaning of Joseph’s blessing to Benjamin: “And he said: God be gracious unto you,
my son.” What motivated him to bless his younger brother at this juncture? For backstory, Abravanel
calculates that Benjamin was about thirty-one-years old at the time. He adds that Benjamin was married
and a father to ten sons.
The last time that Joseph had seen Benjamin was when his little brother was five or six years old.
Further, Abravanel questions why Joseph snidely asks his brothers: “Is this your youngest brother of
whom you spoke unto me?” Pay attention to the tone.
Abravanel supplies Bible students with important context, prior to answering his questions. “And he
lifted up his eyes, and saw Benjamin…and said: Is this your youngest brother of whom you spoke unto
me?” And then immediately, Joseph blesses Benjamin: “God be gracious unto you, my son.”
Earlier, Joseph accused his brothers of espionage. They denied charges, giving more family details,
including the fact that they had a baby brother who remained in Canaan with his father. Joseph now
beheld the “baby brother”, not a baby at all.
The viceroy feigned anger. He told the men that he was led to believe by their defense that their brother
was a young boy. Joseph would then interrogate the child, who could be expected to talk the truth,
seeing that children are not yet versed in lying. “Is this your youngest brother of whom you spoke unto
me?” Joseph was hardly amused as he looked at an adult, a man in his thirties. Obviously, the young
man could read scripted lines – and lie through his teeth.
But then Joseph thought to himself, that perhaps he overplayed his pretended indignation when he
commented on his younger brother’s age and strength. Joseph sought to counterbalance the positive
description of Benjamin, as an antidote to the ill effects of the evil eye that he may have unwittingly
unleashed. Thus, blessed Benjamin. “And he said: God be gracious unto you, my son.” He prayed to the
Almighty One to bless Benjamin and watch over him, and especially to ward off the evil eye that the
viceroy may have inadvertently provoked with his injudicious words.