On the verse:1 “And he fell on the neck of Benyamin his brother and wept, and Benyamin wept on his neck,” our Sages comment:2

[Yosef] cried for the two Batei HaMikdash (— as alluded to by the fact that צוארי, translated as neck, employs a plural form —) that would be built in the tribal portion of Benyamin and would be destroyed. Benyamin... wept for the Sanctuary of Shiloh that would be built in the tribal portion of Yosef and would be destroyed.

The Midrash explains3 why the neck is used as an analogy for the Beis HaMikdash in its interpretation of the verse:4 “Your neck is like the Tower of David.” Just as the neck is at the top of a person’s body, so, too, the Beis HaMikdash is located at the top of the world.” The expression “at the top of the world” is not, however, to be interpreted as meaning the highest point in the world. For, as our Sages5 comment on the verse6 “He shall dwell between his shoulders,” the Beis HaMikdash is 23 cubits lower than the spring of Eitam, just as a person’s neck, though at a high point on his body, is slightly lower than his head. On the contrary, it was said: “Let us descend a drop, for it is written: ‘He shall dwell between his shoulders.’ There is no more attractive portion of an ox than [the place] between his shoulders.” ([According to this interpretation,] “at the top of the world” means “among the higher points of the world.”)

On the surface, the question arises: What is the advantage and the attraction of not being at the highest point? If there is no advantage in height, why do [our Sages] teach that “the Beis HaMikdash is located at the top of the world”? And if height is a positive quality7 (as it appears from our Sages’ statement), seemingly, whatever is higher is more attractive and of higher quality. What then is the reason for the Beis HaMikdash being 23 cubits lower [than the stream of Eitam]?

The above questions can be resolved by explaining the function of the neck, which serves as an intermediary between the head and the body. A person’s collective life-energy rests in the brain. Its transmission from the head to the body comes through the medium of the esophagus, trachea, and veins in the throat. A similar pattern is found with regard to the transmission of intellect from the brain. The external dimension of intellect is drawn down from the brain to the heart (and from there, its influence is spread throughout the entire body). This comes through the medium of the narrow [organ, the] throat, which is interposed between them.8 Thus the neck possesses a certain advantage even over the head, for it is the neck (and throat) that make it possible for the head’s purpose to be carried out, [enabling]:

a) all the limbs to receive their life-energy from the head; and

b) all of them to conduct themselves according to the intellect lodged in the head.

[When each is considered] as an independent entity, the head possesses an advantage over the neck. Therefore, even in a physical sense, it is higher than it. This advantage, however, applies only with regard to the order within one’s internal hierarchy. When speaking about the ultimate purpose and mission of the head, there is an advantage9 to the neck (precisely because it is lower). For it is an intermediary, and it has the power and the potential to transmit the life-energy and the intellect from the head to the body.

Similar concepts apply with regard to the Beis HaMikdash, which is described with the analogy of a neck. Its primary advantage is its slight descent from the foremost peak, for the purpose of the Beis HaMikdash is to serve as a medium through which (G‑dly) light is drawn down [to] illuminate the world,10 even the portions on the lowest levels. Therefore the Beis HaMikdash was located (on a high point, but not) on the highest point; [it was not] elevated entirely from the world. (For if so, it would not be able [to serve as a medium] to illuminate the world.) It was necessary to “descend slightly,” to come close and into connection with the world so that it could illuminate it. {This resembles a person’s neck, which — because it is lower than (the elevated station of) the head, and instead, closer to the body — is able to serve as an intermediary between the two and join them together.}

Similar concepts apply with regard to the Beis HaMikdash in microcosm that exists within every Jew.11 When his G‑dly soul is not uplifted and exalted to the point of separation from his own personal world,12 but instead is involved with it and enclothed within it to refine and purify his animal soul, body, and portion in the world, his entire existence becomes a Sanctuary for G‑d’s light.


On this basis, we can understand why Yosef wept on Benyamin’s neck and Benyamin wept on Yosef’s neck. For one might ask: Why did each weep on his brother’s neck? Why didn’t he weep on his brother’s head? For the head is the (primary and most elevated portion) of a person’s [body].

[These questions can be resolved as follows:] Man’s ultimate purpose is described by our Sages:13 “I was created solely to serve my Creator.” That service involves the consummation of G‑d’s intent in the creation of each individual [person] and the creation of the entire spiritual cosmos, [namely]: “to make a dwelling for Him in the lower realms.”14

“Everything is in the hands of Heaven except the fear of Heaven.”15 [And indeed,] fear is “the beginning of Divine service, its fundamental quality and root.”16 [Hence, the consummation of G‑d’s intent] is dependent on the Divine service of the Jewish people. They will make a dwelling for G‑d in the lower realms through each one of them refining his body, his animal soul, and his portion of the world. Therefore the fundamental element in these [efforts] (even with regard to the head) is the neck, which enables this service to be carried out.

Hence Yosef and Benyamin wept on each other’s neck and not on their head. For:

a) there is no reason to cry over the head, i.e., the soul of a Jew. For even when [a Jew] sins, “his soul is still faithful to Him.”17

b) the purpose of a Jew is not reflected by his head, [which is associated with] the service of the soul for itself, but in its neck, [which relates to the soul’s] effect on the body, the animal soul, and its portion in the world,18 as above.


Explanation is, nevertheless, required: Why did Yosef weep over the Batei HaMikdash that were built in the tribal portion of Benyamin while Benyamin wept over the Sanctuary built in the tribal portion of Yosef? Seemingly, each one of them should have wept over the destruction of the Sanctuary or Beis HaMikdash that took place in his own tribal portion. For ultimately, “a person is close to his own self.”19

([One’s connection with his own self is so powerful that] even with regard to the mitzvah of loving one’s fellow Jew — and even with regard to the explanations in Chassidus20 about the great quality and extent of this love — [the command obligating this love is] neverthe­less to: “Love your neighbor as yourself,” i.e., only a comparison is possible. One can never actually reach the same degree of love with which one loves his own self.21 Indeed, Iggeres HaKodesh quotes — indeed, in the same Epistle22 that elaborates on the importance of giving generously to tzedakah as an expression of kindness — [our Sages’ ruling]23 that when a person has only one jug of water [and he needs the entire quantity for himself], he should not share it, for “your own life takes precedence.”

Therefore certainly both [Yosef and Benyamin] were more concerned with their own Sanctuaries. Hence, seemingly, their weeping should have been focused primarily on the destruction of the Sanctuaries [built in their own portions].

There is another point that requires explanation: On the verse:24 “And [Yosef] fell on [Yaakov’s] neck and wept on his neck excessively,” the Zohar25 states that Yosef wept over the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash. (In this way, the Zohar explains why “he wept on his neck excessively.” The additional weeping was over “the final exile” which is the longest exile [our people have faced].)

[On the surface,] it is perplexing why Yosef alone wept over the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash while Yaakov did not. Rashi,26 quoting our Sages, explains that Yaakov did not cry, because he was reciting the Shema. According to the Zohar, however, this explanation is insufficient.

[To explain:] According to the simple meaning of the above verse, [Yosef] was not [necessarily] crying because of the destruction. [In that context,] the explanation that Yaakov “did not fall on Yosef’s neck and did not kiss him” because he was reciting the Shema emphasizes the greatness of Yaakov’s Divine service. Despite the fact that this was the first time he had seen his son after so many years when he had thought that he was not alive, he, nevertheless, did not interrupt his recitation of the Shema. Moreover, this awesome happiness did not prevent him from reciting (the first verse of) the Shema with focused attention as required.27

According to the Zohar, however, [the question remains]: How is it possible that Yaakov was not overcome by emotion and was not disturbed by the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash? How was it possible for him to focus his attention on the recitation of the Shema?


The concepts can be explained as follows: With regard to worldly matters, why does someone cry? [To release tension and] make himself feel better. As we see, when a person cries over a matter that causes him difficulty and aggravation, the crying does not have the power to rectify the circumstances that prompted him to cry. But, as alluded to in the verse28 “My tears were like bread for me,” crying makes the person feel better. This leads to the obvious conclusion that when a person has the potential to correct a matter, he should not calm himself by crying. Instead, he should do what he can to correct it.

Therefore when a person sees the destruction of a colleague’s Beis HaMikdash, he shares his colleague’s pain and cries. But (the fundamental) correction [of the problem] and the rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash anew is not dependent on him, but on his colleague. He can and, [indeed,] he is obligated to help his colleague by:

a) reproving him (in a pleasant manner);

b) arousing [Divine] mercy for him and praying for him.

Nevertheless, the negation of the sins that caused the destruction of his colleague’s Beis HaMikdash is dependent on his colleague, and that colleague has free choice. [Therefore,] when one has done everything that he can to help his colleague, and he sees that his colleague’s Beis HaMikdash remains destroyed, his soul will be touched and he will cry.

[This refers to one’s relations with others.] When, by contrast, a person sees that his own Beis HaMikdash has been destroyed, he cannot content himself with sighing and weeping.29 On the contrary, he must try to correct [the situation] and build anew by performing his Divine service [in a manner that] brings about an individual experience of redemption for himself.30

The [only] exception is when the weeping comprises tears of teshuvah. In that instance, the weeping itself is an act of building, as implied by the verse:31 “Place my tears in Your jug.”

[But with regard to ordinary] weeping, it can, at times, weaken one’s work to rebuild his own Beis HaMikdash, for he will think that he has fulfilled his obligation by weeping.

Accordingly, both Yosef and Benyamin wept over the Sanctuary that was in the other’s portion. And Yaakov did not weep about the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash, but instead, recited the Shema. For Yaakov was the father of the entire Jewish people and thus both the Sanctuary [of Shiloh] and the Beis HaMikdash were “in his portion,” [i.e., relevant to him]. Accordingly, [by reciting the Shema,] he was involved in correcting and rebuilding the Beis HaMikdash.

For the purpose of the Beis HaMikdash is to be “a house prepared for sacrifices to be offered.”32 And “Whoever recites the Shema... is considered as if he brought a burnt-offering and sacrifices,”33 for the fundamental aspect of the sacrifices is [expressed by the interpretation of the verse:] “[When] a man from [among] you offers a sacrifice to G‑d,”34 [that the sacrifice must come “from you.” This is achieved through] reciting the Shema and [expressing] mesirus nefesh, [its spiritual counterpart] — to dedicate one’s soul [completely] when reciting “[G‑d is] one,” and [when reciting “Love G‑d] with all your soul,” [to make a commitment to express that love] “even when one seeks to take your soul.”35


Hence, there is no room for the question: Since with the spirit of prophecy one sees that the Sanctuary and the Beis HaMikdash will be destroyed and that this has been decreed from Above, what [then] is there to do? For our Sages have already declared:36 “Even when a sharp sword is placed on a person’s neck, he should not refrain from [seeking G‑d’s] mercy.” Even when a Heavenly decree has been issued, through Divine service it can be rent,37 as we find with regard to King Chizkiyahu. Yeshayahu communicated to him the prophecy wherein it was decreed that Chizkiyahu would die. Chizkiyahu told him: “Cease your prophesying and depart,” and “He turned his face to the wall and prayed to G‑d.”38 And his prayer was effective; [G‑d assured him:] “I have heard your prayer,” and granted him fifteen more years of life, i.e., an increase of life here in this material world.39


Our Sages state:40 “[In] every generation when the Beis HaMikdash is not rebuilt, it is considered as if it was destroyed.” Similarly, with regard to every individual:41 If the Beis HaMikdash is not built in his days, that is a sign that his individual Beis HaMikdash is destroyed. For if his own Divine service, i.e., his individual Beis HaMikdash were perfect, Mashiach would come and build the [actual] Beis HaMikdash.42

The intent and the purpose is not that contemplationof the above will lead to sighing and weeping, but rather to deed and action, one’s individual redemption,43 and the building of the Beis HaMikdash within his own soul. This in turn will hasten and draw down the greater Redemption and the rebuilding of the actual Beis HaMikdash in its place by Mashiach. May this take place in the immediate future.

(Adapted from Sichos Shabbos Parshas Vayigash, 5725)