As Rochel breathed her last breath on this world, knowing fully well that she was about to die, she named her son Ben-Oni meaning the son of my pain (See Rashi). Obviously she went through great pain in order to bring him into the world. Yet Yaakov ignored her dying wish and called him Binyomin instead. This seems rather strange. What’s wrong with the name Ben-Oni? If this was his mother’s last wish, shouldn’t he have kept the name she so greatly desired? Why change it?
We find that Rashi and the Ramban argue as to the reason Yaakov called him Binyomin. Rashi says that the word yemin means south. While all the shevotim were born up north, Binyomin was the only one born on the way into Eretz Yisroel, which was to the south of Padan Arom. (While calling him “south” just because he was born down south may seem strange, it may have hinted to the fact that it would be Binyamin’s mission in life to defeat our archenemy Amolek that lived in the south.)
We find that the south can be called ours, cdb or inh,. inh, contains the word ihnh that also refers to the right. Rashi in fact brings a posuk in Tehillim where the word ihnh is actually translated as south. The south is always considered the right while the north is considered the left. That’s because in the Mishkan, the Holy of Holies was in the west and therefore the right side of the Shechina was to the south side. (See the targum in Berashish 13:9)
Actually the word “oni” has two meanings. It can mean strength as in “rashis oni,” or it can mean very deep sorrow and pain. On the day of someone’s death, a close relative who must mourn for him is called an “onein.” The day of death is the most painful day in a person’s life. Perhaps Rachel called her son Ben-Oni so that he would always remember the great pain she was willing to suffer in order to bring a son into this world. In fact, on the very day of his birth Binyomin was actually considered an onein. By naming him Ben-Oni, he would always remember how much he meant to her. She was willing to sacrifice her own life for him. He was to remember this lesson every day of his life. In fact he would be celebrating his birthday on the very day of her Yahrtzeit, on the day he had once been an onein. Her subtle message to him may have been that he should always prove himself worthy so that she wouldn’t have suffered in vain. He certainly didn’t fail her hopes in him. Binyomin is mentioned as one of the four tzadikim who died without ever having committed even one sin. His Shevet was called Hashem’s endeared or beloved one (yedid Hashem) and the Shechina rested in his territory. Every day of his life he’d be reminded that his mother had given up her own life so that he could come into this world and would try to live up to her great expectations.
Yaakov may well have been worried that Binyomin may subconsciously blame himself for his mother’s death. After all, if not for him she would still have lived. While it certainly wasn’t his fault; it was his birth that was responsible for his mother’s death. This very thought could haunt a very sensitive person. To be reminded of this fact on a daily basis may be too much for him to bear. Every time someone would call him by his name Ben-Oni, it would somehow remind him of that tragedy that occurred on the day of his birth, and that his mother suffered and had died on his account. Yaakov probably felt that this was far too much for a person to bear, and so he decided to change his name. Yet he didn’t change it completely. He kept the first part of the name “Ben” and only changed the second part. The Ramban says that he changed the word oni which can mean strength to the wordy’min which also connotes strength or power since it is the right hand which is the strong and powerful one. It was the shevet of Binyomin that needed great strength since it was he that would do battle with our archenemy Amolek. He would need all the strength he could muster in order to defeat Amolek (who lived in the south.) One must also remember that Binyomin would be the strongest of all the shevotim and Yaakov blessed him with having great power. When the ten Shevotim went into battle with Shevet Binyomin (in the incident of Pilegesh B’giva,) Shevet Binyomin was able to defeat all of them the first two days of the war. He was also considered the holiest of all the Shevotim and is called “yedid Hashem.”
Yet the shevet of Binyomin was to suffer so greatly that they were nearly totally wiped out for their complacency and inaction in the story of Pilegesh B’givah. When a holy shevet allows such immorality to occur in its midst and remains silent, all of its people are taken to task and must pay a very heavy price for it. The holier one is, the more is expected of him and the more careful he must be not to tolerate or remain silent when seeing a Chilul Shem Shomayim.