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Vayigash 5783 ~ December 30, 2022

One of the most difficult questions in our Torah reading for this Shabbat is Judah’s as he approaches the vizier of Egypt. Unbeknownst to him that the actual individual is his brother Joseph, Judah pleads for what appears to be the freedom of his brother Benjamin.

As one reads through the text more carefully, one might assume that the request is for Judah himself and not Benjamin.  Having given himself as a surety to his father, that not one hair of Benjamin’s would be touched, and that he himself, Judah, would be ultimately responsible to his father if anything would happen to Benjamin, the request seems to be for Judah’s wellbeing. In that instance, the altruism associated with saving his brother seems to go by the wayside. 

As we continue to read the request, we see that Judah was willing to give himself in his brother’s stead and become the slave of the vizier of Pharoah. One commentary suggests that he would be of greater impact to the vizier than Benjamin might be based on either his leadership or his physical ability. And that he was simply attempting to create an allure that would raise his stature, even as a slave or prisoner.

Or might it be that Judah was simply following through on the promise made to his father. “I might as well be down here taking the brunt of the blame and punishment, rather than return to face my father’s wrath first hand.”  In that regard, this scene is rather touching, commanding and convincing. So much so, that the Biblical narrator shares with us that Joseph himself is brought to tears by this moment of Judah accepting culpability and his willingness to take a life-altering punishment in his brother Benjamin’s stead.

But, if one looks even more closely at Judah’s words, one recognizes that what Judah is actually most worried about is not his own welfare or even that of his brother’s. What Judah is most concerned about is the welfare of his father Jacob stating: “When he sees the boy is not worth it, he (his father Jacob) will die, and your servants will send the white head of your servant our father down to Sheol in grief.” (Genesis 45:31)

Might it be that Judah’s question is not addressed to himself, but rather to the vizier? Might he actually be asking the second command of Egypt, “If this was your father, would you want to be the cause of your own father’s death?” It was those words that finally convinced Joseph to reveal himself and stop the charade. It was only once Joseph had not only identified with Judah as a son, but recognized that he himself would be responsible for his father’s death by his continuing actions, that he understood what the real question was.

Or might it be that Judah had somehow identified his brother Joseph behind the mask of king, but also recognized that the dream that Joseph had described was being played out. If he somehow altered that dream, then history might not happen as it was supposed to.  So the question might not even be about his father, but about insuring the dreams?

As I think about these last two thoughts, I am mindful of the many ways in which our children, now adults, might be relating to us as their parents. What are their obligations to us, if any? Do they sense them as both they, and we, get older? One of my kids used to joke saying: “Dad, don’t worry, when the time comes, we will simply put you in a wheelchair and push you over the edge of the cliff!” In reality, that child’s humor is anything but the truth. At least, I hope it is! And for all of us as we get older, I hope that we can witness our children’s true care for each one of us.

And with the last thought, as we are now about to celebrate the ushering in of the secular new year of 2023, the question might not be how we alter the history of our lives, but how do we make it even better? May you be so inspired.

Shabbat Shalom and a Happy 2023,

Rabbi K

Sat, April 1 2023 10 Nisan 5783