Vayigash –Genesis 44:18 to 47:27: In this parsha we see two leaders – Joseph and Judah. A look at the following from past weeks will demonstrate how Judah rises above his brothers to the leadership role he shows when confronted by Joseph.
“Judah now approached him (Joseph) and said, by your leave, my lord, please give your servant a hearing…” (Gen. 44:18) Thus, Judah begins the longest speech in Genesis – 18 verses. Jacob’s youngest son, Benjamin, has been accused of stealing a silver goblet. For this crime, he is to become a slave of Pharaoh. History repeats itself! Jacob’s can lose his second son by Rachel to Egyptian slavery. The brothers realize the crushing effect this will have on their father. Can the sentence be reversed?
Judah steps forward and speaks to the person that the brothers do not recognize as Joseph. Judah explains that Benjamin is one of two sons by a wife who is dead. Judah states that the other brother is also dead and that his father deeply loves this younger brother. If he doesn’t return, it will kill their father. Judah finishes his comments with the following: “If I don’t bring him (Benjamin) back to (Jacob), I will stand guilty before my father for all time. So now, please let your servant (Judah, himself) remain as my lord’s slave in place of the lad, and let the lad go home with his brothers; for how can I go home to my father without the lad, and thus see the harm my father will suffer?” (Gen. 44:32-34)
Through the actions of this speech, Judah is performing a significant act of redemption. One the signs of redemption is taking the right action, after being presented a situation a second time where the wrong action was taken the first time. Years ago he sold Joseph into slavery…. Now, his younger brother is also heading toward slavery. But this time Judah acts. Judah has become a changed and redeemed person.
During the past weeks we have seen Joseph rise to power. But, there is another story showing the growth of Judah. Judah is actually the fourth son of Joseph and not destined for leadership. (Reuben was first-born, followed by Simeon, Levi). This week we see Judah step forward as the leader to save Benjamin. And, as time goes forward, the tribe of Judah will become the most powerful. And, as history shows, the Jewish people are named through Judah.
Although, the text spends most of the time relating the story of Joseph, Judah plays a significant role. Looking back to the beginning of the Joseph saga. The brothers despised Joseph. While they were tending their sheep, they saw him approaching and began plotting to kill him. Instead of killing him, they threw him into the pit with no water. Surely they understood that this was a death sentence. Later the brothers saw a group of Ishmaelite traders approaching. Judah then said to his brothers, “How will it profit us if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? Let us rather sell him to the Ismaelites, then our hand will not be on him; after all, his is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers heeded him.” (Gen. 37:21-27) Even though Judah may have saved Joseph’s life, he was still part of the plot to remove Joseph from their lives.
Then we read about Judah and Tamar. Judah arranged for the marriage of Tamar to his son Er. According to Torah, “Er was wicked in the sight of the Eternal, and the Eternal brought about his death.” Judah than arranged for his next oldest son, Onan, to wed Tamar and have children in the name of his dead brother. “But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his, so whenever he coupled with his brother’s wife, he would waste his seed on the ground, in order not to produce offspring for his brother. What he did was wicked in the sight of the Eternal, who brought about his death, as well.” Judah then promised his youngest son, Shelah, to Tamar when he was old enough to marry…. Time passed, and Shelah grew older, but was not married because Judah was afraid that his son would also die.
After Judah’s wife dies, Tamar learns about the travel routes of Judah, covers her face with a veil, and stations herself along the road Judah will travel. When Judah saw her, he mistook her for a prostitute and asked to “couple” with her. He did not have pay for her services and left his signet, seal, and staff as proof that he would pay the following day. However, she could not be found the next day.
Tamar became pregnant and when Judah discovered this, he ordered her death because she was to marry his son. Tamar did not announce that Judah was the father; instead she just presented the identifying objects and Judah realized he was the father…. And that he was guilty by prohibiting Tamar from marriage and having children. He admitted his error by announcing, “She is more in the right than I, for certainly I did not give her to my son Shelah.” Judah had grown and was now able to admit when he was wrong. (Gen. 38:1-26) Tamar had twin sons, the second born named Perez, whose line was to include King David.
Then, we come to the present parsha, and learn about how Judah takes the role of leadership to save his brother from slavery.
So, we see two brothers become great leaders in Jewish history. It is interesting to note that neither Judah or Joseph were first born…. And also the offspring of Perez (second born) becomes King of Israel. So none of the first-born of the families of Torah become the leaders … Ishmael and Isaac, Esau and Jacob, Reuben and Joseph / Judah , and finally Tamars’s sons – Zerah and Perez. What is wrong with the first born?….. While an interesting subject, I thing that’s a subject for another day.
All Torah quotations appear in Blue type and are from The Torah – A Modern Commentary; Gunther Plaut, Editor; Revised Edition