We begin today’s post finding Judah pleading to Joseph for Benjamin’s release. Let’s take a moment to reflect back a moment; it was Judah who proposed selling Joseph into slavery. He was very calloused when he suggested selling Joseph. His heart was filled with resentment towards Joseph because his father favored Joseph and Rachel more than Leah, the handmaids, and their children. He didn’t want to murder Joseph, not to save his father any pain because that wasn’t in his mind, but because they could not profit from the murder, “what will we gain?” Unlike Reuben, Judah doesn’t see the actions they are taking as wrong.
Now, let’s move back to the present…many years have passed since that day and Judah has become a changed man. He recognizes the great pain he and his brothers have brought to their father, Jacob through selling Joseph into slavery. Remember, Jacob believes Joseph is dead. Although Judah doesn’t recognize Joseph as his brother, he does recognize his powerful position. He knows that Joseph is in a position to enslave and even have someone put to death if he so chooses.
Now, Judah has approached Joseph. He and his brothers had previously approached Joseph requesting he release Benjamin, but Joseph refused. Why,then, did Judah think his approaching Joseph would make difference? Let’s a delve a little deeper…
Resentment VS Love
“Resentment presents an incredible opportunity for growth.”
It was the brother’s resentment towards Joseph that led them to where they are now. Their resentment was so great that they could not even recognize the love they had for their father, UNTIL, they saw how mournful their father was over losing Joseph. Losing Joseph did not turn their father’s attention and adoration to them, it made him even more protective over Benjamin.
Ultimately, love is beyond simply saying, “Being with you gives me extreme pleasure.”
We all want loving relationships in our lives. And yet, resentment can sour those connections. Creating a loving mutually-appreciative relationship takes skill and commitment. We see daily the challenges in creating closeness between spouses, between parents and children, and between members of a community.
How do we achieve closeness? The Torah (Instruction) warns us that the destructive forces of the universe manipulate our minds, creating “cognitive distortions” (tachbulot,in Hebrew) that justify our holding on to self-righteous resentment. Torah (Instruction) warns us that there is a seductive, addictive pleasure in self-righteous resentment, a pleasure which leaves a terrible hangover. Torah (Instruction) encourages us that we can be “bigger” than our resentments. We can choose to be generous and loving.
It would seem the brothers real anger would have been towards Jacob, their father, since he was showing such great favoritism, but they vent on Joseph.
Their anger blinds them to the consequences of their actions. For the moment, they detach (i.e., dissociate) from their underlying feelings of love for their father. They fail to foresee6 Jacob’s reaction of unending, inconsolable mourning. Once exposed to Jacob’s grief, they regret their actions. One of the sons in particular, Judah, goes into a spiritual decline.7
Jacob’s favoritism is next directed toward Joseph’s younger brother Benjamin. He sends all of his sons to Egypt to purchase food during a famine, but refuses to risk sending Benjamin. Meanwhile, Joseph has become viceroy to the king of Egypt. He tells the brothers that he will not sell them any more food unless they bring down their youngest brother. The brothers do not recognize that the viceroy is Joseph.
Jacob, at first, refuses to allow Benjamin to go, although he is willing to allow all of Leah’s sons to take the risk of returning to Egypt. Pressured and reassured by his sons, Jacob relents and Benjamin goes to Egypt. There, Benjamin is framed by Joseph, who now seizes the “criminal” Benjamin as his slave. Feeling guilty,8 the brothers offer themselves as slaves. The viceroy declines their offer, saying he will take only Benjamin.
“And Judah drew near to him.”
Judah then offers himself as a slave in place of Benjamin. He tells Joseph that Jacob will not be able to bear the loss of his youngest son, Benjamin, especially as he is the only living child of Rachel. He says, “My father’s very soul is intertwined with Benjamin’s soul.”
Judah’s actions flowed from a love that transcended ego and resentment. The brothers’ previous offer was motivated by guilt, by a fear that the predicament was G‑d’s way of punishing them. Judah’s action was based, not on guilt, but rather on a love for his father. Judah was essentially saying, “It makes no difference whether I think that my father was unfair in favoring Joseph and then Benjamin. I have reached deep within myself and know that the most important truth is that I love my father and I cannot allow him such pain. My father’s happiness is more important than my freedom or my complaints.”
Judah has overcome some of the cognitive distortions that we referred to in the opening of this article. One frequent such distortion is: “I can’t love someone who continues to do bad things to me,” or “I cannot and should not love someone who, at this point in time, does not return my love.” (For example, parents who have successfully guided their children through teenhood know that during those years a parent must be able to communicate love to the teen, even if the teen is unable to reciprocate.)
In the words “Judah approached him,” the “him” may be referring primarily to Jacob. The major point of the narrative seems to be that, at that moment, Judah was able to draw close to Jacob. In fact the last words in the sentence immediately prior to Vayigash are “el avichem” – “to your father,” referring to Jacob. So grammatically, the logical referent for “him” is Jacob. And, in fact, Judah is following the symbolic meaning of Joseph’s immediately preceding words: “return in peace to your father.”
Judah has found peace within himself; he has freed himself of hurt and jealous rage; he has returned to a loving attitude toward his father.
There is also no longer wonderment at Judah having approached the viceroy. According to this interpretation, he, in fact, did not do so. The word Vayigash refers to the emotional proximity of Judah to his father, not his physical proximity to Joseph.
The narrative is an instruction to us all about enhancing our capacity to forgive and to love. We have a choice. We can throw away our resentments—even when we are convinced that we have legitimate complaints. We can choose to be loving—as a better position than being “technically right.” We can reach the deeper part of ourselves that wants to be loving, generous, dedicated, and forgiving.
Clearly, for us, we bring about a “redemption” in our personal relationships when we follow the example of Judah. May we all say to each other, “return in peace to your father.” May we find the power to do so within ourselves, and may we experience G‑d’s reciprocity by His bringing about the ultimate redemption, with His fulfillment of the haftorah’s promise “and My servant David will be king over them,” with the literal, immediate coming of Moshiach (Messiah). ~ YISROEL SUSSKIND
John 4:24 For God is Spirit: so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.
Father, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, I thank you for Judah and his complete repentance from his resentment. There are times in our lives when we allow resentment (even righteous resentment) to poison our minds and trickle down into our hearts. When we do this, we cannot effectively show Your love and compassion to others. Lord, it is my prayer now that all resentment will be purged from our hearts and minds, and replaced with genuine, unselfish love for others. I ask you now to bring restoration into families, into churches, synagogues, and communities. I ask you to protect us from our own resentments which poison us and bring us to slow death. Help us to recognize holy from unholy, and live godly lives before those we encounter. Create in us, the changed heart of Judah. Thank you for the blessings you have graciously and compassionately bestowed upon us. In Jesus name. Amen.
- Joseph, Benjamin, and all of us (jensjewishjourney.wordpress.com)
- positive and negative feelings (newjerusalemcoming.wordpress.com)
- Parshah Vayigash (acquiescere9.wordpress.com)