By Joy Scott, Am Haskalah Congregant
Last week’s parsha, Mikietz, ended with a somewhat disturbing enigma. Jacob’s ten sons had returned to Egypt to procure additional food as the famine continued. Based on the demand of the ‘Viceroy of Egypt’ (now, their brother Joseph, whom they did not recognize), they were also to bring with them Benjamin, the youngest son, much to the consternation of their elderly father, Jacob.
The men purchased their food and were leaving the city when they were suddenly ambushed by Joseph’s disciples. The men searched the bags and recovered a silver goblet, which they had obviously planted inside Benjamin’s bag. Parsha Mikeitz ends with Joseph’s words: “The person found with the goblet will be my slave” (1).
This week’s parsha, Vayigash, translates to the words: ‘he drew near’. The brothers returned to the office of the Viceroy, begging for the release of their younger brother, who had been thrown in jail. Judah was the one who ‘drew near’ to Joseph. At this point Judah did recognize the brother who he had sold to the Ishmaelites over two decades prior to this encounter (2).
In his superbly persuasive plea on behalf of Benjamin, Judah was even more Machiavellian than the scheming, powerful Viceroy of Egypt. Sir Walter Scott referred to Judah’s speech as: “the most complete pattern of genuine, natural, eloquence” (3).
Judah knew that Joseph would weaken if the focus of the appeal was on behalf of the elderly father, Jacob: “When our father requested that we return for more food, we told him of your demand to bring his youngest son, Benjamin; He said that he had already lost one son of his beloved wife; and, if misfortune also befalls Benjamin he would surely die” (4). Further, Judah said: “Please let me remain as your slave and let the lad go home with his brothers” (5). Judah was the first person in the Torah to achieve ‘perfect repentance’ (6)
Joseph turned and wept so loudly that the Egyptians could hear his cries. Then he said: “I am Joseph!” (7). In a calmer voice he claimed that it was to save lives during the famine that God sent him to Egypt (8). However, Rashi along with other sages considered his remarks pertaining to God’s role in his fate as hubris and self-aggrandizement (9).
(1) GENESIS (43:17)
(2) BAR ILAN UNIVERSITY, Tel Aviv, Israel
(3) The Torah: A Modern Commentary (p.286)
(4) GENESIS (44:21-29)
(5) GENESIS (44:33)
(6) MAIMONIDES HILKHOT TESHUVA
(7) GENESIS (44:4)
(8) GENESIS (44:5-7)