This parashah starts with the request by Judah to remain as Joseph’s slave instead of Benjamin. At this final show of humility, sacrifice and love, Joseph cannot contain himself any longer and reveals his true identity to them.
When we learn about this Torah portion we often discuss the fact that Joseph was testing his brothers to see if they had learned their lesson. But what lesson was that, in Joseph’s mind? Was it to be concerned for each other? Was it to see if they were no longer allowing their jealousy to rule their actions? Or was it that they could truly feel love for Benjamin, their father’s favorite (just as Joseph had been) to the point of sacrificing their own freedom or life, for him?
I think Joseph finally trusted them when Judah’s entreaty was entirely focused on Yakov, who Joseph loved with all his heart. He wasn’t asking to release Benjamin because Benjamin was only a youngster (although he was probably in his early or mid twenties by then); he didn’t ask that he remain instead just because of his promise to Yakov to care for Benjamin and ensure his safety (although this was a part of the request.) I think what showed Joseph the true change in his brothers was that Judah’s request was solely and completely focused on the welfare of his father. The final plea was in order to prevent Judah from having to see his father overwhelmed by grief.
This shows us how we are to act towards our parents, and elders, and each other, too. We are to put their welfare ahead of ours. Yeshua said that there is no love greater than the love of one who lays down his life for his friends; not just for parents or siblings, but for friends. If we are that devoted to friends, how much more so should we be devoted to family?
Judah was asking to replace Benjamin not so much because of his promise to Yakov, but out of love for Yakov. If the promise of protection had not been made, I wonder if Judah would have still came forward and asked to replace Benjamin. We can’t make an argument from nothing, but I would like to think that one of them would have stepped forward, at this point in their lives, for their father’s sake.
In this case, Judah’s request to stay in the place of Benjamin was enough to show Joseph that they had changed. And in keeping with Joseph’s test of them, he passed his own test of love when he immediately told them, once he revealed himself, that they should not be upset or angry with themselves, or feel remorse about their evil deeds against him, because it was all an act of God. It was God who caused this to happen so that Joseph would be where he is, which will allow the children of Israel to be able to survive and grow into the nation of Israel.
The lesson that I see in this parashah is an easy one to understand- love each other, protect each other, care for each other, and be concerned for each other’s feelings over your own. Judah was more concerned for his father than he was for himself; in fact, more than he was for his own family, as his slavery to Joseph would have caused much distress with his own wife and children.
Joseph’s statement and revelation that God was behind this all the time reminds me of the statement Mordekhai makes to Hadassah (Esther) when he asks her to intercede with the king on behalf of all the Jews in Asia. He tells her, “Who knows whether you didn’t come into your royal position precisely for such a time as this.”
Over the past couple of parashot, and finally in this one, we see a sort of precursor to the story of Esther, don’t we? A Jew, a foreigner and slave to the people where he lived, of no real importance to anyone there, taken into the palace and made head of all the peoples. And, more than that, in that position he was able to save not just his own people, but the people who enslaved him. Joseph saved Egypt and the people surrounding Egypt, and Esther saved more than just the Jews in Asia: by preventing the Persians from doing harm to the Jews she saved them, as well. Doesn’t God promise that He will curse those who curse His people, but bless those that bless them? If the Persians, as a people, had tried to destroy the Jews, wouldn’t God have come down on them like a ton of bricks?
Of course, although this episode went well for the Persians, they didn’t stay friendly to the Jewish people. Today, Persia is still a nation (Iran) but they are on the Holy Hit list, believe-you-me, and the day of reckoning will come upon them.
The story of Joseph is one of the greatest tales in the Bible- heck! in the world!- of rising from the lowliest social position one can be in to one of greatness, all because he kept his faith in God, and was always obedient to God’s commandments. Throughout the Bible we see how this attitude has allowed the humble to achieve greatness: Abraham, Joseph, Moshe, Hadassah, Gideon, Yeshua, and the Talmudim of Yeshua. Men of no worldly importance, who, by God’s grace and actions and intercession, have saved millions, maybe billions, of people from eternal damnation. And how did they do this? By remaining humble and faithfully obedient to God.
The world says to watch out for Numero Uno. God says to forget Numero Uno and watch out for all the other numbers, and trust in Him to watch out for you.
The Bible proves that God’s way works better than the world’s way. Who will you listen to?