Not Just a Nutshell
"And Yehudah approached him..." The Torah narrates the dramatic climax of
the episode with Yosef and his brothers. Yosef deliberately frames his
youngest brother Binyomin, "catching him" with his "stolen" silver goblet.
"The one who was found with the cup will be my slave, and the rest of you
will go up to your father in peace."
We know from the previous parsha that Yehudah took full responsibility to
bring Binyomin back from Egypt alive and well. It was up to Yehudah to
appeal for his release from Yosef, who was disguised. "Please, my master,
we only came down here to begin with to buy food...and my master asked us
if we had a father or a brother...and you said to your servants 'bring him
(your brother) down to me so that I may see him. And we said to my master
'the young man is not able to leave his father...' And you told us 'if you
don't bring your brother you may not see me again.' And now how can I go
back up to my father without the young man (Binyomin) with us? Their souls
are very closely bound to one another." Yehudah then suggested that he
remain as a slave in Binyomin's place, "lest I see the evil that will
befall my father." At that point Yosef was no longer able to contain his
emotions, so he sent everyone out besides his brothers, and he began to
cry, and he said "I am Yosef " and he revealed himself to his brothers.
The S'fas Emes, Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter, explains that this episode
between Yehudah and Yosef is an analogy to a deeper thought, and its
message is applicable to us at all times as well.
The S'fas Emes explains that the name Yehudah comes from the Hebrew root
word which means to thank or acknowledge. When Yehudah was born, the fourth
child to Leah, she acknowledged G-d's kindness to her in giving her this
child, and she memorialized her feelings in his name. The name of a person
is his essence. Yehudah's essence is acknowledgement to G-d for everything
- great or small, and the recognition of G-d's involvement in all things.
Yosef - because his identity was hidden from his brothers - represents the
hidden quality - the G-dliness within everything.
The deeper meaning of the analogy: "And Yehudah approached him." That means
to say "Yehudah" employing his trait of acknowledgement and recognition
that G-d was behind this event which was unfolding - "approached him." When
one views life with the uncompromising perspective that G-d is involved in
everything (Yehudah), the end result is that the hidden hand of G-d will
ultimately reveal itself (Yosef revealing himself).
We see that there is a way to break down barriers and to see a deeper truth
contained within everything. Yehudah accomplished this with his attitude
and approach to Yosef. I dare say that in our daily interaction with people
the same is true.
A teacher I know once had a student whose family circumstances were
somewhat complicated. She did not live with her biological parents. She was
an intelligent girl, but she was not confident about her own abilities.
Socially, things were not going very smoothly for her either. Her teacher
was able to turn her around and make her a happier, more confident student
in the following way. She would genuinely praise her saying that she was a
source of pleasure for her. "You give me so much nachas (pleasure)." From
the moment she began doing that, the child began putting in effort to
maintain the perception which the teacher had created, and the relationship
between student and teacher was very warm. The girl's feeling that her
teacher valued her so much even positively affected the way she carried
herself and conducted her everyday affairs. I believe that this teacher
succeeded in breaking down the barriers in this child, and tapped the
potential greatness latent in her. She contributed to the good of this
child in a very profound way, and I know that it lasted for many subsequent
When we unconditionally convey to a person that they are someone very
special, we can break down the barriers and what will be revealed to us
will exceed our expectations. This attitude never fails on some level --
but only on the condition that it be genuine.
From the wise words of the Sfas Emes, we understand that there is always
more to life than meets the eye. What we see at first glance is like a
shell, and we can never benefit from what is contained under the shell if
we think it is empty. Just as Yehudah was able to uncover the depth of his
situation, so too should we endeavor to see beyond that which meets the eye.
Rabbi Chaim Dovid Green
Text Copyright © 2001 Rabbi Dovid Green and
Project Genesis, Inc.