Miketz - Royalty and Redemption
By Rabbi Aron Tendler
In last week's Parsha we were introduced to Yehudah. Yehudah, progenitor of
royalty and redemption, was presented as a tortured soul struggling to
understand his place within the evolving nation. As the fourth son he did
not assume that the leadership position would be his. He would first have
to suffer trial and tribulation before accepting his ordained destiny as king.
Yehudah was divinely gifted with a judicial sense of fairness and humility.
He knew that his brother's approach to Yoseph was wrong. There may have
been cause to be concerned about Yoseph, his dreams, and assumed ambitions;
however, they had no right to be the judges and jury of their own brother.
Their concerns and fears about Yoseph were much too personal. The Brothers
could not be objective and impartial in their deliberations about Yoseph.
The Medresh tells us that when the Brothers went to "Dosan" (37:17) they
went to judge Yoseph. They assembled as a court and judged him guilty and
deserving of capitol punishment. The Piyut (liturgy) on Yom Kippur
associates the deaths of the Ten Martyrs as punishment for Yoseph being
sold into slavery. While relating the story of the Ten Martyrs, the Piyut
describes the Ten Martyrs as the only one's worthy of sitting in judgment
of the 10 sons of Yakov.
"He (the Roman governor) commanded, 'Judge this case... What is the law if
a man kidnapped a brother and sold him?' They (the Ten Martyrs) answered,
'The kidnapper is to die.' Said he, 'What of your ancestors who sold their
brother? Now you must accept the heavenly judgment upon yourselves for
since your forefathers' times there have been none like you. Were they
alive (at the time when the Second Bais Hamikdash was destroyed because of
Sinas Chinum - purposeless hatred) I would have prosecuted them before you,
so you must bear the sin of your ancestors."
Clearly, the Sages believed that the Brothers were wrong for selling Yoseph
into slavery. However, although they were wrong for selling Yoseph, G-d
nevertheless smiled upon them and made their wrong into something right.
G-d took their purposeless hatred and constructed from it the means of
Possibly, this is the meaning of the Talmudic statement that Mashiach will
come in one of two ways. Either the world will do Teshuva and the Redeemer
will come, or, things will get so bad that He will have no other choice but
to send the Mashiach. In other words, the Sinas Chinum - purposeless hatred
will be converted into the mechanism of redemption.
Hoping that G-d's judicial benevolence will convert our evil into a good is
fundamental to our belief in G-d's goodness. As we say in the Lecha Dodi,
"The end result was G-d's original intention." This belief - Emunah was
intrinsic to Yehudah's strategic thinking. He was willing to take a chance.
He was willing to risk lives in order to save them. He willingly sold
Yoseph to the Yishmiaylim in order to save him from the clutches of the
Brothers. He willingly risked living away from the spiritual and emotional
support of his family and chanced the negative influences of the Canaanite
society in order to begin his family and move beyond the loss of Yoseph.
However, although Yehudah's approach was fundamentally sound, his strategy
was fatally flawed.
It is true that we must trust G-d and His benevolent control over time and
circumstance. It is true that we must believe that in the end all will turn
out good. It is true that we must be willing to take risks, even to the
extent of putting our lives in danger in order to facilitate redemption.
However, our belief in G-d must first start with ourselves. We must be
willing to risk our own lives and spiritual safety before risking the lives
and souls of others.
Yehudah risked Yoseph's safety, not his own, when he suggested selling him
to the Yishmiaylim. His strategy was to consign Yoseph into the care of G-d
and let Him take care of the future. In the end all would be right, all
would be as G-d intended. However, Yehudah should have first risked his own
safety by directly confronting his brother's decision to kill Yoseph before
risking Yoseph's life.
Yehudah risked the lives of his future children when he moved away from the
insular protection of Yakov's household. Yehudah may have had the right to
risk his own spirituality by living among the Canaanites but he had no
right to risk the education of his future children. As we know, he risked
it and the gamble failed. Yet, Hashem did not forsake Yehudah. In the end,
all turned out good. In the end he married Tamar and began the process for
eventual redemption and salvation. In the end, Yehudah's approach proved to
be fundamentally sound, although his strategy was fatally flawed.
In last week's Rabbi's Notebook I contrasted Yehudah willingly assuming
risks with Yoseph being put at risk. In Yehudah's case, although in the end
it turned out to be good, there were painful and tragic consequences that
others besides Yehudah had to endure. The ultimate success came on the
shoulders of failure. G-d did not protect the process as much as He guided
On the other hand, Yoseph did not choose to be put at risk. He was sold
into slavery against his will. He would have never chosen to be alone
within the pagan and immoral Egyptian society. However, he had no choice.
He had to survive regardless of the difficulties. Therefore, his trials and
tribulations remained individual. He endured the loneliness and pain,
because he had no other choice. However, G-d helped him and protected him
so that in the end he successfully did the seemingly impossible. He raised
two sons worthy of being counted among the sons of Israel. G-d protected
the process the same way that He guided the outcome.
In this week's Parsha Yehudah's story becomes secondary to Yoseph's tale.
However, Yehudah's story is no less significant. With a little insight into
the Parsha, we can trace Yehudah's evolution into the progenitor of royalty
There are two instances in Parshas Miketz where Yehudah takes center stage.
Following the return of the Brothers from Mitzrayim, Yakov expressed his
reluctance at sending Binyamin to Egypt. However, when the food ran out he
was forced to send the Brothers back to Mitzrayim. Yehudah was the one who
took the lead in reminding Yakov of the condition of their return. "We were
sternly warned, 'Do not see my face unless your brother (Binyamin) is with
you." (43:3) Yakov reiterated his concerns and Yehudah told his father that
he would take full responsibility for Binyamin's safety. Rashi (43:9)
references the Medresh that explains Yehudah's guarantee to Yakov. " If
Binyamin is not returned safely, I will have sinned in this world and in
the World To Come." On the basis of Yehudah's assurance, Yakov sent
Binyamin to Mitzrayim.
At the end of the Parsha, after Yoseph had successfully framed Binyamin by
placing the golden goblet in his saddlebags, Yehudah stepped forward. It
was Yehudah that confronted the accusation on behalf of all the brothers
and the Pasuk refers to them as, "And Yehudah and the Brothers returned to
Yoseph's palace." (44:14) Yehudah is clearly identified as leader of the
Why was Yehudah silent during their first visit to Egypt? The entire
problem started at the beginning of the first trip when Yoseph first
accused them. Yehudah was conspicuously silent. If he was their leader and
eventual king, why didn't he speak out?
The story of Yehudah is not the tale of a leader and king; it is the tale
of how Yehudah became the leader and king. Like all G-d given potential,
leadership qualities must be nurtured. The potential evolves into character
through trial, success, and failure. From the moment that Yehudah suggested
that the Brother's sell Yoseph rather than kill him, Yehudah entered the
arena of his potential. His intuition and judicial sense were correct,
however his decisions and strategies were still raw.
Following his exile from the family and the incident with Tamar, Yehudah
learned two basic lessons.
1. He needed the family and their support. He was not intended to stand
alone in the face of the outside world. As king he stood on the shoulders
of his nation. As king, he needed the protective environment of Eretz Yisroel.
2. If necessary, he was personally prepared to risk everything on behalf of
the family / nation. His life as king was to serve the nation. Without them
he was nothing. Therefore, he was prepared to risk everything, including
his portion in the World To Come. However, as the leader his strategies had
to succeed; he could no longer afford for them to fail.
The first trip to Mitzrayim was filled with surprises. Yehudah, as the
potential leader did not see where his intervention would make a
difference. He chose instead to remain silent and see what would happen. He
elected to trust G-d and see what He had in mind. Yehudah was absolutely
correct. After being in prison for three days the situation had drastically
changed. From one brother returning to Canaan to fetch Binyamin and the
rest staying behind as hostages, one brother would stay behind as a hostage
and the rest would return to fetch Binyamin. (See Rabbi's Notebook, Miketz
1999) Besides, Yehudah needed to be in Eretz Yisroel before he could make a
decision affecting the future of the family. His strength was directly
linked to the land, and he did not trust himself away from Eretz Yisroel.
Yehudah's first opportunity to take action as leader took place when the
food ran out. Yakov's reluctance to send Binyamin was endangering the
family and something had to be done. Yehudah stepped forward and confronted
Yakov. However, Yehudah was well prepared. Upon their return from their
first trip Reuven had attempted (42:37) to negotiate with Yakov regarding
Binyamin's going to Mitzrayim. However, Reuven failed because the need
wasn't great enough, Yakov was not ready to deal, and Reuven was not
offering sufficient security. Yehudah on the other hand, waited patiently
until the family's need for food would force the issue to a head. He then
played his hand and offered Yakov the ultimate security - himself. He put
himself on the line in the manner of true royalty and leadership.
The second scene, after Binyamin was accused of stealing Yoseph's goblet,
further proved Yehudah's metamorphosis into kingship. The family was under
attack and he was on the line! At first the family responded without
identifying Yehudah as the leader. However, once "discovering" the goblet
had substantiated the accusation, it was Yehudah who took the lead. Upon
returning to Yoseph's palace Yehudah was finally ready to act as a king.
Yehudah was ready to risk everything for the sake of his nation. Yehudah
was ready to be the progenitor of royalty and redemption.
Copyright © 2001 by Rabbi Aron Tendler
and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation,
Valley Village, CA.