Jewish Renewal and Resilience
The apparent hero and victor in the epic narrative of the saga of Yosef and
his brothers that reaches its culmination in this week’s parsha is certainly
Yosef. His dreams and ambitions are fulfilled. His brothers and father have
bowed down before him as the prophecy of his reams indicated. He takes no
further revenge against his brothers. He houses them and Yaakov in security
and prosperity in the land of Goshen and is assiduous in caring for all of
He certainly emerges from the entire bewildering and tragic events as a
heroic and noble figure, still the beloved son of his father and the heir to
the double portion birthright of the first-born. Yet, in terms of the long
range view of Jewish history, Yosef is not the vehicle of Jewish survival.
His kingdom of the northern ten tribes of Israel is relatively short-lived
and riddled with wicked kings and widespread idolatrous practice. The
kingdom of Yosef is never restored and the remnants of the northern ten
tribes are eventually absorbed into the kingdom and tribe of Judah.
Yosef’s triumph is seen in Jewish history as being legitimate but
essentially temporary. It his brother Yehudah who emerges as the ultimate
hero and guarantor of Jewish survival and as the true head of Yaakov’s
family. The Jewish people are called upon his name and it is through his
descendants that legitimate royalty comes to Israel.
The future salvation of Israel and the messianic vision of full and complete
redemption and a better world for all are assigned to the family and
descendants of Yehudah. He is the ultimate and victor in the debate between
Yosef and himself that this week’s parsha highlights.
The obvious question that presents itself is why this should be. After all
it is Yosef who is the righteous one, the one who resisted physical
temptation and who persevered in his loyalty to the ideals of the patriarchs
of Israel under the most trying and difficult of circumstances.
Yehuda on the other hand can be superficially judged and found wanting in
his behavior regarding Tamar and in his leadership role in the sale of his
brother as a slave. So why, in historical terms, is he the hero and savior
of Israel while Yosef is not?
Though God’s will, so to speak, in all of these matters remains hidden and
inscrutable to us mere mortals, a glimmer of understanding can come to us
from the words of Yaakov that will appear in next week’s parsha. Yaakov
blesses Yehudah for his ability to rise from error and tragedy and continue
forward. It is Yehudah’s resilience that marks his character and behavior.
He redeems himself from the error of his treatment of Yosef by his
unconditional and self-sacrificing defense of Binyamin. He admits his error
in condemning Tamar and their children become the bearers of Jewish royalty.
The secret of Jewish survival lies in Jewish renewal and resilience. It is
the one national trait that outweighs all other factors in Jewish history.
It certainly is the one most in demand in our current Jewish world today as
Rabbi Berel Wein