Opening our eyes to step forward

Judah’s experience reminds us that there are no easy transformations.

By NECHAMA GOLDMAN BARASH
December 13, 2018 20:46
Opening our eyes to step forward

‘WHEN JUDAH hears Tamar is pregnant, he immediately condemns her to death. There is no compassion’: ‘Tamar and Judah,’ Aert de Gelder, 1667.. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

 
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This week’s Torah portion, Vayigash, is possibly the most dramatic narrative climax that appears in the Bible. It is a story that has been building up over several chapters with parental favoritism, sibling rivalry, seduction, near-death experiences, near-redemptive moments and dream sequences. The hero Joseph goes from rags to riches to rags, and finally finds himself second-in-command to Pharaoh. The brothers who have been separated for 22 years are now reunited, but this fact is known only to the reader and to Joseph, who manipulates the playing field for several long chapters. The tension builds as Benjamin is brought down to Egypt and all is almost lost when he stands accused of the terrible crime of stealing Pharaoh’s goblet. We wait with bated breath to see what will happen. And then Judah steps forward.

It is hard to read this story without thinking about Judah’s growth trajectory in the previous stories. At the beginning of the Joseph stories, he seems to be the leader of the pack of brothers, encouraging them to sell Joseph only to avoid culpability in spilling blood but without the compassion of Reuben, who genuinely wants to save his brother. In the aftermath of that incident, Judah separates from his family, choosing to form a strong friendship instead with Hirah, the Adullamite.

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