July 15, 2024
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Sometimes it feels like the parsha is talking directly to us about our situation today. Who can read Yehuda’s impassioned plea to release Binyamin without thinking of the hostages held by the evil Hamas terrorists in Gaza? The description of Ya’akov’s pain in losing Yosef without ever finding him, and Yehuda’s refusal to inflict the same pain on his father by losing Binyamin rings painfully true for so many families in Israel right now.

Yehuda has evolved since the story we read in Vayeishev, two parshiot ago. This is the same Yehuda who many years previously had been the one to suggest selling Yosef! He was part of the group of brothers who sat to eat after they threw Yosef in the pit, as Yosef pleaded for mercy. And he must have been part of the cover-up, sending Yosef’s bloodstained coat to his father with the words, “haker na, recognize please.” Ya’akov was heartbroken and inconsolable at the end of that story.

Yehuda then withdraws from his brothers, marrying a Canaanite woman. Such a marriage is a sign of leaving the family, as we see from Avraham’s insistence that Yitzchak marry a woman from his family, and from Yitzchak and Rivkah’s disapproval of Esav’s Canaanite wives. Yehuda’s son Onan exhibits a lack of brotherly responsibility in his refusal to have children with Tamar to carry on his deceased brother Er’s legacy, reminding us of Yehuda’s not taking responsibility for the safety of Yosef. And yet Yehuda finds the strength to turn things around. When Yehuda sends Tamar to her death for violating the requirement to wait to marry his next son, she uses the same words that he and his brothers had used in their message to their father: “haker na, recognize please.” Yehuda indeed recognizes—recognizes that he is the father of the children she is carrying, and that “She is more righteous than I,” taking responsibility for Tamar at the cost of his honor and dignity.

Yehuda in this week’s parsha exhibits more of that gevura, strength and fortitude. He stands up to the viceroy of Egypt, unaware it is his long-lost brother Yosef, and demands that Binyamin be released. He speaks of being unable to see his father’s pain—a true reversal from where he was after selling Yosef and sending the bloodstained coat back to Ya’akov. And he offers himself instead, willing to sacrifice his own life to rescue his brother and save his father from further anguish.

This is the very gevura that we see every day here in Israel from our soldiers, who risk their lives in attempts to rescue hostages, and fight to protect our ability to live in peace. From children who are serving and protecting their parents, even though we all wish we could protect our kids. This is family responsibility at its finest, channeling Yehuda’s inner strength in impossibly challenging circumstances. We are all waiting and praying for so many parents and spouses and siblings to be able to say the words that Ya’akov says in our parsha: “Incredible, my son Yosef is still alive!” May it be GOd’s Will.


Rabbanit Sally Mayer serves as rosh midrasha at Ohr Torah Stone’s Midreshet Lindenbaum in Jerusalem. She is a member of the Mizrachi Speakers Bureau (www.mizrachi.org/speakers).

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