The last four parashiyot in Bereshit deal mostly with the story of Joseph. However, when discussing the parsha of Va-yeishev two weeks ago, Melanie Feldman focussed on the story of Judah embedded in the seemingly more prominent narrative. One could argue that Judah is actually the most impressive character we have come across so far. He is not so virtuous as Abraham, so faithful and meditative as Isaac, so dedicated to God’s initial Covenant with the family of Abraham as Rebecca, but he undergoes real change – change for the better. It is not that he starts out totally bad or nasty. He does not engage in the merciless slaughter of the men of Shechem carried out by brothers Simeon and Levi. Unlike Reuben, he does not engage in illicit relations with one of his step-mothers. Nor does he appear to bay for Joseph’s death. He does suggest, on the other hand, that his younger brother be sold into slavery. He turns his daughter-in-law into a helpless widow, although, having lost his first two sons when married to her, there is surely some excuse for this. The point is that he becomes a better human being, first in recognising Tamara’s plight and blamelessness, second in doing everything he can to protect his youngest brother when the latter is threatened with prison or slavery. He does not think of himself, only of his father and of Benjamin, to the point of volunteering to be enslaved in place of his brother.
We should be proud to be named after Yehuda, to be Yehudi. We are, as Mai Jacobson pointed out last Saturday evening, at the Chanukah party and presentation, named after praise and thanks. ‘Toda’ should be on our lips while we should do our utmost to inspire thanks among others, not to hear it in vanity, but to deserve it in humility.
And even Joseph, who certainly deserves a lot of praise and thanks, has become humble before his brothers, at the same time as he has become most powerful.
We are in for a treat this Saturday. Pat Lipert will be leading the service and Karen Myers will be presenting a derusha. Thank you, both. Come along the rest of you at 10:30 to take part… and thank you, too.