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Judah's pleas to spare Benjamin ended with: "For how can I go to my father without Benjamin? I could never face the distress that would befall my father" (44:34).
The Alshich contrasts Judah's submission at the end of last week's Parasha, with his lion-like courage and initiative, which opens this week's, with the words "vayigash eilav Judah" - Judah approached (Joseph), at that moment known to them only as The Viceroy of Egypt. Though Judah knew that the silver cup had not been stolen, but been planted in Benjamin's sack, he declared that G-d had 'found the sin' (44:16). Divine justice for the sale of Joseph had finally caught up with them (c.f. 42:21). Thus he led the brothers into submission: 'we are all slaves' (44:16). However, when the yet-unrevealed Joseph declared that he would take Benjamin, Judah then knew that this punishment was not simple measure-for-measure Divine retribution for the sale of Joseph. For Benjamin as the very youngest could have hardly been the individual that was responsible for the sale. "G-d has found the sin" was not relevant to the situation. It was not a hint to submit, but a prompt to show lion-like qualities and demonstrate courage and initiative. Hence Judah's impassioned plea for the rescue of Benjamin.
However, it can be argued that Joseph's proposal to take just Benjamin captive was even worse than taking all of them as prisoners. For the brothers would have all preferred to be taken as slaves rather than face the alternative: returning to Canaan and facing their father without Benjamin: indeed, both Reuben, and Judah had pledged their lives as guarantors for Benjamin's security (42:37; 43:9). Judah was actually echoing the feelings of all his brothers with: "For how can I go to my father without Benjamin? I could never face the distress that would befall my father".
Thus once Benjamin was about to be taken hostage, Judah - as leader of brothers - had nothing to lose. Had he been taken prisoner together with all the brothers as he proposed (44:16), he would have stayed together with them away from home territory, waiting for events to take a better course. With Benjamin only as hostage and himself free, his position greatly worsened. He - and his brothers returning without Benjamin would suffer the direst consequences.
Therefore it was at this juncture that Judah put himself - and all that he had - at risk. He did so because he hand nothing to lose. And his greatness was his weighing up the situation correctly, and putting his life at risk in the knowledge that he had nothing to lose. He approached The Viceroy - he that no doubt had the power of life and death over his subjects (c.f. 44:9), as indeed he had nothing to lose and everything to gain with his impassioned proposal. The alternative - returning to his father without Benjamin - was a fate worse than mere death (c.f. Rashi to 43:9).
Indeed, the opening word "vayigash" occurs three times in the Torah; here, with Judah's approach to the Viceroy of Egypt to release Benjamin, and on two earlier occasions - when Abraham attempted to persuade G-d to spare Sodom, and in Jacob's successfully obtaining the blessing from his father by impersonating his brother Esau. In all three instances, the distinctly courageous approach was made from a person in a much weaker position to an entity with great power.
For those looking for more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/questions/ and on the material on the Haftara at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/haftara/ .
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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