This week’s Torah portion, VaYigash (Gen. 44:18-47-27) is one of the most dramatic in the entire Torah.
After having been rejected and sold into slavery in Egypt by his own brothers, Joseph rose to be the viceroy.
When famine struck Canaan and Egypt the brothers were forced to descend to Egypt to buy some food.
Joseph recognized them, but the brothers did not recognize Joseph.
Joseph Chooses not to Reveal Himself
Rather than reveal himself immediately, he recognized God’s divine providence and understood that this was an opportunity to unite the 12 Tribes as one family again. To do so, the brothers had to recognize their error and repent by repairing their mistake (doing teshuva).
Maimonides in his book the Mishna Torah – Teshuva 2:1 explains what complete repentance (teshuva) really means.
[Who has reached] complete Teshuvah? A person who confronts the same situation in which he sinned when he has the potential to commit [the sin again], and, nevertheless, abstains and does not commit it because of his Teshuvah alone and not because of fear or a lack of strength.
In order to help the brothers do complete Teshuva, Joseph concocted a scenario whereby he would demand that the brothers separate Binyamin from his father Jacob and bring him to Egypt.
Binyamin was the only son left from Jacob’s beloved wife Rachel after Joseph was taken from him.
When the brothers sold Joseph, they thought they were doing the right thing by separating him from the family as was done with Yishmael and Esav. However, they didn’t properly take into consideration that by doing so, they could have killed their own father through heartbreak.
Judah Rises to the Occasion
This time, when confronted with the same situation of sending one of Rachel’s sons to Egypt, Judah stood up and said to the Viceroy of Egypt (Joseph).
Therefore, please let [me Judah] your servant remain as a slave to my lord [here in Egypt] instead of the boy [Binyamin], and let the boy go back with his brothers [to my father in Canaan].
For how can I go back to my father unless the boy is with me? Let me not be witness to the woe that would overtake my father!”
This selfless and heroic act of Teshuva – Repentance in defense of his brother and father Israel ultimately earned Judah the right of Kingship of Israel.
Joseph would remain the paradigm of Kingship of the nation in Diaspora… and Judah would be the King in the Land of Israel. Eventually David from the tribe of Judah would establish the dynasty who would lead the 12 tribes in Israel.
Joseph and Judah Separate Again
When Joshua led the Nation into the Land, the Tribes were united under one leader.
Eventually Samuel the Prophet anointed David, from the tribe of Judah to be King of all Israel. His son Solomon followed and ruled the Kingdom of Israel from Jerusalem where he had built the Holy Temple.
That was the last time the 12 Tribes were united under one King.
After Solomon, there was civil war and the Kingdom divided into two:
1. The Kingdom of Judea, in the south, with its capital in Jerusalem, led by Rehoboam (from the Tribe of Judah)
2. The Kingdom of Israel in the north, with its capital in Samaria led by Jeroboam (from the Tribe of Ephraim – Joseph)
Eventually the northern Kingdom was conquered by the Assyrians and exiled. Many members of the northern tribes fled south and returned to Judea.
The Reuniting of Joseph and Judah
Almost 3,000 years later, members of the Nation of Israel are back in Israel from backgrounds even more diverse than the time of the divided Kingdom.
Ethiopian Jews from the Tribe of Dan, Benei Menashe from India and others have joined the Sephardic and Ashkenaz Jews to live in the Land of Israel under one united government.
In the next few days Binyamin Netanyahu will be forming a government consisting of secular and Torah observant Jews from all backgrounds and tribes from Ephraim and Judah.
May it be a sign that soon we will all be united under the Kingship of the Mashiach from the Davidic Dynasty and Judah and Joseph will be truly united as one in the Land of Israel.
As it says in Ezekiel 37:19
“Thus said the Lord GOD: I am going to take the stick of Joseph—which is in the hand of Ephraim—and of the tribes of Israel associated with him, and I will place the stick of Judah upon it–and make them into one stick; they shall be joined in My hand.”
With blessings from the Galilee!
Rabbi Shmuel Veffer