What story has made the greatest impact in your life?
Let me share with you mine.
Until today I can vividly recall when I first heard this story as a child. The tale begins with sibling rivalry that goes horribly wrong, threatening to destroy a dynasty. However the story ends in spectacular fashion triggered by a supreme act of self-sacrifice.
The story I refer to is of Joseph and his brothers. The narrative as conveyed to us in the Bible and its myriad of commentaries is riveting and extremely complex. I will attempt therefore to only focus on one scene.
The setting is the palace of the Pharaohs, a place of majestic opulence and power. Sitting on the throne was the young viceroy of Egypt who is responsible for saving this country from a seven-year famine and securing its place as a world power. Against this backdrop, the brothers are at the mercy of this hostile man who has accused them of being thieves. And now he wants to take their youngest brother as a slave.
The brothers are thoroughly distraught. There doesn't seem to be any way out.
It is at this moment that Judah our hero emerges. He realises that in order to achieve justice he must vigorously challenge those who stand in its way. He does not wait for his brothers to join him; he alone “steps up to the plate” as he “draws close to him".
Ho is fully aware that in so doing he is crossing a "red line". He is creating a showdown from which there is no retreat. Judah’s massage to the viceroy of Egypt is very clear; I am responsible to bring my brother home and will do everything in my power to do so. Nothing will stand in my way not you, nor Pharaoh.
Judah’s defiance of the greatest power in his day is one of the most important lessons for the Jewish people in their relationship with the nations of the world. We must always remember that the Jewish people are empowered by G-d and are therefore not subservient to the whims of any nation. We alone are in control of our destiny. No single or group of nations can change that reality. And whilst it is true that we would like the support of the nations of the world, we must never forget that we do not depend on it for our existence.
Jewish life in exile is a game of brinkmanship at its best.
Let us continue to be inspired by Judah.
Let us always remember that In order to right a wrong we must challenge those who stand in its way.
We have no reason to be afraid, as history is on our side.