Rights and Submission

 Each year when I read the Joseph narratives in Genesis I discover something new. It is one of the joys for me of studying Torah.  Although I know how the story ends, I still read it as if I am looking at it for the first time and wonder how it will conclude.

Joseph and his brothers are finally reconciled after Judah, through his speech to Joseph, causes Joseph to reveal his true identity.  Genesis Rabbah 93:4 beautifully describes the rhetoric employed by Judah to finally penetrate to Joseph’ s  heart.  Judah draws out Joseph as the one who draws out the sweet water from the deep well. He enables Joseph to finally reveal his true self.

“Counsel in the heart of man is like deep water; but a man of understanding will draw it out (Proverbs 20:5). This may be compared to a deep well full of cold and excellent water, yet none could drink of it. Then came one who tied cord to cord and thread to thread, drew up its water and drank, whereupon all drew water thus and drank thereof. In the same way Judah did not cease from answering Joseph word for word until he penetrated to his very heart.”

The Shem MiShmuel quotes a passage from the Zohar (1:

201b) that uses the same verse as the Midrash but reverses whom is being drawn out.

“Counsel in the heart of a man is like deep water” is exemplified in Judah at the time when he approached Joseph on behalf of Benjamin, as explained elsewhere, whereas “a man of understanding will draw it out” was exemplified in Joseph.”

For the Zohar it is Joseph who draws out Judah, despite the fact Judah makes the speech.  The Shem M’Shmuel asserts that that Joseph is teaching Judah, or perhaps better bringing to the surface, the necessity for Judah to have hachnaah  submissiveness or deference to Joseph. Judah, from whom kingship will derive, must understand while he (or his descendants) will have the power of the king, they must also have the characteristic of submissiveness. Judah is willing to be submissive to Joseph to save Benjamin. As kings his descendants will need to be submissive to God. While powerful on the one hand, they are really only the slaves/servants of God.

This Shabbat many rabbis will discuss the murders of last week. Many will call for action from our state and federal governments. The nature of the Second Amendment will be debated among friends, politicians, and in our legislatures. I think one contribution of many we can make to this urgent discussion is that while the “right to” is extraordinarily important, we must also be submissive to God or a greater good that can impose limits on our rights.

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