Provided by CLAL: The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, a multi-denominational think tank and resource center.
The Joseph story, full of abrupt turns and starts, deceptive intrigues, and dramatic reversals, arrives at its climax with Judah coming forward to address Joseph. Benjamin, who has been caught red-handed with a sacred divining cup, must remain a slave in Egypt. The brothers are given permission to return to their father.
The re-enactment of the sale of Joseph is complete. If they return without Benjamin, the horror will be repeated. If the brothers go home, the covenantal family will no doubt be ripped apart beyond repair. Jacob will die of grief. Joseph will have gambled everything and lost.
Paradoxically, it is Joseph’s leadership that enraged them, that catapulted him into power, and that manipulated them into this dangerous situation. Joseph can no longer do anything to save them or the covenant that they share. Now they need a redeemer, a leader who in the midst of confusion and guilt can still speak. "And Judah came forward" (Genesis 44:18).
Judah argues that to punish Benjamin, the beloved child, is to punish Jacob as well. His appeal is emotional and personal. Judah then reverses "Am I my brother’s keeper" through a self-sacrificing act of protection, offering to take Benjamin’s place. Unaware that Joseph is his brother, Judah cuts through the clouds of despair and reminds Joseph of his father’s love.
Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev says that Joseph is like God in this scene and Judah represents Israel. There are times when confusion and pain obscure the mission of the people. But the true leader reminds us and God that we are the beloved chosen children. Although the blows of our erratic history have disoriented us and, at times we deeply misunderstood our role, like Judah, we will be ready for a new reconciliation with God, each other and our destiny.