Thought Of The Week
Freedom in Egypt
The utter, bitter truth of things. This is what Judah had to have realized when he offered his life for that of his brother Benjamin to the Egyptian viceroy. In the moments before he approached his masked brother Joseph, Judah went over the whole sordid history. He had been rehearsing this history the entire ride down from Canaan to Egypt. He had had plenty of time to consider things.
Judah knew that his father Jacob had lived too much life. The years away from home, spent with a detested uncle and a marriage filled with jealousy and enmity. Alienation from his brother Esau, the reconciliation with whom does not seemed to have reached his heart. The death of Jacob's beloved wife, Rachel, brought on by Jacob's own error, an oath produced by his own desire for probity. The guilt ate a hole in Jacob's heart. Pathetically, Jacob tried to patch the hole with a striped jacket for Rachel's son Joseph. Judah knew that jacket well.
The rape of Jacob's daughter Dinah; his coming to terms with the clan of the rapist, and the slaughter of that clan by his sons, a clan that trusted Jacob's word. And the apparent death of his beloved son Joseph, torn apart by wild beasts. Judah and his brothers knew that the mortal wound to their father's grief was imposed by them. They were the beasts.
Did fate push the brothers, a fate birthed by the treachery of Jacob's father in law Laban (abetted by Jacob's soon to be wives, Leah and Rachel), who pushed Jacob into an unwanted marriage that began the spiral of grief? Or was the fate born earlier, in Jacob and his mother's own treachery? As Judah contemplated the hatred he had for his brother Joseph, he asked, "Was this hatred not fated?" Would not anyone have hated a brother so much more beloved, a love that only sharpened the sons' of Leah's sense of loss?
And even as Judah sought to soften the hand of fate by selling his brother into slavery instead of killing him, he realized that saving Joseph's life did not stop his father from being impaled by the knife of the loss. When he tried to save Joseph's life, was that not in a moment of bitter realization: "Joseph himself has never been free from this fate." Perhaps that softened Judah's hardened heart. But not enough to stall fate.
Too much life, too much loss, grief and treachery. In that fateful moment when they saw their brother traipsing over the hill, it made sense. Kill Joseph. No, save Joseph, but lie to their father Jacob, who had lied to his own father, Isaac, who had almost been killed by his father, Abraham, pushed over the edge by abandoning his first born son, Ishma'el. Lies and loss inherited, bequeathed. Buried and reborn.
The moment has come for Judah, alone, to bear the brunt of generations of loss, grief, treachery, fateful errors, jagged fate. "Is this really my life?" he puzzled. "Is this what my life has come down to?" he observed.
"Somebody has to pay," he philosophized; "and it is I" he admitted. He stepped forward and explained to his masked brother, Joseph, why he had to step in for Benjamin, hoping, against some screaming part of his will to live free, that the masked Joseph would accept the payment. Perhaps he remembered, "I have never been free." Perhaps he deduced, "None of us has ever been free." Perhaps in choosing his fate, he broke the grip of the unseen forces that drove his tragedy laden family to this moment. "For once," perhaps he understood, "one of us will choose his fate, and not have it thrust upon him."
In the moment that Judah chose his fate, over a life of running from its truth, he found a moment of unbridled freedom. Whatever would be next, in that moment, Judah was free.
Rabbi Mordecai Finley