Vayigash: Judah’s Journey

He Became A Better Person

Torah portion Vayigash contains one of the most emotional moments in the entire Hebrew Bible. Recall that in the Torah portion from two weeks previous (Vayeshev) Jacob’s favorite son Joseph, born to Jacob’s favorite wife Rachel, is thrown into a pit by his envious older brothers, who then sell him to a passing Arab caravan. Through an incredible series of events, the exceptionally righteous and charismatic teenage slave winds up saving Egypt from famine and becoming viceroy of the most powerful empire on earth. Now, years later, Joseph’s brothers have come to Egypt to purchase grain from the mighty “viceroy,” not recognizing him as the brother they betrayed so long ago. Joseph doesn’t reveal himself immediately but rather tests his brothers to see if they’ve changed. He agrees to help them, but only if Benjamin, (Joseph’s only full brother) remains behind as his slave. 

Years earlier, Judah was the brother who sold Joseph to the Arab caravan. Judah then underwent a series of life challenges which led him to improve his character. Now, Judah steps forward to plead with the “viceroy” to let Benjamin go and offers himself as a slave instead. Joseph, overcome by emotion, reveals his identity to his brothers, who are deeply remorseful for their past sins against him. 

Our sages teach that true repentance is when a person has the opportunity to commit a sin he’s committed before but instead refrains and does a good deed instead. In the past Judah sold a son of Rachel into slavery. Now, he protects a son of Rachel by offering himself as a slave. Judah may be the first character in the Bible to work on himself and become a better person! Most Jews today are descended from Judah, and we must emulate our illustrious forefather by doing the difficult inner work necessary to perfect our character so that we can better serve God and those around us.

Dedicated by Marjorie Holler

Image: “Joseph Recognized by His Brothers” by Francois Pascal Simon, 1789

Share to

You Might Also Like

Sign Me Up

Sign me up!

Our newsletter goes out about twice a month, with links to our most popular posts and episodes.