Rabbi David Walk, Education Director

Congregation Agudath Sholom | 301 Strawberry Hill Ave | Stamford, CT 06902 (203)-358-2200 www.agudathsholom.org

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Walk Article



Rabbi David Walk


            As the Gregorian calendar year of 2012 comes to an end there are the inevitable newspaper articles, TV shows and websites declaring the best and worst of the year that was.  Many of these dubious decisions scream at you from tabloids while waiting in line at supermarket checkouts:  biggest story, best athlete, or biggest scandal.  It seems that I always disagree with the so-called experts, but I always find it interesting.  There was an artsy type magazine that listed the best movies of the year, and even though I had gone to the flicks about ten times during the year, I hadn't seen even one of their top ten films.  My favorite list is ESPN's worst ten plays of the year.  I can't wait for that display of incompetence.  This year's winner should be a particular fumble on Thanksgiving Day by a certain quarterback plying his trade in the marshes of New Jersey.  All of this is conjecture and speculation, but this week's Torah reading presents us with a clear cut decision, sort of like Marquez over Pacquiao.  The seeming leader is definitively knocked out.  Although I wouldn't mind continuing the sports discussion I'm talking about the competition between Yehuda and Joseph.

            These two titans (I'm not referring to either the mythological kind or the Tennessee type.) continually clash throughout the last fifteen chapters of Genesis.  First it's Yehuda who counsels to sell Joseph into slavery.  Then we compare their behavior in the stories of Tamar and the wife of Potiphar.  Next it's Yehuda, who after convincing Ya'akov to send Benjamin to Egypt in his care, confronts Joseph over the theft of the chalice.  Finally, it's Yehuda who is sent ahead of the family to work out with Joseph the living arrangements in history's first ghetto, Goshen.  By time we get to this week's parsha it's clear that the competition for future leader of the Jewish nation is a two man race.  And in case you missed the nuances, our Torah reading begins with Ya'akov elevating the two sons of Joseph to the status of full fledged Tribes in Israel.  Joseph is the clear favorite entering the home stretch.  But then during Ya'akov's death bed bestowal of blessings, the envelope is torn open, and the winner is…Yehuda.  And even though we are informed of the ultimate victor, that doesn't prevent these two families from constantly struggling for the top leadership roles.  Joshua is from Joseph's loins, and when the kingdom is split the north is under Joseph's heirs, while the southern region is controlled by the progeny of Yehuda, and the Sages say that a Mashiach from Joseph will precede the one from Yehuda.

            The two best blessings are reserved for these two giants.  Even though the poetry is difficult to translate, it's clear that Yosef is endowed with power, wealth and fertility.  He is also granted certain leadership qualities like charm, and he is referred to by terms of leadership like shepherd and head (Genesis 49:22-26).  However, the ultimate prize is bestowed upon Yehuda, Joseph is compared to the powerful and valuable ox, Yehuda is referred to as the royal lion.  The blessing continues:  The scepter shall not depart from Yehuda nor the staff from between his legs (verse 10).  According to the Talmud these items refer to both kingship and, and the other kind of Jewish management, scholarship (Sanhedren 5a).  The clear symbols of power belong to Yehuda, and will remain with him forever.

            The end of that verse is extremely controversial.  This leadership will either be until the coming of a person called Shiloh or the bringer of tranquility (Hebrew:  shalva), a messianic reference, or, perhaps, the establishing of the centrality of Shiloh the town where the temporary Temple stood (1220 BCE-1015 BCE).  Of course the role of Shiloh was eclipsed by Jerusalem, the city of Yehuda's heir, David.  The Christians have lobbied long that this is a reference to their founder, who seems to have had a birthday this week.

            But this, of course, brings us to the central question:  Why did Yehuda emerge from the shadows as the clear winner in this eternal competition?  Some have suggested that Joseph never explicitly sinned and is, therefore, called the Zadik, while Yehuda fell in the incident with Tamar.  However, Yehuda confesses his impropriety and becomes the prototype for penitent.  The Talmud later reveals that the perfect zadik can't stand in the place of the ba'al teshuva (Sanhedrin 99a).  That's a winning hand.  The Rav (Rabbi Joseph D. Soloveitchik) explained the famous Midrash (Genesis Raba 85:1), which states during the sale of Joseph:  God was preparing the light of Mashiach, to mean that how the brothers emerged from that episode would decide who would be the eternal leader of the Jewish nation.   It was Yehuda.

            I've got a slightly different point of view.  I've got this feeling that God didn't choose the winner; our great-grandfathers did.  Time after time Yehuda steps forward to deal with problems and everyone accepts his leadership.  At the sale of Joseph, Yehuda proposes, the others acquiesce.  When it's time to get more food in Egypt, Yehuda steps up to the plate and Ya'akov agrees.  When Joseph is accusing Binyamin, Yehuda confronts him and he acknowledges Yehuda's force of character, and his sincere penitence.  Look at the beginning of the blessing:  Judah, as for you, your brothers will acknowledge you (40:8).  The process was very democratic, and the nomination seemed to be by acclimation.  Everyone had fallen under the spell of Yehuda, the brothers, Ya'akov and Joseph.

            By the time the envelope was ripped open, it was obvious to all who won in the category of best leading man.  I think that's what the Midrash means when it says God was preparing the light of Mashiach as Joseph was being sold to Egypt.  God wasn't choosing; God was confirming with a ray of light.  The great leaders choose themselves.  People often ask:  How will we recognize the Mashiach?  I really don't know, but I have a feeling that when the time comes, it will be as clear as dawn breaking after a long, dark night.           

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