D’rash on Beresheet (Genesis) 44:18-20, 12/7/2013
In the moment of truth, the crucial turning point of the story of Joseph & his brothers, Judah steps up. By accepting the responsibility and laying down his life, Judah passed the test. It was a major breakthrough for him and his whole family, and their destiny as the ancestors of Israel and the Messiah. So it was a major breakthrough for all humanity—and each one of us. V’eemru? (And let us say? Amen.)
When Judah & his brothers had first come down to Egypt, Joseph devised an elaborate test for them. I used to wonder, why did Joseph go to all this trouble? Did he like being complicated? Or was he being vindictive? Yet now I realize that Joseph wasn’t being vindictive, but redemptive.
As Pharaoh had noted, Joseph was wise—he had the wisdom of God. Joseph understood that he needed to give his brothers an opportunity to redeem themselves. For they had committed a vile sin—selling their own brother into slavery and telling their father a lie that he has been killed by wild animals—and for years that had been living a lie. They were totally in vile sin and dark deceit—swimming in the mud. For them to fulfill their destiny as the fathers of Israel, they needed to expose the lie, confess their sin and accept responsibility for what they had done, so that that might be forgiven and restored.
As Messiah Yeshua said in John 8:32, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
The purpose of Joseph’s test was to set his brothers free, from their sin and their lie. So the test was good—it was redemptive. V’eemru? Isn’t that how we all feel about God’s tests?
When Joseph demands that they return to Egypt with their youngest brother Benjamin, Genesis 42:21 reports, “they said to one another, ‘Truly we are guilty concerning our brother, because we saw the distress of his soul when he pleaded with us, yet we would not listen; that’s why this distress hascome upon us.’ How right they were! Now they confess their sin against Joseph—and he weeps.
So why didn’t Joseph come clean then? Confession is important, yet not all there is to repentance. Repentance, or teshuvah, requires a complete change of heart and direction—instead of betraying their brother,as jealous brothers, now they needed to accept responsibility for him, as loyal brothers.
So when the brothers come back down to Egypt—this time with Benjamin, Joseph treats them all to a feast in his presence—and Benjamin get a portion five times as much as any of his brothers. Hmm… How many of you think that a test for the brothers?
Then Joseph sends them off with more grain, and orders his silver cup secretly stashed in Ben’s bag. Joseph’s steward catches up to them and finds the cup in Benjamin’s bag. Was that a test?
Well, the brothers could have let the steward drag Benjamin back to his doom—just like little Joe. They could have gone back to their father and told them what happened—just as with Joseph. But this time, they all tore their clothes and they all went back to Egypt with their brother.
Then Judah steps up. He tells the ruler Joseph the whole story, as truthfully as he can, and concludes: “So now, please let your servant remain as my lord’s slave in the boy’s place, and let the boy go.”
Judah steps up. He tells the truth and accepts the responsibility, laying down his life for his brother. There would no longer be any jealousy over Benjamin being the favored son—Ben was their brother, and Judah stepped up for him, even to the point of becoming a slave in his place.
I hope by now many of you see the parallels with Yeshua. We read about him earlier, from Philippians 2:7, “He emptied Himself—taking on the form of a slave.” Yeshua took the rap for us!
Moreover, there was no longer any question about why Jacob had favored his brother. As Judah says in Beresheet 44:20, explaining how Jacob felt about Joseph and Benjamin: “Now his brother is dead, so he alone is left of his mother, and his father loves him.”
I used to think, Jacob made a mistake, favoring Joseph over his brother. Any of you think so? But this week the Ruach pointed something out to me: the commandment to “honor your father” applies especially in such situations, when you don’t agree with or understand what he is doing. You honor your father when you don’t second-guess him—and then the blessing of honor flows. Does that make sense? It applies both to our earthly father and all the more to our Heavenly Father.
Have you ever questioned what the Heavenly Father is doing? Why did Yeshua choose just three disciples to behold His transfiguration on the mountain? Why not the others? Or why did the Father choose Dan Juster to be our shaliach, or why did He choose Paul and Pericles to be zakenim alongside yours truly? Or why does the He reveal Himself to one way to me, yet not that way to someone you care about? Have you ever questioned what the Heavenly Father is doing? Yet the blessing doesn’t flow from questioning or doubting the Father; it flows from honoring Him. V’eemru?
At the end of Judah’s speech, Joseph broke into weeping and revealed himself to his brothers. Finally, he could, because Judah had passed the test; he had stepped up and laid himself down. For too long, the brothers have lived a lie and were stained by their sin. Now Joseph could embrace them and assure them (Genesis 45:5), “do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.”
Because Judah had stepped up, he would be recognized as the leader among the older brothers. Even though he as the fourth born, Jacob would recognize him for a special blessing, saying in Genesis 49:10, “he scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet.” In other words, the line of kings and ultimately Messiah Yeshua himself would descend from Judah. And today there are people all over the world know as Jews, even though they are descendes from all twelve sons of Israel.
There’s a special reward, a special blessing for the ones who step up to their responsibility. V’eemru? It’s been a blessing to me to disciple my nephew John, using a book Pericles recommended to us, The Resolution for Men. This week we studied a chapter called “Resolve to Become a Man of Responsibility.” Here’s a quotation: “Responsibility calls us and tests us. It reveals our character, our caliber and our commitment.” That certainly applies to Judah and he responded to Joseph’s test. Responsibility counts when we respond to such tests in life.
Many people duck responsibility. It goes all the way back to Adam in the garden— God gave him responsibility for the garden, and for obeying a simple command. Yet when the serpent came with the test, Adam stood by and let his wife fall for the lies. Then Adam tried to pass the buck—Eve made me do it. Blame-shifting and making excuses got Adam and Eve nowhere but out of Gan Eden.
How about you? God is looking for people who will step up and accept responsibility. If you screw up, you can still accept responsibility, by confessing it, turn away from it, then resolving to do better, with God’s help. V’eemru?
Another quotation from The Resolution for Men: “The more maturity a person has, the more responsibility God can trust him with.” True, isn’t it? So Yeshua said in Luke 16:10, “Whoever can be trusted with a little can also be trusted with much.” How many of you want the Master to trust you with a little more now?
Questions for Breakout Discussion
Why did Joseph devise such a complicated test for his brothers?
Why does God allow his children to experience such tests? Are such tests good for us? Why or why not?
When God tests us, does he necessarily tell us, “This is a test”? Then how are we supposed to recognize that there’s a test, let alone how to pass the test?
Have any of you experienced a test that you know God allowed in your life? How did you do?
When the brothers confessed their guilt about how they mistreated Joseph, why didn’t Joseph come clean with them then?
Why did Joseph arrange for Benjamin to be served five times as much as his brothers? How did they handle this test?
Why did Joseph arrange for his silver cup to be stashed in Benjamin’s bag? How did the brothers handle this test?
What do you think of Judah stepping up for Benjamin?
Does “honor your father” (and your mother) apply even when don’t agree with or understand what he is doing? Why or why not?
Have you ever questioned what the Heavenly Father is doing? When and why?
Can you still honor your Heavenly Father even when you don’t understand what He is doing?
Are you OK with God choosing other people to receive certain gifts instead of you? Why or why not?
Why did Joseph reveal himself after Judah’s speech?
How did the blessing and honor flow through Judah–because Judah stepped up to his responsibility?
Why is blame-shifting a sign of spiritual immaturity? Do ever blame-shift?
Why is accepting responsibility–for yourself, and then for others–a sign of spiritual maturity?
Can anyone give an example?
Why did Yeshua say, “Whoever can be trusted with a little can also be trusted with much.”
How many of you want the Master to trust you with a little more now?