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Judah

Judah

In Defense of A Brother

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Eleven happy brothers were on their way to Canaan, returning to their aged father Jacob. Their sacks were full of food for their starving children and they were all together at last. Here was also their brother Simeon who had been held hostage by the 'cruel' Egyptian Viceroy, Zofnath Paaneach; here was also their youngest brother Benjamin, about whom their father had been so worried and anxious. Once again they felt united and strong. If only their brother Joseph were with them! 0, how remorseful they felt now! They had gone to no end of trouble trying to find their lost brother; they searched all Egypt and aroused upon themselves the suspicion of being spies. But thank G‑d, they were on their way home now, and Benjamin was safe with them. They thanked G‑d for all His mercies ...

Suddenly they heard a stern call from the distance: "Stop there, ho!"

The brothers stopped abruptly and turned their heads. Galloping fast toward then was the Viceroy's Chief Steward, leading a company of horsemen.

"How dare you steal my master's divining goblet?" the Chief Steward exclaimed, as soon as he pulled up his horse in front of the astonished brothers. "Is this how you repay for kindness and hospitality?"

The accusation came like a bolt from the sky, and the brothers grew pale and frightened. The next moment, however, they recovered from the shock, and burst out all together:

"How can you accuse us of such a dreadful thing? Have we not proven to you our honesty by twice returning the money that we have found in our sacks together with our food? We have never stolen anything from anybody, let alone from your noble master! With whomsoever the stolen thing be found, let him die, and we shall all be your master's slaves!"

Hastily they lowered their sacks from the backs of their donkeys, and opened them. Beginning at the eldest, the Chief Steward searched everybody's sack, while the brothers looked on confidently, as the search proved fruitless in one sack after another. It was Benjamin's turn now, and suddenly they froze with horror.

"Here it is!" the Chief Steward exclaimed triumphantly.

The brothers stood dazed and horrified, staring incredulously at that fiendish goblet.

"I am afraid I'll have to take your youngest brother with me back to Egypt..." the Chief Steward said.

The brothers did not doubt Benjamin's innocence. A thought flashed through Judah's mind, how easy it would be for him and his brothers to tackle the Chief Steward and his men, and free their innocent brother. But no, they would not take the law into their own hands; the last time two of them took the law into their own hands, their father was greatly displeased. They would all return to Egypt and clear themselves of the disgraceful accusation. Surely, there must be some mistake!

Silently, they packed their sacks again and followed the Chief Steward back to Egypt.

Joseph was in his state room, when the brothers were ushered in before him.

"What a disgraceful thing to do!" Joseph chided them mercilessly. "Here I invite you to my house, treat you like respectful guests, almost like my equals, and what do you do? You steal my divining goblet! Any one else in my place would very well carry out your own verdict - put the thief -to death, and put you all in chains as slaves for the rest of your lives! But I will be lenient with you! I will only retain the guilty one as my slave, and the rest of you go home to your father..."

At Joseph's command, Benjamin was immediately seized by the guard and led away into the adjoining room. Joseph followed him there and locked the door, leaving his brothers outside.

Thereupon Judah did a very daring thing. He broke through the guard and threw his weight against the door, forcing his way in. Joseph looked at him in amazement.

"Do you know what you deserve for breaking in like this?"

"I beg your pardon, my lord," Judah pleaded, "but I cannot let you take away my innocent brother. You know as well as I do the lad did not steal the goblet. Now, if you want a slave, take me instead. Look at me. I am stronger and more capable then he. But let the boy go home to his father."

"The man in whose hand the goblet was found shall be my slave!" Joseph replied curtly.

"I beg you my lord, let him go in peace. We shall not leave him here even if we have to lay your whole country waste... Don't you realize that we are capable of doing so? Haven't you heard of the mighty deeds Jacob's sons have done with G‑d's help? Give us our brother Benjamin, and you will spare yourself much trouble..."

"Don't be foolhardy, my friend, Joseph replied calmly. "Do you imagine that you can frighten me with force? Me, next to Pharaoh the mightiest of all rulers?..."

"Do not make me angry, my lord, or I will draw my sword and kill you as well as Pharaoh!"

"If you draw your sword, it will strike your own neck."

"Please, my lord, give us our brother and let us go home. Our aged father is waiting for us anxiously. What shall I tell him, if we come without Benjamin?"

"Tell him that the pal I went after the rope into the well...that Benjamin went the way Joseph went. - - "

Judah became very angry, and barely controlled himself.

"I warn you for the last time, my lord," Judah roared, "give us back our brother before we paint the whole of Egypt red..."

"Oh, I know you are a good painter," Joseph said dryly, shaking his divining goblet and putting it to his ear. "Did you not paint Joseph's coat of many colors a good red, and send it back to your father: 'Joseph was surely torn to pieces...

In a fit of rage Judah grabbed a big marble block and crushed it between his hands into small fragments and rubble.

Not to be outdone, Joseph winked to his son Manasseh. The latter came up to Judah, and angrily stamped his foot on the marble floor so that all the walls of the palace shook. As if Judah was not sufficiently impressed, Joseph struck a huge marble block with his foot and shattered it into fragments...

Even Judah was amazed to see such a feat of strength, of which he thought capable only one of his family. Turning to his brothers, Judah said: "Is it possible that the Viceroy of Egypt is related to us?"

Judah continued to plead in behalf of Benjamin; he pleaded and he threatened, but without avail. Losing his temper, Judah grasped his sword, but it stuck in its sheath and would not be pulled out.

"That man has special divine protection," Judah thought. "I might have surely killed him."

Still unperturbed, Joseph said to Judah: "Isn't there a man of better manners and deportment among your brothers? Let him step forward and speak. I have had enough of you..."

"I alone am responsible for Benjamin," Judah said, "for I vouched for his safety..."

"Did you show such devotion to your brother Joseph, when you sold him for twenty shekels?"

Judah's roar came like an earthquake; it shook the walls of the palace... The guards were blown to the floor, and Joseph was shaken with fright... King Pharaoh toppled from his throne, and all of Egypt seemed to have been swept by a tornado.

In the meantime Judah sent out Naphtali - the fast one - to count Egypt's fortresses. Naphtali came back saying that there were twelve of them.

"You take one fortress each," Judah said, "and I will take on the remaining three! We will destroy the city! ...

"No!" the brothers pleaded with Judah. "Why should the innocent people suffer? There must be another way to move the cruel Viceroy."

But that "cruel" Viceroy - Joseph - had already been moved to tears. He had tried his brothers and found them not lacking in devotion and self-sacrifice for one another. He was convinced that they regretted wholeheartedly their treatment of their brother Joseph, and would do anything to amend their terrible deed, which after all, Joseph knew was a blessing in disguise... There was no need to pretend any longer and continue to play that difficult part. Besides, Joseph felt his tears bursting.

"Clear the guard!" Joseph called, barely managing to hold his tears back. There must be no stranger present when he reveals himself to his brothers, so as not to shame them. Yes, he knew he was taking a chance, for the brothers might take advantage of the situation and seize upon him and kill him, before he would have a chance to tell them who he was. Nevertheless, he would not shame them in from of others.

And when the room was cleared, Joseph's astounding words came softly and affectionately with tears streaming down his face:

"I am your brother Joseph!... Do not worry about the past... It was G‑d's will..."

This time Joseph spoke direct to them in their mother tongue, in Hebrew, and not through an interpreter as before, for there was no need to pretend any longer.

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