This week's Torah portion is VaYechi/And [Jacob] Lived. But it tells of Jacob's last days, and the bulk of the section is his blessing/analysis of his sons. Of his fourth son, he says: The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet; So that tribute shall come to him And the homage of peoples be his.
Why did Judah merit the scepter? Why are we Jews named after him (Yehudah/Yehudim)?
Let's start with the meaning of his name. His mother Leah named him gratitude – like todah, thank you. The first expression of gratitude in the Torah is for his birth.
So who was he?
Judah was the one who had the idea to sell Joseph to passing caravan.
He was the one who sent his daughter-in-law away after his sons died and commanded that she be taken to be burned when he learned that she had become pregnant. And he was the one who declared "she is more righteous than I" and realized how he had wronged her.
And he was the one who, later, pledged himself to his father that he would bring his brother home safely.
In last week’s Torah portion, he is the one who steps up - pleading for his father’s grief and his brothers’ freedom - to tell Joseph, who is now second only to Pharaoh, nearly the most powerful person in Egypt, that he would stay as his slave so his brother could go free.
Rabbi Menacham Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, teaches that from this text is derived the saying in Talmud: Kol Yisrael arevim zeh bazeh/All Jews are responsible one for another (Babylonian Talmud Shevuot 39a).
He taught that: One meaning of the root '-R-V / ע-ר-ב is "sweet." Jews are sweet, pleasant one to another, imbued with love and fellowship one for the other.
Perhaps this is aspirational, but it is something we can grow toward, as Judah grew in his lifetime.
The Rebbe further taught:
'-R-V / ע-ר-ב also has the sense of mixture, being mixed together one with the other, in the sense of partnership. Each Jew holds some piece that belongs to another. This is certainly true in the spiritual sense of the whole of the people of Israel: each person holds some part that belongs to the other…in a collective partnership… Klal Yisrael - the body of Israel - is embracing, all inclusive. …[we have] mutual responsibility one for another, as Judah said: "your servant has pledged himself…."
This is who we Jews are named after: Judah – growth and gratitude and interdependence. In these times of fractious division and increased acts against Jews, let us respond by fully living our mission. Let us be grateful growing caretakers of each other, and be a light unto the nations (Isaiah 49:6) and a blessing to all the human family (Genesis 12:18).
Rabbi Lina Zerbarini
Questions? Feedback? Concerns?
Saturday, January 11, 2020 - Torah Study at 10am followed by services at 11:15am
Sunday, January 12th, 2020
Join us to learn about the Jewish history and tradition of engagement in civic life and learn to make your voice heard.
With Kayla Glick, New York Organizer of Bend the Arc: Jewish Action and Suffolk County Legislator Dr. William Spencer, who will speak about the impact of citizen communication.
For adults and children 8 and over. FREE to the community. RSVP to Rabbi Lina by responding to this email.