Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue
Parashah #11: Vayigash ( He approached) B’resheit ( Genesis) 44:18-47:27
Haftarah: Yechezk’el ( Ezekiel) 37:15-28
B’rit Chadashah: Acts: 7:9-16
Today we are going to concentrate our focus on examining the character of Judah. Initially, we may not have any positive impression of Judah as when he was younger, he showed no regard for Yosef or his father, Ya’akov. First, he convinced his brothers to sell Yosef as a slave (37;27), then he joined his brothers in the lie about Yosef’s life. But remember, he was the fourth son born to Leah and his name means “praise.” Jacob’s blessing for Judah provides more information that leads us to the knowledge that there must have been a profound transformation in Judah’s character: “ Judah, your brothers will praise you; your hand will be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons will bow down to you. You are a lion’s cub, O Judah, you return from the prey, my son.” Similarly, Moshe blessed the tribe of Judah with these words: “ hear Adonai, the cry of Y’hudah! Bring him in to his people, let his own hands defend him; but you, help him against his enemies” (Deut. 33:7).
The dichotomy between Judah in his younger years and his actions and character as an adult teach us that we can change. G-d has a plan for each of us that may not come to fruition until later in our lives. Such was the case of many of the patriarchs, matriarchs, and prophets. Similarly, we should never deem our lives as useless and not worthy of living at any point. As long as there is breath in us, there is room for G-d to execute His plans for our lives. Now let us look at the true character of Judah as he matured.
We read in the parashah that the man who sold his little brother into slavery now offered himself as a slave to take his younger brother’s place. He was so concerned for his father and younger brother that that he was willing to die for them.
Recall that this same man also admitted his error in the case of Tamar. Now we see a consistent change in Judah’s character. G-d can intervene and change the most selfish person.
As Judah could no longer take any more and stepped forward to plead the brothers case, he knew he was taking a great risk. Yosef could have had him killed. But Judah pleaded with Yosef on behalf of himself and his brothers for mercy. Judah had promised Ya’akov that he would guarantee Benyamin’s safety and now he had the chance to keep that promise. He demonstrated great courage in fulfilling his promise. This is what is expected when we take on such a serious responsibility. We must do our best to carry it out, no matter what it may cost us personally.
Just as we must demonstrate change in our behavior when we profess to be reconciled to G-d through Yahshua’s sacrifice, Yosef wanted to see if his brothers’ attitudes had really changed. He accomplished this by testing the way they treated each other. Judah, the brother who had initiated the plan to sell Yosef ,(37:27), now stepped forward to take Benyamin’s punishment so that Benyamin could return to Ya’akov. This convinced Yosef that a true change in attitude and character had taken place in his brothers.
People who are good leaders stand out from others. They don’t always act or look a particular way until the need for leadership surfaces. Among their skills are outspokenness, decisiveness, control, and action. These skills can be used for good or evil. Ya’akov’s fourth son, Judah was a natural leader, the evidence illustrated in three different scenarios: planning the sale of Yosef, the incident with Tamar, and the interaction as he willingly offered his life for his little brother. Judah’s decisions were often the result of pressure in the moment rather than cooperation with G-d’s plan, but he did not have that insight at the time. Once he recognized his mistakes, he admitted them. Another lesson we may learn from examining Juda’s character as a young man and as a mature leader is that we should not wait until we are “under the gun” to admit our mistakes. Once we are aware of them, we should immediately seek G-d’s forgiveness and not repeat the same sin.
Judah was used by G-d as a man who made mistakes but overcame with G-d’s intervention to be a leader and the progenitor of David, and Yahshua, our Messiah. Through the narrative and adventures of Judah’s life we can see that G-d is in control, far beyond the immediate situation. If we internalize this truth, we can learn not to be anxious for anything, but to trust that G-d is working in our lives every minute( Psalm 46:10: Phil. 4:6-7).
Judah assumed the lead role that leads us to the words “Va-Yigash” which is the title of our Parashah. It is translated as “went-up” and this appears in the introduction to Abraham’s intercession on behalf of S’dom (18:23), which was also a bold act on Abraham’s part. Juda’s and Abraham’s speech in their respective cases represent a very delicate balance between deference and assertion. Both succeeded in moving each from a possible disposition of judgment to mercy.
We also learn something more of Yosef. He did not carry a drudge and was without guile. No sooner did he remind his brothers of their sin than he renounces retribution. This is the hope all true believers have when we stand before our Messiah for judgement. The Adversary will do his best to convict us and rightly so as we are sinners to the death, but through Yahshua’s sacrifice, our love and obedience to His Torah, and His promises, we will win the prize of spending an eternity with our Saviour, King, and L-rd. G-d has arranged life events and the outcomes so that disasters although very real and painful in human reality, is not the last word. The last word for the true believer will be life rather than death(Chap 45: 5-8).
Haftarah: (Yechezk’el 37:15)
In this week’s Parashah we see Y’hudah willing to be Yosef’s slave.
In the Haftarah, the prophet Yechezk’el is told by G-d to prepare two pieces of wood. On one piece he is to write Y’hudah (Judah) and on the other Israel and then to take another stick and write Ephraim upon it as the verses below reveal.
16 Moreover, thou son of man, take thee one stick, and write upon it, For Judah, and for the children of Israel his companions: then take another stick, and write upon it, For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim, and for all the house of Israel his companions:
17 And join them one to another into one stick; and they shall become one in thine hand.
18 And when the children of thy people shall speak unto thee, saying, Wilt thou not show us what thou meanest by these?
19 Say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I will take the stick of Joseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel his fellows, and will put them with him, even with the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, and they shall be one in mine hand.
YHVH Elohim was essentially telling the prophet that by taking Y’hudah and Ephraim and placing them together, G-d would unite them one day as Israel and end their exile.
The Jews went to Egypt because Y’hudah and Yosef weren’t united. Now YHVH was going to unite the two in the land of Israel. A foreshadowing of Judah/Israel and Ephraim/ Israel with their companions Gentiles being united in the latter days to be fully united in the land of Israel at the Messiah’s Second Event.
B’rit Chadashah: Acts 7:9-16 (specifically 13-15)
“The second time, Yosef revealed his identity to his brothers, and Yosef’s family became known to Pharaoh. Yosef then sent for his father Ya’akov and all his relatives, seventy–five people. And Ya’akov went down to Egypt; there he died, as did our ancestors.”
This narrative is taken from Stephen’s speech to those in the Sanhedrin as a result of false accusations of blasphemy against Moshe and G-d. Members of the Synagogue of the Freed Slaves as they were called, argued with Stephen in this matter. These members included Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and people from Cilicia and the province of Asia. Recall that Stephen was full of grace and power and was enabled to perform great miracles and signs among the people. He had been chosen by the Twelve talmidim to address the complaining of the Greek-speaking Jews against the Hebrew-speaking Jews that their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution (Acts 6:1).
So, rumors were initiated and spread that Stephen blasphemed against Moshe and G-d. They stirred up tot Torah teachers, elders, and the people who led him before the Sanhedrin and arranged for some to say that Stephen never stopped speaking against the holy place and against the Torah; for we have heard him say that Yahshua from Natzeret will destroy this place and will change the customs Moshe handed down to us” (Acts6:11-14).
Stephen now proceeds to answer these charges, not as one defending himself but as a witness to the gospel (Lk 21:13). He exposes the falseness of the charges as he affirms his loyalty to G-d’s law and true worship. But more important, he reveals how religious effort, in this case first-century Judaism, is an obstacle to the other half of a saving relationship with G-d; that is understanding Yahshua as G-d incarnate who taught man the spirit of the Law as well as the letter of the Law and how the two must be practiced in our daily lives.
Similarly, Stephen himself, full of wisdom and grace, has been made responsible for food distribution for G-d’s people (Acts 6:3, 5, 8). Though Joseph’s brothers and Stephen’s opponents meant their attacks for evil, G-d is not thwarted, for He can turn it to good. In Joseph’s case, G-d protected his chosen preserver of the covenant people, preparing the way for the survival of generations.
Famine struck Canaan as well as Egypt. Jacob and his family were on the point of starvation (heurisko) in the negative imperfect points to “lasting inability”–Kistemaker 1990:249), and the covenant promises were on the verge of dying out in the fourth and fifth generations. Then they gained relief by sending to Egypt for food (see Gen 41:54, 57; 42:2, 5). Not only did Joseph preserve them alive, but on the second visit he revealed himself to them and effected a reconciliation (Acts 7:13; Gen 45:1-16). The parallel is that when Yahshua returns, he will reveal himself to those who did not recognize or believe that He was also the suffering Servant described in Isaiah 53. Until then, He provides for those who love Him through this earthly spiritual famine.
Stephen concludes this portion of Israel’s history with the note that Joseph sent for Jacob and the whole family, seventy-five souls, and so they settled in Egypt (Acts 7:14). He tells us of the patriarchs’ deaths and their burial in Sh’chem in Canaan. So God’s purposes–both his eternal covenant with Abraham to build a great nation and his prophecy that there would be a sojourn in another country–were being accomplished. Their final instructions were to have their bones buried in the land. And this their sons did in hope.
The wilderness journey or exile as we may call it, is our training/lives on this earth; at the race to win the prize as described by Sha’ul. True believers will experience trouble and exile as we draw closer to Yahshua’s return and establishment of the Millennial Kingdom. Just as the patriarchs and prophets maintained faith in the eye of the storms they experienced, we must keep our eye on the prize and pray for strength, wisdom from above, and grace as we travel. The constants of a covenant relationship, now as then, are G-d’s word of promise and his powerful working to fulfill it, his presence in every place, and the necessity of obedient faith to lay hold of the promise.
Rabbi Tamah Davis-Hart