The emotional meetings between the brothers and Yosef reach a crescendo in Parshas Vayigash. The brothers came several times to Mitzrayim in search of food, each time harassed by the Egyptian viceroy. Finally, after the man told them that he intended to jail Binyomin on trumped up charges, Yehudah confronts the ruler and tells him that the charade must come to an end.
After exhibiting strange behavior when the sons of Yaakov arrived to purchase food, the man in charge said that they would have to bring along their youngest brother on the next trip or face jail on espionage charges. The extended family was running low on food and was facing starvation, yet their father would not permit them to bring along their youngest brother. It was Yehudah who convinced the family’s patriarch to allow Binyomin to join the food trek to Mitzrayim. When Yehudah accepted personal responsibility for Binyomin’s welfare, Yaakov was relieved and blessed the return trip to Mitzrayim.
When the family’s worst fears were realized and Yosef announced that he was going to jail Binyomin, Yehudah was the one who stepped forward.
The posuk states, “Vayigash eilov Yehudah.” Yehudah approached Yosef. The posuk quotes the respectful terms with which Yehudah spoke. He was deferential to the viceroy, stating, “Bi adoni,” and referred to himself as a slave of the Mitzri boss using the term “avdecha” to describe himself.
While the Torah presents the conversation as cordial, Rashi teaches that Yehudah was tough as he spoke to Yosef: “diber ito kashos.” Choosing his words carefully and speaking respectfully, Yehudah made clear that he would do whatever it took to gain Binyomin’s freedom.
In a classic showdown between two powerful men, one a leader in his country, the other a leader in his family, Yosef faced down Yehudah, matching his threats and pleas with wile and negotiation.
But when Yehudah repeated to him the conversation with Yaakov and that he had accepted arvus, responsibility, for his brother Binyomin, Yosef decided that it was the proper time to reveal himself to his brothers. When he saw that Yehudah cared enough about their father to sacrifice his own welfare, he sensed that the brothers had done teshuvah for selling him and would now be able to live together in a peaceful and loving manner. When he saw that one among them had displayed acts of malchus, he was assured that they would not return to divisive ways.
However, as Yosef reunited with his brother Binyomin, Yosef felt that something was wrong; the arvus between the Bnei Yisroel would not last. He wept on the shoulder of Binyomin, for he foresaw that the two Botei Mikdosh that would stand in Binyomin’s portion of Eretz Yisroel would be destroyed. Binyomin wept, as it was revealed to him that the Mishkon that would be constructed in Yosef’s portion of Shilo would be destroyed. The achdus and arvus would not stand the test of time. The effect of the sin of the brothers at mechiras Yosef would afflict their children for thousands of years.
It is incumbent upon us in this generation of ikvesa d’Meshicha to adopt the conduct of Yehudah, rectify the flaw, and remove it from our midst. It is the only way that we will get out of here, and although we have come so far, we still have a way to go.
It is often repeated that Yehudah earned his eternal hold on malchus through his middah of achrayus, responsibility. He was the one who accepted upon himself the responsibility for Binyomin so that the family would have what to eat, and he was the one who confronted Yosef when Binyomin’s safety was threatened.
The Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 93:2) adds a deeper meaning to the exchange, referencing the posuk in Tehillim (48:5) which reads, “Ki hinei hamelochim noadu ovru yachdov, heima rau kein tomohu nivhalu nechpozu.” The simple translation of the posuk is, “Behold, the kings assembled, they came together, they saw and were astounded.”
The Medrash interprets the posuk to be saying: “The kings, Yehudah and Yosef, came together and became angry at each other. The other brothers saw and were astounded. They hastily fled.”
The Medrash adds that the other brothers said to each other, “Melochim medaynim eilu im eilu, the kings are battling each other, onu mah ichpas lonu, what do we care?” Let them fight it out between themselves and let’s keep out of it.
It is with this remark – “onu mah ichpas lonu” – that the brothers revealed what separated them from royalty and how Yehudah was crowned with the role of malchus for all time.
Others say, “Mah ichpas lonu.” They witness injustice and say, “It is not our problem. We can’t do anything about it anyway.” A melech cares about everyone and everything that happens. “Levavo levav kol Yisroel,” the Rambam says (Hilchos Melochim, perek 3, halacha 6). A king feels what is in the heart of every person and is affected by that.
Yehudah epitomized this. If there was a problem in the family, it was his problem. If something had to be made right, he was the one who stepped forward to do what had to be done. Ichpas lo. Yehuda was the leader because he cared.
The most effective leaders are those who are able to identify with the concerns of their subjects and followers, acting out of a sense of responsible concern. Some leaders demagogue about the various issues of the day, using everything as a vehicle to enhance their ambition and career. But their leadership is short-lived, because eventually people sense that they don’t really care about them, but about hitting the proper notes and striking the perfect talking points.
Yehudah doesn’t look for a good speech. He looks for action and to get the job done. It is easy to find problems and touch people’s emotions, but only a person who is “ichpas lo” will come up with solutions.
I was at a meeting with my rebbi, Rav Elya Svei, where a pressing issue was discussed. There were many leaders in attendance, and many of them spoke about the problem and proposed solutions. Rav Elya didn’t say much. When the meeting ended, I asked him why he didn’t join in the spirited conversation and express his opinion about the issue as the others had done. He explained, “They don’t really care. They will go home and it will all be forgotten. But tomorrow morning, I will get on the phone with the person who has the ability to rectify the situation and will work with him to make sure it gets done.”
Leadership is not about the speech. It’s not about the posturing. It’s not about impressing a crowd. It’s about caring enough to thoroughly analyze the problem and come up with a responsible solution, and then carrying it out.
Chazal say, “Man malki, rabbonon.” In our time, when there are no longer ruling kings, as we don’t have an established royalty, rabbonim are the kings. They are our royalty. Someone who is suffused with Torah and has raised himself through the 48 middos through which Torah is acquired is a person who cares deeply about Torah and Am Yisroel.
But there is more to the middah of malchus as expressed by Yehudah and his actions, and by talmidei chachomim, rabbonim and gutte Yidden who follow in his path.
A Yerushalmi Yid once shared an apocryphal story with me. With the gentle humor and wit unique to residents of the Holy City, he spun a tale about a dog that entered a small shul. The animal noticed that on top of the aron hakodesh, there was an image of two crouching lions hovering over the Luchos.
The dog was incensed. He asked the people in shul why the lion merits such honor. The shul Yidden responded to the dog that the lion is the king of the animals, and thus his image is placed in a special place.
The dog wasn’t satisfied. “Why is the lion king? I am king!” the dog said.
The people in the shul explained to him, “A lion sits patiently. If you throw an old piece of meat or a bone in its direction, it won’t react. You can’t buy its love with rotten food. The lion decides what it will eat and what is worth lunging for.
“But you, the dog, come bounding over no matter what is being offered. Rotten or decayed, you accept it. If someone throws a stone, you chase it. If it is a rock, you run for it. You will chase after a Frisbee as if it were a steak. That’s why you’re never going to be on a paroches.”
Yaakov blessed the shevotim before his passing. He turned to Yehudah (Bereishis 49:9) and said, “Gur aryeh Yehudah,” comparing him to a lion, king of the animals. Certainly, this has to do with the readiness of a lion to roar, to spring into action, and to react. “Miteref beni olisa, you rose at the time when I believed that my son Yosef was ripped apart.” For it was then that Yehudah displayed his malchusdike behavior. When the brothers wanted to kill Yosef, Yehudah interfered and said (Bereishis 33:26), “Mah betza ki naharog es achinu,” and saved him from death.
The yehi ratzon recited by some before lighting neiros Chanukah contains a request that Hashem open our eyes so that “Be’orcha nireh ohr, we will be able to see the light.” In life, there are things that we see as light, though, in truth, they are darkness. We can interpret something good as being bad, because the light we see with is faulty. Thus, we ask Hashem, “Be’orcha nireh ohr. Shine Your light upon us so that we may see things and judge them with the proper clarity and depth.”
But there is something else as well. A lion is discriminating. It is selective. It is careful about what it accepts. It doesn’t sell itself for cheap kavod, for a stick or an old piece of meat. The lion is disciplined. It is malchusdik because it can’t be bought. It isn’t easily won over or corrupted.
We can understand that when Chazal taught that in the period leading up to Moshiach, the pnei hador will be k’pnei hakelev, they were predicting that the people and their leaders at that time will exhibit the middah of the kelev and would be undiscerning. They wouldn’t care much about others, about problems and solutions. They would be easily corrupted and convinced to act in an irresponsible manner.
We, who study and follow the Torah, should remember that we must act and think responsibly, even when others aren’t.
Like a lion, the good person is disciplined to only accept that which is emes. That attitude results in malchus, uprightness and concern.
The Gemara in Maseches Nedorim (24a) states, inter alia, that a dog says, “Ana demis’hanina minoch velo mishanis minoi, I benefit from you, but you won’t benefit from me.” A relationship with a dog is always one way: the dog takes and the man gives. A king says, “Ana demanina loch v’at lo mehanis li.” Everyone benefits from a king, but he doesn’t take anything from anyone.
A melech is a nosein, a benevolent giver. A kelev is a mekabel, a taker. Thus, in the time of ikvesa d’Meshicha, Chazal said that people would become apathetic, selfish, and caught up with themselves and their own concerns. Thus, they are compared to dogs. They don’t have time or room in their hearts for other people.
With this, we can understand why the Chofetz Chaim writes (Ahavas Chesed, 14) that if people would do chesed with each other, the final geulah would come. We can bring about the geulah through helping others and feeling their pain.
We may understand that in the period of ikvesa d’Meshicha, pnei hador k’pnei hakelev. There is a klipah of selfishness in the world that is mekatreig. To remove that curse from upon us, we must act as the lion does, conducting ourselves with dignity, forthrightness and selflessness. We have to think and act like Yehudah. If we would show that we care, we could create new worlds for ourselves and improve the one in which we live, as the posuk (Tehillim 89) says, “Olam chesed yiboneh.”
There is no shortage of situations in which we can show that we care. Get involved when there is a problem that goes unaddressed and work to solve it, not for any reason other than to make the world a better place and to prepare it for Moshiach.
We must always bear in mind that we are bnei melochim. When we see people acting improperly or people who have been wronged, and when we can make a difference in someone’s life or for a cause, we have to rise like a lion.
If we help someone find a job, get a child into a school, or find a shidduch, or we listen to someone’s problems and provide a shoulder to cry on, we are following in the ways of Yehudah and acting in a way that will help restore his kingdom.
By emulating Yehudah and caring enough to act with kindness, empathy and a sense of responsibility towards others, we will not only help save our brothers, but will help build a new world, ushering in the era of malchus bais Dovid, bemeheirah beyomeinu. Amein.