Who is he kidding? This man conspired with his Mother to steal his older brother's birthright. Early in his life he told Gd he would only be his Gd if everything worked out alright on his journey. And this after experiencing the majesty of the Divine presence and exclaiming "Acheyn yesh Ad-nai..." This man, who, when two of his sons executed the entire male population of a town to avenge the rape of their sister, was more worried about how their actions would affect his reputation.
And he has the unmitigated gall to offer up the first ethical will in history, chastising his sons and citing all their faults? Sheesh!
If ever a man was inflicted with the curse "may Gd grant you children like yourself" then Yaakov surely was. It starts with first born, who sleeps with his father's concubine! Numbers two and three disgrace themselves in a wanton act of supposedly justifiable mass murder. Number 4 we'll get back to in a minute. Five and six did nothing much and could expect the same. Seven, Eight, Nine and Ten are similarly mundane, though apparently deserving of some good fortune. (Maybe Yaakov was just getting a little less particular with his younger kids?) Number Eleven is successful-but note that it is only with and because of Gd's help-at least the way Yaakov see it. Did Yosef succeed on his own merits, or was he only, as he himself indicated, a pawn in Gd's little play?
And Number Twelve? Well, he's obviously developed a bit of a temper and youngest child syndrome. No surprise there. Bet if Benjamin had gotten out of town without that golden cup being discovered, he would have kept it and not have told another soul about it.
But what about Number Four? What makes him so special. Let's remember who he is. He's the one that suggested that they could get rid of brother Yosef and make money on the deal at the same time. Does that make him hero or goat? His act did spare Yosef's life, but was that a righteous act or a side-effect or greed? We'll never know. But he got payback, when he found out he had slept with his own daughter-in-law! (And, without that incident, there would have been no Davidic line to begin with!) So maybe that evened the score enough to enable Judah to be the son who received the really cool blessing and prediction.
Apparently the other brothers weren't too impressed with Yaakov's predictions. When Yaakov kicked the bucket, the brothers were still worried about what Yosef might do to them. He was the one with the power now. Judah's turn would come later, long after Judah was gone.
Let's put aside the question of authorship and redaction. Yes, perhaps Yaakov's final testament to his sons was a reflection of a later historical reality. But let's assume that these were indeed Yaakov's very words. The question remains-why pick Judah, out of all of them, to be the ultimate long-term success story? What had Judah done to merit the honor?
I have a theory about that. Harken back to parashat Vayeshev and Gen. 38:26 in which Judah plainly admits he had been wrong in dealing with Tamar. The ability to admit when one is wrong. That is worthy of great honor, indeed. Especially among us clearly imperfect human beings.
And, in a way, Yaakov's ethical will might be his own admission of guilt. Of his failures as a father. Favoring one song among twelve. Failing to properly chastise his children when he really needed to. Takes a great man to be willing to lay it all bare like that-for it reflects as much on him as it does on his sons.
So Yaakov's own parting words reinforce my thesis-Judah is honored for his willingness to admit to wrongs. A good lesson for us all this Shabbat.
Chazak, chazak, v'nitchazek.
©2001 by Adrian A. Durlester
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