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DEFINING OUR JEWISHNESS
In this week’s parsha, we discover some of the ways through which the name “Jew” defines us as a people. When the sons of Jacob are confronted by the irrational accusations of the Viceroy of Egypt (Joseph) and realize that the life of their younger brother, Benjamin, was at risk, then Judah (Jew) rises like a lion and does battle for his brother. As desperate and hopeless as the situation appears to be, Judah, a man of complete faith does not give up. Similarly, we, his descendants, have never given up. The obstacles that Judah confronts are many. The Egyptian Viceroy (Joseph) pretends that he doesn’t speak Hebrew. An interpreter has to serve as an intermediary, and the evidence weighs heavily against Benjamin.
Nevertheless, speaking Hebrew from his heart, Judah cites Torah law. One may ask what Judah could possibly have hoped to accomplish by speaking in Hebrew and referring to Jewish law to this foreigner (Joseph).
There is a wonderful story about the great sage, the Chofetz Chaim, that explains it all: The Polish government has passed an edict prohibiting independent Jewish education, thus jeopardizing the continuation of Torah study. The Chofetz Chaim requested a meeting with the president. Even as Judah spoke in Hebrew, the Chofetz Chaim spoke in Yiddish through a court interpreter. Although the president did not understand Yiddish, the Chofetz Chaim’s heart rending plea touched him so deeply that tears filled his eyes. When the interpreter began to translate, the president quickly interrupted him and said, “Although I do not speak Yiddish, I understand the words of this holy man - the edict is rescinded. “
This is the legacy of Judah - If we speak in the Name of G-d, if we uphold our Torah, and are prepared to put our lives on the line for the sake of our brethren, there will be no barrier that we cannot overcome.
We, the Jewish people, have survived the centuries with the Torah as our guide. Our emunah - our faith, has sustained us. We have never lost hope, so if we feel overwhelmed by life’s struggles, we must remember that we are Jews - descended from the Tribe of Judah. Let us connect with our Torah, with our faith, and G-d will surely come to our aid. Finally, let us remember that the name Judah means to give thanks and praise to G-d. Ultimately, that is probably the most compelling definition of our Jewishness. In times of joy and in times of adversity, we give thanks to our Creator.