Lost In Translation: Judah And His Brothers

In our last portion, we saw Joseph overwhelmed by his love for Benjamin and crying in the inner room. We have to remember these tears of love that Joseph had to hold back. We have to remember them because right from the beginning of the next chapter we are again mystified. Literally a few lines later, we read: and he commanded the steward of his house, saying, ‘Fill the men’s sacks with food, as much as they can carry, and put each man’s money in the mouth of his sack. Also put my cup, the silver cup, in the mouth of the sack of the youngest, and his grain money.’ So he did according to the word that Joseph had spoken…[1]

You probably remember all that follows: the brothers leave, the search, the cup found in Benjamin’s sack. I suppose you understand that this in itself was a test. No matter how difficult and painful it was for Benjamin, this story was not about him, it was about his brothers. Theoretically, ten brothers could have gone home—they were absolutely free to do that, the steward was very clear: “he with whom it is found shall be my slave, and you shall be blameless.”[2] Moreover, they did have a good excuse—their families were starving and they really had to bring them food. So they could have all left Benjamin and gone home, and I can imagine Joseph sitting in his palace, almost biting his nails, waiting to see who would come back: only Benjamin, or all the brothers? He was greatly relieved to see them all come back: the fact that they did all return was already a good sign—the brothers had passed this test.

Yes, they all went back to Josephand that was the beginning of their way back to God. Scripture doesn’t tell us exactly what was happening inside the brothers during this trip back. We only know that those who started out on this path with rent clothing, arrive at its end… with rent heart. And from now on, this story becomes the story of Judah and his brothers:  So Judah and his brothers came to Joseph’s house, and he was still there; and they fell before him on the ground.

Do you know where else we find this same expression: “Judah and his brothers”? When we open the New Testament, we read in Matthew: Abraham begot Isaac, Isaac begot Jacob, and Jacob begot Judah and his brothers. Judah and his brothers—this is how Scripture sees this part of the story. Judah is the one who starts to speak after they all return to Joseph:

And Judah said, “What shall we say unto my lord? what shall we speak? or how shall we clear ourselves?”[3]

Why Judah? In order to answer this question, we need to recall the most overlooked chapter in the book of Genesis: the story of Judah and Tamar. We have to remember Judah’s repentance and confession there; we have to understand that the Judah who comes to Egypt and talks to Joseph, is not the same Judah we saw in chapter 37, in the story of Joseph’s sale. By inserting chapter 38, the Torah makes sure we know that: this Judah experienced the terrible tragedy of losing two sons; this Judah went through deep repentance and transformation in the story with Tamar – and therefore, he now has a broken, humble and repentant heart.  Therefore, what happens next, happens again after Judah’s speech.

You probably know by now that the Hebrew Torah, along with chapter divisions, also has divisions into Torah portions (Parashat Shavua). When we read the Bible in English, the whole story of the brothers returning to Joseph after the Benjamin “theft”—their speech, their repentance, and then Joseph revealing his identity—seems like one uninterrupted story. It’s very different in Hebrew though: here, the Torah Portion Miketz suddenly ends in the middle of chapter 44 to give way to a new Parasha – then starts the new Torah portion, Vayigash, and it begins with the words: Then Judah came near unto him.… As if an invisible dotted line signifies that something very important is about to happen.  Judah talks to Joseph, and it is only after his speech that Joseph reveals himself to his brothers.

These are the most exciting verses of this dramatic story! The Torah says, Joseph could not restrain himself… (להתאפק) and he wept aloud…. Of course, you remember how we witnessed Joseph weeping secretly in the inner room, and then restraining himself: he went into his chamber and wept there. Then he washed his face and came out; and he restrained himself… (ויתאפק).[4] Now we witness the amazing conclusion of this saga when Joseph could not restrain himself… (להתאפק).  From math class in school, you probably remember that two points can be connected by an infinite number of curved lines but there will be only one straight line. This is exactly what we see in our story. The two points are connected by not one, but two lines. One visible, circuitous line, the view purposefully revealed to the brothers, follows the observable surface of the day’s events: the restrained Joseph’s instruction to put the cup into Benjamin’s sack, the brothers’ exit, the stop, and the search, the return to the city, the conversation with Joseph, the speech of Judah sacrificing himself for Benjamin’s sake, and finally the tears of Joseph not restraining himself as he reveals himself to his brothers. There is a second line, however, one hidden and invisible in translation but visible in Hebrew: the straight segment directly connecting the Joseph who weeps in secret in the inner room with the Joseph openly sobbing unrestrainedly, who tearfully reveals himself to his brothers. The tears of love that are held back and hidden at our first point are revealed to their full degree at the second point when Joseph could not restrain himself any longer.

I can’t finish this Portion’s comments without pointing out yet another amazing verse about Judah. In Genesis 46, when Israel goes to meet Joseph, Torah says:

Jacob sent Judah ahead of him to Joseph, so that the latter might guide him on the road to Goshen.[5]

Thus, in order for Joseph to release his ‘restrained’ tears of love and reveal his identity, there must be Judah who will be ready to step in and approach Joseph. In order for Israel to know his way to Joseph, there has to be Judah who will guide him on this way. Truly, the story of “Joseph and his brothers” has to become the story of “Judah and his brothers”…


[1] Gen. 44:1-2

[2] Gen. 44:10

[3] Gen. 44:16

[4] Gen. 43:30-31

[5] Gen. 46:28


Excerpts from my books are included in this article (and many other posts here), so if you like the articles on this blog, you might enjoy also my books, you can get them here. Also, I would like to remind you, that we offer wonderful courses, and those interested to study in-depth Parashat Shavua, along with New Testament insights, or to discover the hidden treasures of the Hebrew Bible, are welcome to contact me  (juliab@eteachergroup.com) for more information and for the discount (for the new students).

About the author

Julia BlumJulia is a teacher and an author of several books on biblical topics. She teaches two biblical courses at the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, “Discovering the Hebrew Bible” and “Jewish Background of the New Testament”, and writes Hebrew insights for these courses.

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  1. the Walking bible

    Please what is actually translated from Hebrew language into English language in 1 John 5:7?

  2. Viera Emunah

    Such the awesome story ! Yes, we are looking forward, expecting “the great finale ” !
    Thank you, dear Julia.

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you, Viera! Yes, we all find great hope and great encouragement in the “great finale” of Joseph’s story! Blessings!