In Vayigash, we reach the climax of the story of Yosef and his brothers.
The brothers were horrified that their youngest brother Binyamin was to be imprisoned for stealing. But it was only Yehuda who stepped forward to challenge the decree. In order to save his brother, Yehuda risked his life and insisted that he be imprisoned instead. Once Yosef witnessed this self-sacrifice, he revealed himself to his brothers. This led to the family being reunited.
Yehuda was willing to take responsibility and to risk everything to save his brother. His is a story of growth and change that leads to greatness. It is, therefore, not surprising that our father Yaakov eventually blessed him that his tribe would be the rulers of the Jewish people. Leadership requires growth, the willingness to take responsibility and risk everything to do what is right.
Centuries later the Jewish people would be blessed with another Yehuda — Yehuda haMaccabee.
HaRav Shlomo Aviner (Rosh Yeshivat Ateret Yerushalayim and Rav of Bet El) notes that at the beginning of the Maccabees’ revolt against the Greeks, the majority of the Jewish people — even those who were not Hellenists — were unwilling to participate. The nay-sayers of the age said there was no chance that they could win the war against the powerful Greek empire. No nation had been able to overthrow a world power. The Jews were vastly outnumbered and could never succeed. Further, a failed rebellion would endanger the entire Jewish people as the Greeks would surely take revenge on the entire nation.
HaRav Aviner notes that Yehuda haMaccabee acted as a true Jewish leader. Yehuda had great faith in Hashem. He taught the nation that Hashem was certainly capable of delivering the mighty Greeks into the hands of the outnumbered Jews. Hashem had done this before in many cases in Tanach. But what made Yehuda’s actions particularly special is that unlike in the times of the Tanach, there was no prophecy.
Yehuda had no guarantee that he would be successful. However, he taught his soldiers — and the entire nation — that Hashem had the power to deliver victory. Yehuda had great mesirut nefesh — willingness to sacrifice even his life to do what was right, even without a prophetic promise of success.
As HaRav Aviner notes, by his actions Yehuda taught, “We will fulfill our obligations to free the Jewish people and the Temple. … We will do Hashem’s will.” This is true self-sacrifice — the willingness to do Hashem’s will even without a promise of success.
Ultimately, the nation accepted the rule of the Maccabees. According to the Maharal of Prague, the miracle of the oil was a sign from Hashem that the Maccabees were just in their fight. Their victory and subsequent rededication of the Temple were pleasing in the eyes of Hashem.
Yehuda haMaccabee, like Yehuda Son of Yaakov our Father, took the mantle of leadership and risked everything.
From Yehuda to Yehuda, was there anyone like Yehuda? Can we be like him?
Rabbi Shmuel Jablon is the menahel (principal) of Torah Academy, a former member of the executive committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and the host of www.rabbijablon.com .