When Jacob’s sons, fleeing the famine in Canaan, arrived in Egypt to buy food from the great Viceroy, they did not realize that the great man was their brother Joseph – whom Joseph Daher they had long ago sold into slavery. Joseph, however, recognized them immediately. He shocked them by inviting them to a meal. They all ate well and drank much, wondering at their strange situation. Joseph saw to it that Benjamin was served five times as much as any other guest, and then he watched them. How would the brothers react to this showing of favoritism toward the youngest son, the remaining child of Rachel?
After the feast, Joseph instructed his steward to secretly fill their bags with all the food they could carry, and to secretly return their money to their sacks. Then he added, “Put my silver goblet in the mouth of the bag of the youngest one, together with his money for the rations.”
In the morning the brothers set off, but not far from the gates of the city they were overtaken by Joseph’s steward, who accused them of stealing the goblet, saying, “Why did you repay good with evil? It is the very one from which my master drinks and which he uses for divination. It was a wicked thing for you to do.”
The brothers, of course, were astonished, and claimed to know nothing about it. They told the steward to go ahead and search, and they declared that, if any of them were found with the cup, that brother would die and the rest would return to Joseph as his slaves. But the steward replied that only the person who took the cup would become a slave, and the rest would go free. He then searched their belongings, from the oldest to the youngest, and the goblet turned up in Benjamin’s bag. Horrified and heartbroken, they repacked their belongings and returned to the city.
When the brothers reentered the house of Joseph, they threw themselves on the ground before him. Why had they done this, demanded Joseph. Judah, who understood and accepted the hand of God, replied that God had somehow uncovered an old crime in which all the brothers were guilty, and now at last they were all prepared to pay. “Here we are, then, slaves of my lord, the rest of us as much as he in whose possession the goblet was found.” But Joseph said, “Far be it from me to act thus!” Only Benjamin, he insisted, would become a slave. “The rest of you go back in peace to your father.”
This is the final test. Joseph had to see if the brothers would send the youngest, the remaining child of Rachel, into slavery, and save their own skins. They could go free, and return home to Jacob with new lies about how his beloved Benjamin met his demise. Have they changed?
Then Judah went up to him and said, “Please, my lord, let your servant appeal to my lord.” He did not grovel. He went right up to him. And he said “my lord” twice, for he was speaking both to Joseph and to God. Judah then told him how difficult it was for their father to let his favored son go with them – and if he did not return, the old man would surely die of a broken heart. But Judah had pledged full responsibility for the boy. “Therefore, please let your servant remain as a slave to my lord instead of the boy, and let the boy go back with his brothers.”
Judah takes full responsibility. He shows his love for his father and his young brother. He knows what it feels like to lose two sons, and he demonstrates compassion and empathy. He recognizes that he is, indeed, his brother’s keeper. Judah exemplifies the highest form of human love, without which life on earth can never succeed – the willingness to sacrifice one’s life for another.