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Echoes of the Future
Video 7 of 17
Well it should. Because that is exactly how Jacob himself - Jacob is the one talking over here - back in the story of the sale of Joseph, remember Jacob doesn't know what happened. So Jacob just gets a bloody coat. What does he thing happened? He thinks that Joseph has been torn up alive and the very word for torn up alive is this word right over here, the word which appears later on in Jacob's blessing to Judah. You can see it right over here. Here's the story of the sale of Joseph when Jacob comes to the conclusion that Joseph has been torn up alive, the brothers send the coat of many colors, they bring it to their father, they say we found this, do you recognize? Please, is this your son's coat or not? Vayakira - Jacob recognizes it; Vayomer ketonet beni - it's in fact my son's coat. Chaya rah ochalatu - indeed a wild beast has devoured him. Tarof taraf Yosef - Joseph has been torn up alive.
But look at these words over here; Tarof taraf Yosef. You see it over here; Miteref beni alitah - that word for torn-up prey that appears in Jacob's blessing to Judah comes from this word over here; Tarof taraf Yosef - Joseph has been torn up alive. These two phrases are absolutely identical. Seemingly. What is Jacob saying about this lion? Well if you go back and you look at what it was that Jacob was worried about Chaya rah ochalatu - a terrible beast devoured him, well what kind of terrible beast? What kind of terrible beast is the ultimate king of jungle, the ultimate beast of prey? It of course is the lion.
So later on when Jacob calls Judah a lion, what does he really mean by that? Yes, on the one hand Judah is the lion, his hand is at the nape of the neck of his enemies, he's going to destroy his enemies, he's going to defend them. Because he's able to defend the brothers they will bow to him and recognize him as king. But there's another danger, isn't there? What if the lion turns his attitude of complete dominance, showing no mercy to foes - what if he applies that inside the family? Then you get the story of Joseph and his brothers. Then you get Joseph has been torn to pieces.
I just want to clarify this point for a second because it's something which is hard, I think, for us to accept. We see ourselves as nice people and compassionate people. But compassion is not always called for especially in war. As a matter of fact in war it's generally ruthlessness that wins the day, it's ruthlessness that you can count on for defense. It's something again which those of us who haven't been in war have a hard time seeing. I recall recently coming across a veteran, an American veteran actually of the Yom Kippur war. He really said that war changed everything. He said, you can't talk to people who weren't there about the experience. That there's a certain kind of hardheartedness and a certain amount of coldness towards the enemy. You counted on your leaders to be able to do exactly what this blessing of Judah is talking about, which is literally to break the neck of an apparently - a helpless enemy. Because an enemy is not always helpless.
Just to illustrate this, a few years back a film by Steven Spielberg won the Academy Award for Best Picture; Saving Private Ryan. It wasn't just another battle movie, it was a serious, sobering perspective on the meaning of war. The film is several hours long but it hinges actually on this question to some extent, which is how do you treat an enemy that's down and out? Here's actually a scene which I just want to show you from that film.
So there's a group of Americans travelling behind enemy lines, they find a German soldier - this fellow right over here, and the American to the right is actually a person of German ancestry and he befriends him and they're talking. The question lurking is what do you do with this soldier? They're kind of making friends. Then all of a sudden the other group of Americans come along and they start grabbing their rifles and the German becomes very nervous and starts going back to work and digging this pit. He begs them ultimately for his life. The question is, will they show mercy? [Clip from movie being played here]. There's this moment of tension, will they shoot? He looks at their faces, tries to convince them, he likes Americans. [Clip from movie being played here]. In the end they don't shoot. [Clip from movie being played here].
So that's one scene. Then you just almost forget about this fellow, you kind of never see him again until the very end, the climactic battle scene in the film. Here it is. So it's a few months later and this band of Americans are fighting for their lives and here comes the Germans. Wait a second, here is this guy again. There's that American speaking German who saved his life, and he's looking at this German and thinking, I didn't kill him, this was the prisoner I could have killed and now this guy is - he's picking off my men. It turns out that the German is a sniper and he's just ruthlessly picking off the Americans, one by one. [Clip from movie being played here]. Meanwhile, he's like, what have I done?
Then, one of the very final scenes of the film, these two men meet again; the German prisoner who came back to fight and the American speaking German who spared his life. The Americans have won the battle and once again the German, among others, is prisoner, and they meet again. [Clip from movie being played here]. But this time there's a different ending. [Sound of shot being fired. Clip from movie being played here]. It comes back to who is the king? The king is the one who can defend you. Wounded enemy will come back to get you.
Well in Judah's life who is the wounded enemy, when is that moment when he could have pounced and destroyed and ruthlessly broken the neck of his enemy? The problem is, the enemy was on the inside; the enemy in his view was Joseph. When Joseph was in the pit he was down but he wasn't out. Judah the lion, his instinct would be to finish him off, that's the next step. But Judah did not take that next step. Remember that Joseph was not actually torn to pieces, that was just the alternative possibility, that's what might have been. The reason why Joseph was not actually torn to pieces was actually because of something that Judah said. Remember, it was these words, these sort of morally ambiguous words; Mah betza ki naharog et achinu vechisinu et damo? What profit do we gain by killing our brother? Judah is the one who saves him.
Now it's not actually nice, again it's sort of morally ambiguous, he saves him from death and instead says; Lechu venimkerenu layishma'elim - let's sell him to these Ishmaelites, because after all he is our brother. Joseph was in fact sold as a slave - you could argue his life is ruined, but not as much as if he had been killed. Joseph lives for another day, there is an epilogue to the story, Joseph is alive, not dead, because - and only because - of what Judah says here.
That is something, seemingly, perhaps, that Jacob recognizes in his blessing to Judah. Because if Jacob is in fact alluding with these words, Miteref Beni Alitah, to the story of Joseph being thrown in the pit, he's also saying something else. He's saying, that Judah did not in fact kill him; Gur aryeh Yehuda - he is a lion cub. What would a lion cub be expected to do? A lion would be expected to destroy, to tear apart his prey, the ultimate beast of prey - and in fact; Miteref - there was Joseph, waiting to be torn alive, waiting to be consigned to die in the pit and Judah had that power, but he didn't.
These are the next words. Beni Alitah - my son you emerged from that, you extricated yourself from the Teref, you did not allow yourself to succumb to the temptations of a vulnerable Joseph. In English, from your prey my son you have gone up. You resisted, you did something that lions don't do. Breaking the back of your enemy yes - Yadecha b'oref oyvecha - your hand is at the nape of your enemy's neck, you can be counted on to ultimately destroy your enemies, but you didn't bring that destruction in the family. Miteref beni alitah - from the possibility of torn-up prey my son you rose up, you didn't take the bait.
This, by the way is exactly how Rashi interprets it. Rashi, grandfather of medieval commentators, here's what he says about these words that Jacob says about Judah. Miteref - that evocative word that we've been talking about, that seems to bring us right back to the story of the sale of Joseph. Here's what Rashi has to say about it.
Miteref beni alitah. Mimah shechashadeticha betiruf - I had indeed suspected you, is implicit in Jacob's words. I had suspected you Judah that you had something to do with the loss of Joseph. I suspected that you the lion had taken Joseph as the prey. Tarof taraf Yosef - when I said; Tarof taraf Yosef - these words, I had thought about you. Now that's the reason why I'm again using this in your blessing, but I use these words to bless you. Because whereas I thought that Joseph was torn-up because; Chaya rah ochalatu - a terrible beast had devoured him. What beast is more terrible than the lion? But; Vezehu Yehuda shenimshol l'aryeh - and this indeed is you Judah, who are compared to a lion.
But it didn't happen. Beni - my son; Alitah! You rose up. Salakta et atzmacha - you extricated yourself; V'amarta - and you instead said; Mah betza ki naharog et achinu - what profit do we get out of killing our brother? Even though those words weren't perfect, even those words consigned Joseph into slavery, even though those words were on the one hand a terrible moral failing that you gave in and you allowed a brother of yours to be sold into slavery, but you saved him. You saved him with these words; Mah betza ki naharog et achinu - you didn't go for the kill. When you had your hand at the neck of your brother, when you perceived your brother as an enemy you didn't eliminate him entirely. You extricated yourself. You allowed Joseph to live for another day.
In fact, these words were really just Round 1. Because Judah does get a Round 2. When we come back we're going to talk about exactly what was that Round 2 and how that fits in to this developing picture, and ultimately to Psalm 30 as well.
1. What Does the Book of Psalms Have to Do With the Joseph Story?
2. A Curious Dedication
3. Profit Motive
4. Blood Money
5. Did Jacob Know?
6. A Father's Ambivalent Blessing
7. The Ruthlessness of War
8. The Lion and the Cub
10. To Redeem an Ancestor's Pledge
11. The Lion and the Lamb
12. Moving Up
13. Memories of Father
14. First Cries
15. Where Would I Be Without You
16. What Could Kill Me--But Then What?
17. A Palpable Presence
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