At first glance, parshat Vayigash and its haftora seem to be the mirror image of one another. The haftora recounts the Divine ingathering of all the exiles. Yechezkel describes a time of unprecedented national unity in our land:
Ironically, parshat Vayigash is the portion in which Ya’akov and his family pack up and leave Eretz Canaan! The era of Egyptian servitude has been set into motion.
It is possible that this contrast is precisely what Chazal was teaching; that although Parshat Vayigash marks a low point with regard to the Israelite presence in Eretz Cana’an, Yechezkel’s prophesy is a reminder that we will ultimately return.
There is however a commonality between the parsha and the haftora that is worthy of note. A precedent is set in Yayigash that has already reverberated through Jewish History, and as the haftora indicates, will continue to echo into the period of acharit hayamim.
Upon careful reading, the chapter in Yechezkel singles out one of the shvatim repeatedly. By the grace of G-d, the ten tribes, known as b’nei Ephraim, will be absorbed into bnei yehuda in the land of Israel. This reunited nation will be ruled by a member of the house of David, who is a descendant of Yehuda.
Why is the tribe of Yehuda destined for such greatness? The answer to this question can be found in this week’s parsha. According to the Ramban, all that occurred to the forefathers was a sign for their descendants. (מעשה אבות סימן לבנים.) If so, what does Yehuda do in his lifetime that demonstrates the ability to lead?
Yehuda’s “journey” begins inauspiciously. It is he who masterminds the plot to sell Yosef to the Yishmaelim, and the brothers do as Yehuda says. Mechirat Yosef marks the collapse of the integrity of Yaakov’s family. Yaakov is griefstricken and Yehuda actually leaves the family and lives for a while on his own. This decision is reflective of the disintegration of Yaakov’s home:
פרק לח’ א וַיְהִי בָּעֵת הַהִוא, וַיֵּרֶד יְהוּדָה מֵאֵת אֶחָיו; וַיֵּט עַד-אִישׁ עֲדֻלָּמִי, וּשְׁמוֹ חִירָה
According to Rashi, the wording of this verse is telling. When the pasuk states that Yehuda “went down” from his brothers, the text is implying the following message: The brothers brought Yehuda down from his great status when they saw Yaakov’s sorrow. They said to him, “you suggested that we sell him; had you told us to return him to our father we would have obeyed you.”
In Yehuda’s time away, tragedy befalls him. He loses two sons and lived in great fear of losing his lone surviving son. Now, Yehuda has a keen understanding of Yaakov’s pain.
At this juncture, the famine sets in and the drama involving Yosef and the brothers begins. For much of the story, Yehuda maintains a low profile; it seems that he is not interested in the limelight.
This dynamic shift is in chapter 43. The family is at an impasse. Yaakov refuses to send Binyamin down to Egypt and the family is out of food. Reuven’s attempts to negotiate with Yaakov are rejected. Yehuda steps forward and discusses their predicament assertively. Yehuda makes it clear to Yaakov that the only option they have is to bring Binyamin down to Egypt. The family’s survival is at stake! Yehuda continues, and takes full responsibility for Binyamin’s welfare. He commits himself as an ערב/ guarantor for Binyamin. Yehuda successfully conveys to his father his genuine comprehension of Yaakov’s fear of losing Binyamin, and now, Yaakov relents.
פרק מג’,ח וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוּדָה אֶל-יִשְׂרָאֵל אָבִיו, שִׁלְחָה הַנַּעַר אִתִּי–וְנָקוּמָה וְנֵלֵכָה; וְנִחְיֶה וְלֹא נָמוּת, גַּם-אֲנַחְנוּ גַם-אַתָּה גַּם-טַפֵּנוּ. ט אָנֹכִי, אֶעֶרְבֶנּוּ–מִיָּדִי, תְּבַקְשֶׁנּוּ: אִם-לֹא הֲבִיאֹתִיו אֵלֶיךָ וְהִצַּגְתִּיו לְפָנֶיךָ, וְחָטָאתִי לְךָ כָּל-הַיָּמִים.
The saga continues to unfold and Yosef engineers Binyamin’s arrest. Yehuda is now the family spokesman. “ויגש אליו יהודה…” Yehuda is a passionate advocate for the sake of his father. He even offers up his own freedom and asks Yosef if he could take Binyamin’s place!
The love and concern that Yehuda displays for Binyamin and Yaakov overwhelms Yosef, and the charade is done. Yehuda’s leadership and initiative is the remedy for what has ailed this family for over twenty years. Yehuda is the one who is able to reunite the divided family.
This quality is precisely the type of leadership that Am Yisrael requires. Yehuda evolves to be the prototype for the future king of Israel. What the Torah portrays as a family event, Yechezkel projects as a national hope: the reconciliation and reunification of all the children of Israel.