By Rabbi Alex Freedman.
What’s the greatest love story ever told? I imagine most people would think first about romantic love, the passionate feelings that bring two people from different families into one relationship. Maybe they think of a movie or a book.
It might then surprise people to learn that the Torah’s greatest expression of love is not between “lovers” at all. Rather it describes the connection among family.
At the beginning of our Torah reading, Vayigash, Judah passionately appeals to (his brother) Joseph to release their brother Benjamin from captivity. Part of Judah’s desperate plea invokes what Joseph’s action would do to their father Jacob. Quite simply, it would kill him because of Jacob’s limitless attachment to his youngest son Benjamin. The Torah says “Vnafsho Keshura Vnafsho – (Jacob’s) soul is bound up with (Benjamin’s) soul” (Gn. 44:30). This love transcends the body, transcends the physical. It speaks of the soul, the deepest part of oneself. Ever since Benjamin was born, Jacob loved him endlessly and unconditionally. All parents can identify with this unparalleled unconditional love, loving a child not because of what they do but simply because they are.
In this passage we see another ultimate “love story.” Judah steps up and takes responsibility for his younger brother in the ultimate way. Judah tells Joseph to lock him up instead of his younger brother. The mouth is capable of uttering beautiful expressions of love, but only actions can verify their truth. Here Judah does not merely say he will be responsible for his younger sibling, but he takes the hit when his brother is in trouble. It is this act of brotherly love that unlocks Joseph’s heart, that convinces him to reveal to the others that he is Joseph, their brother.
Stories of romantic love feed the Hollywood movie cycle. But the Torah reminds us that the deepest love within us may be for our family.