Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash
Yeshivat Har Etzion
parasha series is dedicated
Le-zekher Nishmat HaRabanit Chana bat HaRav Yehuda Zelig zt"l.
This parasha series is
in honor of Rabbi Menachem Leibtag and Rabbi Elchanan Samet.
Yosef and Yehuda
By Rav Yaakov Medan
At the beginning of our parasha, Yehuda and Yosef clash over Binyamin's
fate. The Midrash, in addressing this tension, teaches: "They [the
brothers] said: Kings are negotiating with each other; of what concern is it to
us?" (Bereishit Rabba 93, 2).
If the brothers refer to Yehuda and Yosef as "kings," these two
tribes must clearly be special in some way. This will be the subject of our
"These are the generations of Yaakov; Yosef
was seventeen years old when he was a shepherd with his brothers..." (37:2)
The commentators have a difficult time with this expression at the beginning
of parashat Vayeshev, for a list of Yaakov's children appears nowhere in the
parasha. Various explanations have been offered to resolve this problem. Among
the better known are the following:
i. "Generations" (toldot) is meant here in the sense of
"events of his life," as in "What the day will bring forth
(yeiled)" (Ibn Ezra, Radak, Seforno, Abarbanel, Malbim and others);
ii. "Toldot" refers here to "sons," and the sons of Yaakov
are indeed Yosef and his brothers, who are referred to in the parasha, although
not listed by name (Ramban, in his first explanation);
iii. The heading ("the generations of Yaakov") refers to chapter
46: "These are the names of the children of Israel who came to
Egypt," where Yaakov's children and grandchildren are all listed (Rashbam,
and Ramban in his second explanation);
iv. The word "dwelled" in the previous verse is carried into this
verse; what the Torah means is, "These are the DWELLING PLACES of the
generations of Yaakov" (Rashi).
I shall not discuss in detail the difficulties presented by each of these
interpretations; suffice it to say that I find them unsatisfactory. I prefer to
adopt the midrash quoted by Rashi, with a slight change which, in my view,
enables it to sit more squarely with the literal sense of the text:
"'These are the generations of Yaakov:
Yosef...' - What the text should have said here is, 'These are the generations
of Yaakov: Reuven...' Why, then, does it say Yosef? To tell us that all that
happened to one of them likewise happened to the other." (Bereishit Rabba
The Midrash regards Yosef the most important of Yaakov's offspring, for it
was to Yosef that Yaakov passed down "the image of his face," and
similar events happened to both of them (see Rashi).
In my understanding, the "generations of Yaakov" are Yosef and
Yehuda, to whose lives and families the next few chapters of Sefer Bereishit
are devoted. It appears that this is the fundamental explanation for why the story
of the establishment of Yehuda's family is interwoven with the establishment of
Yosef's family. The two stories even parallel one another:
1. Yehuda: Ill-fated marriage to Bat-Shua
Yosef: Ill-fated relationship with the wife of Potifar
2. Yehuda: True, lasting marriage to Tamar
Yosef: True, lasting marriage to Osnat
3. Yehuda: Birth of Peretz and Zerach
Yosef: Birth of Menashe and Efraim
4. Yehuda: the younger bursts forth (paratz) and takes the birthright
Yosef: the younger is blessed with power and royalty
The story of Yaakov's "generations," then, concludes with chapter
41, and the beginning of the years of famine, when the respective families of
Yehuda and of Yosef are fully established.
I have proceeded from the assumption that just as each of the initial
matriarchs - Sara and Rivka - had one son who was most important, so did the
latter matriarchs - Yaakov's wives. Leah's most important son was Yehuda, while
Rachel's most important son was Yosef. The fact that Yaakov had two principal
heirs - Yehuda and Yosef, rather than one principal heir, as his forefathers
had, results from Yaakov having had two wives of full status (as opposed to
maidservants or concubines), while Avraham and Yitzhak each had only one wife
of full status.
Let us elaborate on this matter of Yosef and Yehuda as being the most
important of Yaakov's sons. Some of the points that make Yosef and Yehuda stand
out among their brothers are well known; the following is a brief summary of
1. After Reuven's violation of his father's
privacy, the birthright was given to Yosef, and the leadership to Yehuda. Only
Yosef (aside from Reuven) is worthy of the birthright, since only he is a
firstborn of a wife of Yaakov. The leadership, on the other hand, passes
naturally to the eldest among the brothers. Since Shimon and Levi had lost
their chances of being considered worthy candidates because of what they had
done in Shekhem, the leadership passed to Yehuda. The verse tells us: "...Because
he violated his father's bed, his birthright was given to the children of
Yosef, son of Israel - but not to have the birthright attributed to him by
genealogy. For Yehuda prevailed over his brothers; the chief ruler came from
him, but the birthright was given to Yosef" (Divrei ha-Yamim I 5:1-2).
2. We have already mentioned that even the
brothers themselves (according to the Midrash) referred to Yosef and Yehuda as
"kings." Yaakov also recognized this; he chose to send Yehuda,
specifically, to Yosef, "to show the way before him to Goshen"
3. When the kingdom split, following the death of
King Shelomo, Rechavam and his descendants, of the house of David, ruled in
Jerusalem, while Yeravam, of the house of Yosef, ruled in Tirtza. Later on, too,
most of Yeravam's successors - up until the Destruction of the Temple - were
from the house of Yosef, and the kingdom of the ten tribes is very often
referred to by the prophets by the name "Efraim."
4. The Mishkan resided in the portion of Yosef
and the Temple in the portion of Yehuda. The tribe of Binyamin was part of both
of them - both in Jerusalem and in the strip emerging from their portion
In the days to come, the prophecy of Yechezkel (chapter
37) is destined to be fulfilled, concerning the joining of the branch of Yehuda
and the branch of Efraim into a single royal house. According to tradition and
Kabbala, two messiahs are destined to arise: Messiah son of Yosef and Messiah
son of David.
What is common to all of these points is that all are related to the royalty
and to the Temple. These points are the basis for the tradition that the two
messiahs that will arise in the days to come will be from the descendants of
Yosef and of Yehuda.
In this section, I shall address the importance of Yosef and Yehuda from
other perspectives, not only that of royalty:
1. The Torah refers to the tribes as "Yehuda and his brothers"
(44:14) and "Yosef's brothers" (42:6). Nowhere is the group ever
referred to as "Reuven and his brothers," "Dan's brothers,"
2. The details that the Torah provides concerning Yehuda's family and
Yosef's family are far more numerous than those provided with regard to all the
other brothers and their families. We know that Yehuda's wife's name was Tamar,
and that Yosef's wife's name was Osnat. We are also told of the circumstances
in which Yehuda married Tamar, and of the circumstances surrounding Yosef's
marriage to Osnat. Likewise, we know the reasons for the names that Yehuda
chooses for his sons and the circumstances of their birth, as well as the
reasons for the names of Yosef's sons and when they were born.
From this perspective, Yosef and Yehuda resemble the forefathers, concerning
whom the Torah details the circumstances of their marriages, the names of their
wives, the circumstances of their children's births, and the reasons for the
names given to them. As for the rest of the tribes, we have no idea what
Yissakhar's wife's name was, or why Zevulun called his children Sered, Elon and
3. The phenomenon discussed in (2.) may be related to another one: all the
brothers married Canaanite wives , deviating thereby from the practice of
the forefathers and from the oath that Avraham made his servant swear:
"You shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites
among whom I dwell" (24:3). The only brothers who did not marry Canaanite
wives were Yosef and Yehuda. Admittedly, Yehuda's first marriage was to the
daughter of a Canaanite (38:2), but the failure of this marriage (the premature
death of his wife and the death of her two sons, both childless) appears to
prove that it was not proper for him to have married a Canaanite wife, for he
was the most important of the "generations of Yaakov." This may be
the reason why the Canaanite woman's name is not mentioned explicitly, nor are
we told about the circumstances of their marriage, the birth of their children
or the meanings of their names . In marrying the daughter of Shua, Yehuda
resembled the rest of his brothers, not Yosef.
When Yehuda married the daughter of Shua, the Torah says, "Yehuda
DESCENDED from among his brothers" (38:1) - i.e., his status became
diminished; only when he married Tamar did he regain the level of "the
generations of Yaakov" . Yehuda and Yosef, then, are the only two sons
who establish families like the forefathers.
4. Like the forefathers, Yehuda and Yosef are the only two of Yaakov's
children concerning whom the Torah recounts at length what happened during
their lives, and especially the challenges they faced. They are the only
brothers whose good deeds are recorded in the Torah: Yosef is depicted as a
righteous man for standing firm against the advances of Potifar's wife, while
Yehuda is described as stumbling and later repenting in the story of Tamar. Likewise,
Yosef is righteous for forgiving his brothers, while Yehuda stumbles in selling
Yosef but then repents and is ready to sacrifice himself for Binyamin .
5. The special Divine providence that rests upon Yehuda and Yosef seems to
be hinted at in their very names. These two are the only ones among Yaakov's
children who have God's Name within their own names: Yehuda's name includes the
original form of God's name , as does Yosef's name in its form in Tehillim
81 ('Yehosef'). Their names are also the only ones that include an inherent
appeal to God: Yosef - in the prayer, "May God add (yosef) for me another
son," and Yehuda - in praise (hoda'ah) to God.
6. It is not difficult to see that in Yaakov's will to his sons (chapter
49), he blesses his other sons in brief language, while the blessings to Yehuda
and Yosef are lengthy . It is likewise clear that the size of the
inheritance of Yehuda and of Yosef, larger than that of their brothers, is
directly linked to the "size" of the blessing they received from
We shall now turn our attention to some more general issues, related not
only to Yehuda and Yosef personally, but to the tribes that descended from
them. By their nature, the scope of these issues exceeds the bounds of Sefer
1. The tribe of Yehuda and the combined House of Yosef are the largest of
the tribes in both of the censes that are conducted in the desert.
2. In the war against Amalek (Shemot 17), four leaders emerge: Moshe and
Aharon - the permanent leaders, and also Chur of the tribe of Yehuda (at the
top of the mountain) and Yehoshua of the tribe of Efraim (on the battlefield).
Throughout the forty years in the desert, we find no other instance of
additional or auxiliary leaders on the national level.
3. In the story of the spies, the only two who do not fail are Yehoshua
(tribe of Efraim) and Kalev (tribe of Yehuda).
4. In addition to their inheritances in the land, Yehuda and Yosef are each
given a special city from among the cities of the forefathers, in special circumstances.
Moreover, both earn their special city even before they receive their
Yosef is given Shekhem, as Yaakov tells him - "I have given you one
portion (shekhem ehad) more than your brothers" (48:22). Apparently, Yosef
earns Shekhem as reward for his courage for going off to Shekhem at his
father's bidding, although he is aware of the dangers awaiting him.
Kalev, the prince of the tribe of Yehuda, is awarded the city of Chevron for
his courage in going there at the bidding of Moshe, although he knew of the
dangers involved in this mission and despite the four giants that threatened
the city . It is in Chevron that the royal house of Yehuda starts out
(Shemuel II 2), while the royalty of the house of Yosef begins in Shekhem
(Melakhim I 12-13).
5. We have already noted that the inheritances of Yehuda and of Yosef are
considerably larger than those of their brothers; they occupy most of the area
of Eretz Yisrael. It should also be noted that in Sefer Yehoshua, their
inheritances are given special attention: we find a list of their cities, their
borders, and many other details. The number of verses devoted to their
inheritances attests to this fact .
We may also note that the children of Yehuda and the children of Yosef were the
only ones who possessed "the inheritance at its [proper] time" - at
the time when they were commanded to conquer and possess the land. The children
of Gad and Reuven carry out a "hurried inheritance," before its time;
they are rebuked by Moshe and are even punished by being the first of the
tribes to go into exile. The other seven tribes have a "delayed
inheritance," they are rebuked by Yehoshua (chapter 18) for their
feebleness, and are punished by being deprived of their inheritance.
It should also be remembered that stories of selfless love for Eretz Yisrael
are found only among the children of Yehuda - who demand to receive Chevron and
to conquer it (Yehoshua 14) - and the children of Yosef, who claim for
themselves an additional inheritance (Yehoshua 17). Yehoshua also makes mention
of the love of the women who inherited the land: the daughters of Tzelofhad, of
the tribe of Menashe, and Ikhsa, daughter of Kalev, from the tribe of Yehuda.
Let us conclude with the two messiahs: Mashiach ben Yosef and Mashiach ben
David. The image of these two figures may be seen in Yehoshua (as Mashiach ben
Yosef) and David (as Mashiach ben David). The primary task of the king is to
destroy the seed of Amalek. The war against Amalek was initiated by Yehoshua in
Refidim (Shemot 17) and was successfully completed by David (Shemuel I 30),
unlike Shaul, who failed in this respect. Yehoshua, who initiated the war, was
ultimately the conqueror of Eretz Yisrael. David, who concluded the war, was
ultimately the conqueror of Jerusalem - may it be established and rebuilt
speedily in our days .
 This is the opinion of R. Nechemia, which seems more likely than the
interpretation of R. Yehuda, who maintains that the twin daughters were born
with them. According to R. Yehuda, we must assume (as Rashi does) that all the
women died at the age of about forty, prior to the descent to Egypt, and
therefore they are not listed there (see Rashi on 37:35).
 The third son - Shela - has a separate unit devoted to him. It is possible
that we do have an explanation for his name (see Ramban), but the scope of the
shiur does not allow for elaboration.
 I elaborated a little on this in my article in Megadim #2 (http://www.herzog.ac.il/main/megadim/2medan.html).
The story of this marriage may be regarded as a parallel to the stories of Sara
and Hagar, Yishmael and Yitzhak, but I shall not elaborate here.
 I expanded on this idea in the above-mentioned article in Megadim 2, and
in my shiur last week.
 I assume that in order to express the idea of praise and thanks (as
Yehuda's name is explained at his birth), the name did not necessarily need the
three first letters as they appear.
 Admittedly, Yaakov speaks at length also to Shimon and Levi, but what he
conveys there is not a blessing. It should also perhaps be mentioned that among
the six tribes that are compared to various creatures in the blessings of
Yaakov and Moshe, Yehuda (lion) and Yosef (ox) are the only ones whose
representative animals form part of the basis of the celestial chariot
(Yechezkel chapter 1).
 See my article in Megadim 10, where I elaborate on this.
 Concerning this point, we may say the same of the inheritance of
 There are many other points that are unique to Yehuda and Yosef; I have
omitted them here for the sake of brevity.
Translated by Kaeren Fish