Sensitivity and empathy are essential qualities of a strong leader, as demonstrated in this week’s Torah reading.
This week’s Torah portion is Vayigash (Genesis 44:18-47:27), and in it we have the episode of Joseph revealing himself to his brothers. But before Joseph revealed himself, he played a type of “hard to get” game with his brothers. The brothers had come down to Egypt from the Land of Israel to buy food because of the famine that was ravishing the region. Although Joseph recognized his brothers, they did not recognize him, since he was just a child when they last saw each other.
Now, as part of this hard-to-get game, Joseph seized Benjamin and told the brothers that Benjamin would be his slave. When Judah saw this, he got really angry. REALLY ANGRY. The Midrash teaches that Judah screamed so loud, that his scream was heard back in the Land of Israel! But there’s more. As a result of this extremely loud scream we are told that Chushim, the son of Dan, quickly came down to Egypt to see what was going on that would make his uncle Judah scream so loud.
But there’s more. Chushim was deaf!!
What’s going on here? Ok, so there was a really loud scream that was heard all the way from Egypt to the Land of Israel. Fine. But even if we take this Midrash at face value, and accept the idea of a scream being heard thousands of kilometers away, how was Chushim able to hear it? And why did only Chushim come to see what was happening? Did anyone else care?
The answer, the commentators explain, can be found in the name ‘Chushim’ itself. The word ‘Chushim’ means “senses.” No Chushim couldn’t hear, and in fact, we are told that he was uneducated and lacked intelligence, but had senses, he had feelings. No, he didn’t hear his uncle’s scream – he felt it. His sensitivity allowed him to feel another person’s pain, anger, and frustration. He knew something was wrong down in Egypt, and he went to check it out. Chushim was an extremely sensitive and caring person.
At the same time, the question can be asked – why was it Judah from among all the other brothers that got so angry and screamed? Did Reuben, Levi, Zebulun, Issachar and the others not care?
Yes, they all cared. All the brothers cared. But there was something special about Judah, and that too, can be found in his name. Judah is the namesake of the Jewish people. Judah in Hebrew is “Yehuda” and the Jewish people are called “Yehudim.” From among all the 12 tribes, the Jewish people took the name of Judah. When Judah, the symbolic Patriarch-of-sorts of the Jewish people saw that another Jew was about to be taken captive in a foreign country, it just destroyed his soul. The result of a Jew being held captive in a foreign land has but one conclusion: assimilation. For a Jew, any Jew, and Judah, this is a tragedy of catastrophic proportions.
Judah represents the senior Jew, the Top Gun, and the #1 citizen of the nation. Only Judah could feel the responsibility for every single Jew. He is the one who cannot eat, sleep, or function knowing that there is a Jew somewhere who is assimilating, who is at risk of being lost to the Jewish people. Judah is the one who feels the pain –both physical and spiritual- of the Jewish people.
The message of both Judah and Chushim is only too applicable nowadays, as well. We have to be like Judah and take an interest in the physical and spiritual welfare of every single Jew. As the Talmud says “all Jews are responsible for one another.” And from Chushim, we learn that we need to have sensitivity for the difficulties that others go through. We cannot allow ourselves to close our ears, to pretend we are “deaf” to the suffering of others.
These are the attributes that make a great Jewish leader!
By: Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel
For more insights on this week’s Torah portion, click on the links below”
Shabbat Shalom from Israel!