Torah Thoughts for Today
Monday, January 19, 2004
#12: Jacob’s Blessings: Focus on Judah
Jacob’s Blessings: Focus on Judah

(Related to the Torah Portion VaYechi (“And He Lived”), read in synagogue. Concluding the Book of Genesis, Chapter 47, verse 28 - Chapter 50, verse 26. English text and commentary at:
Dedicated to my Parents.)

A blessing is a powerful thing! When Jacob blessed his son Yehudah – Judah in English, it would eventually result that due to Judah’s durability and reliability, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob would come to be known almost exclusively by Judah’s name as “Jews”. In Hebrew, a Jew is a “Yehudi” meaning one of “Yehudah’s” people, or literally, someone who is a Judah himself. Surely this is something that deserves deeper analysis!

It is entirely a “religious” concept that the uttering of a person, any person, can somehow or other “manipulate” and guide other-worldly invisible spiritual forces to shape and determine the eventual result, outcome, fate or destiny of something or someone. In “magic” (the dark step-child of spiritualism), a wish or spell is made and it may or may not be granted, but this is literal child’s play when compared to the most powerful source of all Blessings, and sadly, Curses as well, in the Torah (Bible) itself!

Again, and again, we find key personalities and groups either blessed or cursed by God and that then those peoples’ fates and destinies cannot escape what has been foretold about them. Human beings may resist the very idea and fight it! But it is really no use, because once a Godly or God-inspired Blessing or Curse has been uttered, it is ALMOST impossible to change the outcome.

This does NOT mean to say that we are talking about an inescapable unchangeable “fate” that takes hold and rules over people and events. On the contrary, Judaism very much believes and teaches that there ARE “counter forces” granted and taught by God such as “TESHUVA, TEFILAH, TZEDAKAH” – “REPENTANCE, PRAYER, CHARITY/RIGHTEOUSNESS” THAT CAN AND DO TURN BACK THE EVIL DECREE/S! (See the Yom Kippur – Day of Atonement Prayers for multiple citations of these very principles as requests for “Atonement” of sins with genuine forgiveness and a granting of a new and better set of decrees.)

There are most definitely certain “over-ride switches” built into Judaism, that can turn back and eliminate curses and there are special ways to invoke and bring about blessings in abundance. But this is all premised on the foundation that one must have faith in God and His ability to do as He deems most just, and therefore that means that anyone, even the most pathetic “hopeless”, cases, can be blessed and escape a seeming curse. “YESHUAT HASHEM KEHEREF AYIN” – “GOD’S SALVATION COMES IN THE BLINK OF AN EYE.” The Jewish sages say that even if the sword is at your neck, never give up and keep on praying because for God nothing is “impossible”.

And vice versa, there can be cases where individuals or groups believe that “fortune” will always smile on them due to the merits of their families or societies and so they do some regressive backsliding of one kind or another thinking that they are somehow shielded from harm, and then suddenly they are jolted out of their smug security blankets when they are tragically struck by some misfortunes like bolts of dark lightening. “AL TIFTACH BE-ATZMECHA AD YOM MOTCHA” – “DO NOT TRUST IN YOURSELF TILL YOUR DYING DAY” is what the Jewish sages say about too much over-confidence.

The great personalities of the Torah were endowed with extraordinary God-given powers to transmit God-like like blessings. Consider the fact that the actual words of the personalities themselves are incorporated and become the actual words of God’s Torah itself, to the point that their words and God’s words are indistinguishable in the text itself!

In this week’s Torah portion that concludes the amazing Book of Genesis, before the great Jewish forefather Jacob dies, he calls his Twelve Sons together and gives each in turn a special blessing, and in some instances rebukes them, based on his deep understanding of their spiritual essences, inner make-up, who they really were and what made them tick. It is his Last Will and Testament and Spiritual Legacy and Mandate as well as his transmission of God’s prophetic vision about and for them, to be shared with all ages.

The reader must be made acutely aware that it is not just Jacob giving his human finale here, but it is being “seconded” and even inspired by God Himself. So to speak it will be God’s “words” that will come from Jacob’s “voice”. When Jacob had heard that Joseph was still alive in Egypt, and that his fear that one of his sons may have died prematurely was unfounded, the “RUACH HAKODESH” – “DIVINE SPIRIT” came back to rest upon him. This means that God’s own Divine Presence rested, so to speak, on Jacob and that thus the “human” Jacob and the “spiritual” God were now in a kind of harmonious state of divine-human “united embrace”, a very prestigious and unique status necessary for actual “prophetic vision”, for only select human beings can attain and enjoy this high level of sanctity, which is what Jacob now had as he proceeded to bless his sons for eternity with words of PROPHECY, based on his “RUACH HAKODESH” – “DIVINE SPIRIT”!

Each of the twelve sons gets his own individual blessing befitting his own Godly origins, history, character, potential, and soul-connection unique to its source in the higher spiritual domains.

It is Judah, the fourth born son of Leah and Jacob who is blessed with the “lion’s share” of the blessings of temporal leadership. It will be from Judah and his own seed, that the greatest Jewish kings and leaders, down to the end of time will be derived:

* King David and all subsequent monarchs will be his descendants.
* Nachshon, the head of the Tribal Princes, will descend from him.
* Othniel, the first of the Judges, will trace his ancestry to him.
* Judah’s banner will travel at the head of all others in the wilderness.
* King Solomon, builder of the First temple is a descendant of Judah.
* Zerubavel who builds the Second Temple is a descendant of Judah.
* The Jewish Messiah will be a descendant of Judah and he will build the Third Temple.[1]
* Hillel the famous kind sage of the Mishnah traces his lineage back to Judah.
* Rabbi Judah the Prince who edited and put the Mishnah, the Oral Law, into its final form was from the House of David of Judah.
* The heads of Jewry, known as “REISH GALUTAH” – “EXILARCH”, in Babylonia and Arabia were all from Judah.
*Great rabbis throughout the ages, such as the famous RASHI
[1040-1105 C.E.= Common Era=“AD”] of France and the MAHARAL [1525-1609 C.E.] of Prague were from the Davidic line of Judah.
*Even in modern times there are many well-known rabbis, and many anonymous Jews, who have claims, some documented and supported and some not, that they are from the “House of David” making them direct descendants of Judah, including the founder of Hasidism Rabbi Israel Ba’al Shem Tov [1698-1760 C.E.], Rabbi Nachman of Breslov [1772-1810 C.E.], and the first rabbi of Lubavitch Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi [1745-1812] founder of Chabad (Habad) Hasidism, these rabbis came from Eastern Europe. Some lay people have modern websites devoted to the subject such as http://davidicdynasty.org/#

And finally, in a now all too familiar pathetic pattern where an un-original Christianity with no natural theology of its own, seeks to abrogate for itself what it fancies to be the “lost” mandate of Abraham-Jacob-Judah-David claiming for itself the mantle of “messiah-ship” that can in reality ONLY belong to its rightful original historical and only biological owners, the Children of Israel-Jewish People. Sinisterly, the one who is accused of the greatest betrayal in Christianity is someone allegedly called “Judas”, a name that is far “too close for comfort”, dropping the end “h” in plain English to an “s” ending derived from the more somber Latin/Greek for “Judah”, with perhaps an implied “sticking it to the Jews” all too obvious motif of built-in “accusation by name association”. Also, there are completely gentile monarchies and dynasties, mainly in Europe, with no validated connection to Jacob, Judah, or King David who wishfully imagine that they derive their lineage and heraldry from those ancient Biblical personalities.

So the question arises what is going on here? Why are there so many legitimate and illegitimate claims by (royal) people to be descendants of none other than JUDAH of all people? Which brings us to the next questions:

When Judah was born to his mother Leah, she gave him his name based on her feelings about his arrival at that moment: “…She said, ‘This time let me praise (“ODEH”) God,’ and named the child Judah (YEHUDAH).”
(Genesis, Chapter 29, verse 35). [2] These few words deserve greater scrutiny as they are probably the key to understanding NOT just Judah, but also what it means to be “one of Judah”, meaning a “JU” = “JEW”. In German, made notorious by the Holocaust of World War Two (1939-1945), a Jew is in fact called a “JUDE”, pronounced “YU-DEH”, so precisely like the “real thing”. How bitterly ironic!

Leah says: “ODEH ET YKVK” {YKVK is pronounced as “Adonai”. In Hebrew this is the Holy name of God known as the Tetragrammaton, the four letter Holy Name of God, the “K” we have used here is used as a respectful substitute for the original Hebrew “H” so as not to take God’s name in vain, one of the Ten Commandments.} The point is this, that Judah’s name in the original Hebrew in the Torah is a COMBINATION of the four letters of God’s Holy Name with an extra “D” in it which then in turn connects it with the Hebrew word “ODEH” which means “PRAISE”; “ACKNOWLEDGE”; “ADMIT”, and even to “MAKE MAJESTIC”. Thus Judah has ALL FOUR LETTERS of God’s Name within his own name, with an extra letter of “D” which gives his name a meaning of “Praise God”, or “God be Praised” or “Praise of God” or “One who praises God”, or “God’s Majesty”.

This magnificent “praise” came about in different ways. It can be accomplished through actual prayers and songs of praise, such as King David’s Psalms, poetic praise for and of God, or when people ACKNOWLEDGE God or ADMIT to Him as well as ADMIT to the TRUTH which is a great thing since we are taught that TRUTH is God’s own “SEAL”. Jacob’s personal holy attribute is actually that of TRUTH. Ultimately it tells us about what it means to be a “JU” = “Jew”: Majestic People whose mission it is to PRAISE the true Jewish God, to ACKNOWLEDGE and ADMIT to God’s correct ways and guidelines as presented in the Torah, and to make God the one and only true ROYAL and MAJESTIC King in the world. (“Crowning” God each year is what the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah – New Year is all about, as can be seen from the Jewish New Year Prayers.)

By the way, there is a teaching in Judaism that when a child is born, every parent, especially the mother, is endowed with a gift of his or her own miniature “Ruach HaKodesh” – “Holy Spirit/Inspiration” as to “know” what to name any new born child. Certainly someone on as high a level as Leah was endowed with a super measure of this vital vision about who her newborn children were in their spiritual essence and what name to give them accordingly! The child then has a chance to either “prove” or “disprove” the BLESSINGS, hopes and aspirations, as well as fears, about itself during the course of its life.

Judah had a number of tough challenges and tests that proved his mettle. His character, resourcefulness, strength and resolve are enumerated in great detail throughout Genesis. His greatest challenge (see Genesis Chapter 38) was when he impregnated his own widowed daughter-in-law Tamar mistaking her for an “available woman” when she deliberately sets out to “seduce” him in order to conceive a child from him in fulfillment of the complex commandment of “YIBUM” –“LEVIRATE MARRIAGE” (see Deuteronomy, Chapter 25, vs. 5 – 10) whereby a childless husband’s widow marries his nearest kin and the child that is born is considered to be the continuing “soul” of the deceased. Judah had instructed her to wait, but Tamar took the law into her own hands. When it was discovered that Tamar was pregnant, she faced possible death for “immorality” as she was still not freed from her potential “levirate spouse to be”, and the presiding judge was none other than Judah himself. When she showed him items that he had left for safekeeping with her at the time of their earlier “rendezvous”, Judah stopped in his tracks and ADMITTED or ACKNOWLEDGED (in keeping with definitions of his name) that Tamar had done no wrong and was motivated by good intentions meant to perpetuate her original husband’s good name. This complex drama is considered to be a moral high trapeze act of juggling one’s own roles as official judge/father/father-in-law/lover/husband/levirate partner-husband/man of God, and Judah proves through his behavior that he is highly responsible, honest and worthy of continued and continual leadership, as well as eventual PRAISE. Furthermore, the puzzling and awkward climactic consummated union between Judah and Tamar produces twins, Zerach and Peretz who is the one to pass on the eventual ultimate messianic, leadership, mandate given to Judah.

Judah wins points when he dissuades his brothers from executing his trapped brother Joseph: “Judah said to his brothers, ‘What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover his blood? Let’s sell him to the Arabs and not harm him with our own hands. After all, he’s our brother, our own flesh and blood.’ His brothers AGREED.” (Genesis, Chapter 37, vs. 26 – 27) [3]

Again we see Judah as the cool-headed merciful judge working against the “popular call” for a death sentence. This is also a manifestation of Judah’s MERCIFULNESS mirroring the name “YKVK”, “Adonai”, which parallels and refers to God’s attribute of MERCY and FORGIVENESS. It is connected to the ability to see and own up to ones own faults which then leads to objective introspection and a genuine desire for positive change, as in Judaism one is taught that God does NOT desire the death of the wicked but rather wants them to mend their ways and become unencumbered genuinely good people, if they can summon the moral and spiritual strength to do so! Judah is able to do it not just for himself, but he has the gift of persuading others to do likewise, a mark of an upright, good, righteous, worthy and just leader!

Finally, Judah is the one who puts a stop (see Genesis, Chapter 44 vs. 18 – 33) to Joseph’s counter-reprisals (see Genesis Chapters 42 - 44) when Joseph’s brothers are in turn accused of “crimes” such as spying the land of Egypt, and of “thievery” all meant as excuses for Joseph’s attempts at securing control over the youngest brother Benjamin for himself. There are dramatic Midrashic accounts of Judah’s muscle flexing and stomping that shook ancient Egypt to its core and finally convinced Joseph that Judah “meant business” and were he not to stop the farce pretending to be an accusatory “cruel taskmaster” rather than the concerned brother he really was, a catastrophe would occur as Judah would launch all-out war (a “Jewish Revolt”) against Egypt demolishing it completely:

“…Judah was prepared to give up his own life for Benjamin, thinking, ‘Perhaps my self-sacrifice now will ATONE for my having deceived my father when we sold Joseph.’… Judah is likened to a lion and Joseph to an ox. Only the lion is capable of rising against the ox!…Turning to the brothers, Judah threatened, ‘if I draw my sword, I will begin with the viceroy (Joseph) and end with Pharaoh’…Judah’s rage reached a climax, and he was ready to kill or be killed…Joseph knew he could wait no longer but must reveal himself to his brothers or else they would destroy the whole of Egypt.”[4]

Bearing in mind all the above, we finally arrive at the wording of Jacob’s blessings of Judah:“Judah, your brothers shall SUBMIT (“YODU”) to, (or PRAISE), you. Your hand shall be on your enemies’ necks; your father’s sons shall bow to you.
Young lion, Judah, you have risen from prey, my son. He crouches, lies like a lion, like an awesome lion, who will dare rouse him?
The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor legislation from his descendants. Nations will submit to him until the final tranquility of Shiloh (the Messiah) comes.
He loads down his donkey with a [single] grapevine, his young donkey with a single vine branch. He even washes his clothes in wine, his cloak in the blood of grapes. But his eyes are more sparkling than the wine, his teeth whiter than milk.” (Genesis, Chapter 49, vs. 8 – 12.) [5]

These blessings are both “simple” and complexly esoteric simultaneously, let’s take a closer look at some of the opening words that have astounding meanings about the origins and concepts that define being JEWISH, as derived from Judah and his blessings. Various classical rabbinic commentaries translate and interpret the first four words of the blessing in Hebrew as “YEHUDAH ATAH YODUCHA ACHECHA” – to be read as “JUDAH YOUR BROTHERS SHALL SUBMIT TO YOU”, or “…SHALL PRAISE YOU”, or “…ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR GREATNESS’, or “…YOU, YOUR BROTHERS SHALL ACKNOWLEDGE”, each one is VALID depending on the accepted point of departure from the original Hebrew root word of “YODU” or “HODU”, “ODEH”.

The culmination of Judah’s brothers composite SUBMITTING to, PRAISING of, and ACKNOWLEDGING Judah’s primacy is that they in effect will be “merged” with him and “submerged” under HIS name and NOT theirs: “THE ENTIRE NATION WILL BEAR YOUR NAME. THEY WILL BE CALLED NEITHER ‘REUBENITES’-(“RE’UVENIM”) NOR ‘SIMEONITES’ (“SHIMONIM”), BUT ‘JEWD-ITES’- (“YEHUDIM”) - THE JEWS.” (Medrash Bereishis Rabbah 98; 11.) [6]

Similarly we learn: “Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai said, the essence of this ‘ACKNOWLEDGMENT’ is that all Judah’s brothers will be called by his name. A man does not say ‘I am a Reubenite or Simeonite’, but I am a ‘YEHUDI’ [‘Judahite’; Jew] Midrash…RADAK [1160-1235 A.D.] (a rabbinical commentator), explains “YODUCHA” as “THEY SHALL ASCRIBE MAJESTY TO YOU.” The RASHBAM [1085-1174 C.E.] similarly explains the word “HOD” likewise. After censuring the older sons, stripping Reuben of his privileges (as the biological first born), and scattering (their destiny within Israel proper) of Simeon and Levi, Jacob turned to Judah. ‘To YOU, he said, YOUR BROTHERS CONCEDE KINGSHIP. This is evidenced by the end of the passage “YISHTACHAVU LECHA BENEI AVICHA” – “YOUR FATHER’S SONS WILL PROSTRATE THEMSELVES BEFORE YOU.” (Genesis, Chapter 49, verse 8). The CHIZKUNI [13th century French rabbi], interprets the sense of the PRAISE (“HOD”) as ‘You, your brothers will praise and respect since their success will come through you.’
Furthermore, “Your brothers shall acknowledge your primacy because you CONFESSED your relationship with Tamar. Jacob concurs that your brothers praise you, your mother (Leah) rendered praise when you were born, and I too herewith PRAISE you.” (Midrash).

According to the Sechel Tov commentary, when the verse says “YEHUDA ATAH” it means to say “YOU ARE JUDAH”, that is, YOUR VERY NAME denotes ACKNOWLEDGMENT; CONFESSION; PRAISE. Your mother (Leah) was the first to offer PRAISE (Genesis, Chapter 29, verse 35); therefore you too CONFESSED over the matter of Tamar, and for this very reason your brothers will ACKNOWLEDGE you as their superior. (Toldos Yitschak commentary). As a reward for his ACKNOWLEDGMENT, the MESSIAH will descend from Judah and save Israel at is written (in the book of Isaiah, Chapter 11, verse 10): “In that day shall nations seek the root of Jesse (descended directly from Judah) that stands for an ensign of the peoples.”(Yalkut commentary). [7]

It must be noted that the continuation of Judah’s rulership and rule, even when there are no Jewish kings as such, does NOT mean that there is a complete “vacuum” of Jacob’s blessings and Judah’s influence.

When it says that “The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor legislation from his descendants” - “Lo Yassur Shevet MiYehudah Umechokek Mibein Raglav” (Genesis, Chapter 49, verse 10): “The intimation is that Jacob’s promise/blessing applied even to periods when Israel had NO king…The MAHARAL of Prague, Rabbi Judah Loew [1525-1609], gives two answers to the question of how Jacob’s PROPHETIC BLESSING could have become “nullified” in the many centuries when there has been NO Jewish monarchy: One, is that the Patriarchal blessing meant that whenever Israel merits a legally constituted monarchy, the king will come from Judah, but Jacob never said that there would “always” be a Judean king. Two, there have been periods in history when there was no king from Judah, as during the time of the Judges and under Saul, but these were temporary “aberrations” that were followed by a Davidic dynasty.
Similarly, THE CURRENT EXILE will culminate in the Davidic reign of the Jewish Messiah. The fact that the kingship ALWAYS returns to Judah means that JACOB’S “TESTAMENT” IS STILL BINDING.” [8]

Very ironically, it is this self-same commentator, the MAHARAL of Prague who is a direct descendant of the Davidic line from Judah; even his name is “Rabbi
J U D A H (Loew)”, and is in fact an embodiment of a key concept in “post-Biblical” Judaism enunciated by the sages that it is the RABBIS who take the place of the monarchs! They ask rhetorically “MAN MALCHI?”, and answer: “RABBANAN!” – “WHO ARE THE “KINGS” (AT A TIME WHEN THERE ARE NO KINGS)? (ANSWER:) IT IS THE (TRULY LEARNED) RABBIS !”

Finally, we need to focus on the fact that the very primary source for the Jewish belief in the coming of a king at the end of time is derived from these blessings. When Jacob states that Judah will rule “UNTIL THE COMING OF SHILOH” – “AD KI YAVO SHILOH” (Genesis, Chapter 49, verse 10):It is the actual “ TORAH SOURCE FOR THE BELIEF IN THE MESSIAH: The general consensus, with few exceptions, of Rabbinic interpretation is that this phrase refers to the coming of the Messiah.
In the Middle Ages the wisest dignitaries of Jewish communities always made reference to this passage when they had to engage in debates with the ecclesiastics of the other religions. The commentator Onkelus renders “Until the coming of Shiloh” as “Until the Messiah comes, to whom the kingdom belongs.”
According to the Midrash, the Hebrew word “SHILOH” is a composite of “SHAI” – “A GIFT” and “LO” – “TO HIM”, which means “A GIFT TO HIM (THE MESSIAH)” a reference to the Jewish KING MESSIAH TO WHOM ALL PEOPLES WILL BRING GIFTS. (See Isaiah, Chapter 18, verse 7, and Psalms, Chapter 76, verse 12).
The Seforno commentator relates the etymology of this word “SHILOH” to “SHALAH”, the root of “SHALVAH” – “HAPPINESS”, and “SHALOM” – “PEACE”, depicting the definitive character of the Jewish Messiah’s mission which will usher in an era of PEACE and UNIVERSAL HARMONY. He would render the reading of the verse from Hebrew of “UNTIL SHILOH COMES” as “UNTIL THE FINAL TRANQUILITY ARRIVES”.”[9]

At the very end of the Torah when Moses conveys his own blessings to the Twelve Tribes, he says to the Tribe of Judah: “The same goes for Judah… ‘May God hear Judah’s voice and bring him to his people. Although his power suffices him, may You (God) help him against his enemies’.” (Deuteronomy, Chapter 33, verse 8) [10]. No mortal was ever closer to God than Moses, (who spoke to God “Face to Face”), and it is he who is affirming and buttressing the blessings that Jacob had given to Judah adding his own mark of approval and imprimatur to the legitimacy and status of Judah’s role and power, (Jacob the “Father” and Moses the “Rabbi” both in agreement about Judah’s position and destiny), praying for Judah’s triumph over his foes, (many Anti-Semites have tried in vain to uproot the Jews of Judah), and calling upon God to uphold Judah’s centrality and primacy.

So wee see the “evolution” of a blessing from “inception” at the time of Judah’s birth, being “tested” for its verities and validities during the real-life battles Judah endured, to the crescendo when Jacob crystallizes and formulates his blessings into prophetic visions, subsequently reinforced by Moses and sanctioned by God and which then become highways of Supernal Blessings of Divine Light connecting Heaven and Earth and channeling the holy blessings till the end of times when they will be finally completely fulfilled with the arrival of the ultimate Redemption of all Humankind by Judah’s true heir, the Jewish Messiah, who will be guided by the words of the Torah’s eternal guideposts and move the world in that direction for its own benefit.

Have a wonderful Shabbat and please let me know what you think!

[1] The Midrash Says, The Book of Braishis-Genesis, English commentary,
pp. 452 - 455.
[2] The Living Torah, English translation, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, p. 139.
[3] Ibid., p. 187.
[4] The Midrash Says, op.cit., pp.417 – 422.
[5] The Living Torah, op.cit., pp.245 – 247.
[6] The Midrash Says, op.cit., p.452.
[7] Artscroll Bereishis-Genesis, English translation and commentaries, VOL.I (b), pp.2144 - 2146.
[8] Ibid., p.2150.
[9] Ibid., 2152 - 2153.
[10] The Living Torah, op.cit., pp. 1036 - 1037.

Powered by Blogger