What Does it Mean to be a Jew? Yehuda, Yosef and God’s Hidden Plan

“Vayigash eilav Yehudah, Then Yehudah approached him…” (Breishit 44:18)

One of the names that the Jewish people are known by is “Yehudim”. Our sages teach us that the word “Yehudim” comes from the word hoda’a, which means simultaneously an “admission, acknowledgment, declaration”. If we are known as the people of hoda’a, what is it that the Jewish people go through time acknowledging or declaring?

That everything both small and large, both good and difficult, comes from God.

The Sfas Emes continues with this message and teaches that this is helpful knowledge, especially during every challenging and dark time.

Claiming, that even in the dark times, when it seems that God is hidden from us, there is Godly energy there too.

Yehuda and his brothers were begging for their lives in front of the most powerful person in the world — who secretly was their brother Yosef, who they had sold into slavery. Yehuda recounts all the trials and tribulations that got them to this situation.

What is he doing? Why is the Torah spending valuable space recounting things that we already know?

Yehuda is acknowledging that amidst this terrible set of circumstances — and he knows that the brothers were being punished for what they did to Yosef decades earlier — God’s plan is being revealed and God is still with them.

At that moment when Yehuda declares that this situation too, as painful as it is to endure, is from God, Yosef cannot contain himself anymore and has to reveal his true identity to his brothers.

This bittersweet reunion, and what Yosef tells his brothers, makes them, and all their generations of offspring realize, that God did not abandon them. Rather God was with Yosef the whole time after he had been sold, and that this drought and famine were part of God’s larger plan.

Our subsequent life in Egypt, enslavement, and redemption, form a significant part of the core-identity system of the Jewish people, and subsequently for all downtrodden peoples throughout time.

Yosef had to go to Egypt, be falsely accused, rot in jail, translate dreams, become a ruler, and trick his brothers into bringing Binyamin down to Egypt — it was all part of God’s plan from t

he start.

So too, in our lives, we experience sets of circumstances and challenges that can truly test our strength, faith, and hope.

Whatever you are going through right now, God is waiting to reveal the reasons, but we have to do our job of being Yehudim, acknowledging and declaring that God is truly engaged in every aspect of our lives and the world, for us to begin to see the reasons.

Good Shabbos and Shabbat Shalom