Judah approached, and said, “Oh my lord, let your servant, I beg you, speak a word in my lord’s ears, and let not your anger burn against your servant; for you are as Pharaoh.” (Bereisheet/Genesis 44:18)
Judah is a foreigner in need. He is accused of a crime. Still, he approaches the powerful angry Egyptian Minister of Food Security. And he explains why he cannot surrender his youngest brother to the Minister.
Years ago, Judah saved Joseph, another younger brother, rom death by selling him into slavery. He then lied to their father, saying Joseph was actually dead. Later, two of Judah’s own sons died of illness. Now he, a grieving parent, steps forward to speak on behalf of his grieving father. He knows nothing about the minister’s personal life. But he takes the risk anyway. After Judah speaks, the minister reveals that he himself is Joseph.
How does Judah experience this moment? How does he feel as he steps forward to speak?
Classical medieval commentator Ramban sees a brave but frightened Judah here. Ramban imagines Judah’s silent subtext. “I am as nervous speaking to you as I would be speaking to Pharaoh. So, I’m not going to bother you, but I’m going to say only one thing: spare my youngest brother.”
Rashi sees a passionate, confident Judah. This Judah speaks sharply to the Minister and implicitly threatens him. “You are as corrupt as Pharaoh, and will get your comeuppance.”
Prof Barry Levy has a third view. Judah, he believes, recognizes Joseph. There are too many coincidences to believe otherwise. The minister knows their birth order. He imprisoned Simon and threatened to keep Benjamin with him. So, following Levy, Judah is neither afraid nor angry. Rather, he is relieved. He suddenly understand’s the ministers game and now knows how to speak his language.
I’m with Levy. But which Judah do you see?