This week we are reading Parshat Va-yiggash, which means “and he approached.” It is the story of how Judah defends his brother, Benjamin, who is accused of stealing Joseph’s goblet. This parshah takes place in Egypt several years later now that Joseph is a top Egyptian official.
The parshah opens with a beautiful monologue by Judah, pleading that Joseph imprison Judah instead of their youngest brother, Benjamin. Judah declares that his elderly father, Jacob, will die from grief over the loss of Benjamin. He uses the word “father” 14 times in 17 verses. Joseph cannot hold back his tears and reveals himself to his brothers twice — the first time asking if his father is well and the second time forgiving his brothers for selling him into slavery.
In my family, my great-grandmother, Devorah, and her sister, Naomi, were brought to an orphanage after a pogrom took the lives of all of the other Jews in their Polish village. One day in the orphanage, a Jewish man from South Africa sat next to 12-year-old Devorah and offered to take her to his country to live in safety. My Aunt Linda wrote a beautiful book about my great-grandmother called The Night of the Burning.
In both the Joseph story and in my family’s history, there are individuals who can be considered to be “upstanders.” In the biblical text, Judah stands up for Benjamin when he is accused of stealing Joseph’s golden goblet that Joseph’s servants had planted in Benjamin’s bag. Likewise, Judah’s heartfelt plea leads Joseph to stand up when he reveals himself to his brothers and forgives them.
In the case of my great-grandmother, the upstander is Issac Ochberg, who undertook a treacherous journey for children he did not even know. Mr. Ochberg brought hundreds of Jewish orphans to South Africa, including Devorah, Naomi and others. Individuals like Judah and Ochberg are examples to us all to speak up, show kindness and assist others in need.
Henry Glaun is a seventh-grade student at Krieger Schechter Day School.