This week’s Torah reading contains the most loving encounter in Jewish Scripture. It espouses that by deepening our capacity to love we can transcend resentment, thereby transforming ourselves. As a therapist, I am frequently in the position of trying to help people free themselves from the poison of resentment. As a person, I work similarly on myself.

Nonetheless, the simple meaning of the stories is always meant to be instructive.

Before going on to the story, heed a needed word of caution. Interpreting a story about biblical figures has dangers. Our Torah ancestors were profoundly holy people whose actions we may not understand. Nonetheless, the simple meaning of the stories is always meant to be instructive. So let us look at the story of the tribal patriarch Judah as a simple story of family turmoil. Keep in mind that its deeper mystical meaning is beyond the scope of this article.

The story begins 7 chapters earlier (Gen. 37:3). A father, Jacob, favors his wife Rachel and her children (Joseph and Benjamin) over his other wife (Leah) and her sons. Joseph's brothers feel a murderous jealousy and they sell the 17-year-old Joseph into slavery.

The brothers' own anger blinds them to the consequences of their actions. They detach from their underlying feelings of love for their father. They fail to foresee Jacob's reaction of an unending, decades-long, inconsolable mourning. Once exposed to Jacob's grief, they regret their actions.

In the final two chapters of last week’s Torah reading, Jacob sends 10 of his sons to Egypt to purchase food during a famine, but refuses to risk sending Benjamin. Jacob's favoritism has been directed toward Joseph's brother Benjamin. Joseph, meanwhile, has become viceroy to the king of Egypt. The brothers are brought to "the viceroy", but do not recognize Joseph, who by now is in his late 30's. Joseph recognizes them. The "viceroy" tells the brothers he will not sell them any more food in the future unless they bring their youngest brother, Benjamin, with them.

The "viceroy" declines their offer...

Some time later, pressured and reassured by his sons, Jacob relents and Benjamin goes along to Egypt. There, Benjamin is framed by Joseph, who then claims Benjamin as his slave. The brothers all offer themselves as slaves in rotation, to enable Benjamin’s return. The "viceroy" declines their offer, saying he will enslave only Benjamin. The reading ends at verse 24:17, with the "viceroy" saying to the brothers "return in peace to your father."

The next verse (24:18) begins this week’s reading, Vayigash, with the words, "Judah drew near to him." (The word "vayigash" means "he drew near", or "he closely approached.)" Judah offers himself as a slave in place of Benjamin. He tells Joseph that Jacob will not be able to bear the loss of his youngest son, Benjamin. He says dramatically, passionately and empathically, "my father's very soul is intertwined with Benjamin's soul" (44:30). Joseph feels himself about to be moved uncontrollably to tears. He expels all the Egyptians present from the room and then reveals himself to his brothers.

A difficulty with this story: Why is Joseph moved to tears by Judah, whereas he showed no such emotion in response to the brothers' collective offer?

A possible answer comes from understanding that Judah's actions flowed from a love that transcended ego. The brothers' offer was motivated by guilt, by a fear that Benjamin's "crime" was G‑d's way of punishing them. In contrast, Judah's action was based on a clear love of his father. Judah was saying, "It makes no difference whether I think that my father was unfair to me in favoring Joseph and then Benjamin. I have reached deep within myself and know that the most important truth is that I love my father and I cannot allow him such pain. My father's happiness is more important than my freedom or my complaints." It is this level of selfless love that moves Joseph to tears.

It is no surprise that Joseph weeps. Each year as I hear Judah's selfless loving compassion and identification with his father, I am similarly moved. Judah is so deeply in touch with his love for his father, that he no longer has room inside himself to entertain his feelings of hurt and anger.

Judah has overcome some of the cognitive distortions and emotional limitations that people impose on themselves, such as the thought: "I can't love someone who loves me less than I love them or who favors another over me."

...we can still love people despite their emotional flaws.

People have a choice. We can throw away our resentments, even when we have legitimate complaints. We can choose to be loving as a better position than being "technically right." Certainly, we should not tolerate others' abusive actions; however, we can still love people despite their emotional flaws.

We see in the haftarah reading associated with Vayigash that the role of Judah surpasses that of Joseph: the Messiah will come from Judah. I am convinced it is in the merit of Judah's quality of selfless love that Judah is chosen to be the ancestor of Moshiach.

May we all say to each other, "return in peace to your father." May we find the power of selfless love within our selves, thereby bringing about a "redemption" in our personal relationships. May we experience the Almighty's reciprocity by His bringing about the ultimate "redemption", thereby fulfilling the haftarah's Messianic promise, "my servant David shall be your king."

[Adapted from an abbreviated version written for the "Rockland Jewish Federation Reporter." For whoever desires, the complete article is available from the author, at [email protected]]