As we approach the end of the end of the secular year and the beginning of the new one, it is traditional to make resolutions, the expressions of a desire to change in the new year. For many of us it is usually to exercise more, or lose weight, or drink less, or eat less sugar, junk food, whatever. These are expressions of a desire to be healthier. For others, the resolution may be to be kinder, more understanding and less judgmental. To be a better spouse or partner, a better parent or a better friend. Resolutions contain within them a hint of regret and a desire to grow.
In this week’s Torah portion we see how we can change in the actions of Judah before Joseph. Joseph’s brothers have come to Egypt for food, to save their family from starvation from famine in the land of Canaan. They do not recognize Joseph, who looks like an Egyptian noble, which he has become.
Joseph, who was sold into slavery by his brothers in a fit of jealous rage, has set up a test for them by demanding that his brother Benjamin, the other son of Rachel, be left with him as a slave. The situation is similar to what befell him 20 years earlier, when he was betrayed by his brothers.
In that moment Judah steps forward and says, “Now your servant has pledged himself for the boy to my father, saying, ‘If I do not bring him back to you, I shall stand guilty before my father forever.’ Therefore, please let your servant remain as a slave to my lord instead of the boy, and let the boy go back with his brothers.” (Genesis 44:32-33) In that moment, seeing the change in Judah, Joseph breaks down and is able to be reconciled to his brothers.
Judah has demonstrated genuine change or teshuvah (return to the right path in Hebrew). Maimonides (12th C. Egypt) summarizes true change in four steps: 1. Recognizing you have done wrong and feeling remorse, 2. Apologizing to the one you have harmed (even to yourself) 3. Taking action to make things right by repairing the damage or harm you have caused, 4. When faced with the same situation again, not repeating the harmful behavior.
In this season of resolution and change, if we can remember Judah and Maimonides perhaps we will have a chance of keeping our resolutions and building healthier habits and stronger relationships.