PUBLIC HERO VERSUS PRIVATE HERO
The interaction between Judah and Joseph at the beginning of the parasha, sets the scene for two prototypes of greatness: the Judah-type and the Joseph-type. The public tzaddik and the private tzaddik.
When, as a result of Judah’s impassion pleas, Joseph reveals his identity to his brothers, he does so when no outsiders are present.
“No-one stood with Joseph when he revealed himself to his brothers” (Bereishit, 45:1).
This incident is characteristic of Joseph. His path to righteousness had been a secret one. The challenge to his fidelity with the wife of Potiphar, took place when no-one else was around.
While we are familiar with Joseph as the public personality as Viceroy of Egypt, his real claim to greatness lay in his private acts of righteousness.
In previous weeks, we have read how Judah has assumed the leadership of the brothers. He reached the height of his spiritual greatness, when he publically admitted to his association with Tamar.
The great nineteenth century Chassidic thinker, Rabbi Avraham Bornstein of Sochaczw points out that these two spiritual paths each have their own strengths and advantages. Just as the secret agent can be so effective behind the scenes, so the Joseph-type tzaddik penetrates the evil in the world and counters it. He or she quietly impart righteousness, without others necessarily appreciating what they are doing.
The Judah-type may not have climbed to the same height on the spiritual ladder. But there is a crucial distinction. Because they engage in public, they can be a source of inspiration to others. The Josephs of this world are a hidden force for good. We rarely get to know what they have done for us. The Judahs of the world are the public figures who set the example for others to follow. It is significant that the royal house of David is descended from Judah. The monarch, ideally, is the quintessential public figure who inspires his subjects to greater heights.
The Joseph-type tzaddik is virtually eclipsed in our times. In a world of ubiquitous CCTV and tech companies trawling our cyber-footprint, it is increasingly unlikely that great acts of goodness will go unnoticed. Nevertheless, Judaism preserves a tradition of “lamed-vavniks.” In every generation, there are thirty-six secret righteous women or men, in whose merit the world continues to exist.
Dayan Ivan Binstock