“How can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? No! Do not let me see the misery that would come on my father.” — Genesis 44:34
In Judaism, the word for charity is tzedakah, which literally means, “righteous giving.” It is not just an act of kindness and benevolence — it is an act of justice and righteousness. This is one of 12 devotions focusing on tzedakah and how we can incorporate its lessons into our lives. One of the ways Jewish families bring tzedakah — literally — into their homes is with a tzedakah box. Click here to order a complimentary tzedakah box for your home.
Our verse today picks up in the middle of a dramatic moment in the familiar story of Joseph and his brothers. As the Pharaoh’s second-in-command, Joseph had demanded that his brothers bring Benjamin to Egypt in order to secure Simeon’s release from prison and to acquire lifesaving provisions for their starving families back in Canaan.
But while there, in order to test his brothers, Joseph had ordered his servants to put a silver cup into Benjamin’s sack as the brothers were leaving to return to Canaan. When the “stolen cup” was discovered in Benjamin’s sack, Joseph ordered that Benjamin stay and become his slave.
Taking Benjamin down to Egypt had been risky. Believing that Joseph was dead, they brothers knew that Benjamin was the only son left to Jacob from his beloved wife Rachel. If they returned to Jacob without Benjamin, what would happen to their father? He might not survive such devastating news.
Our verse today captures the watershed moment in the story of Joseph and his brothers. Judah approached Joseph, thinking he was talking to the Prime Minister of Egypt, and not realizing he was talking to his long-lost brother. Judah pleaded with Joseph for Benjamin’s life, saying, “How can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me?” In fact, Judah begged to take Benjamin’s place.
Seeing that his brothers had truly learned their lesson – that they would never again turn their backs on one another – Joseph could no longer contain himself. He revealed his true identity, forgave his brothers for their past misdeeds, and declared that he would provide for his entire family.
I’d like to revisit those crucial words uttered by Judah thousands of years ago, words that have reverberated for thousands of years: “How can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me?” On another level, the question is one that we all need to ask ourselves: “How can we return to our Father in heaven if our brothers and sisters are not with us?” In other words, it’s not enough for us as individuals to live good and godly lives. We are also responsible for the lives of our brothers and sisters.
We read in Deuteronomy 14:1, “You are the children of the LORD . . .” Think about that for a moment. We are ALL God’s children. As brothers and sisters, we must worry and care for the physical and spiritual well-being of each other. How can we return to our Father in heaven without being able to say that we did our best to help our brothers and sisters out?
In Hebrew, the word for charity is tzedakah, which shares the same root as the Hebrew word for justice. This is because charity is not just a kindness in Judaism. It is justice; it’s our social and spiritual obligation. We must extend a helping hand to others. We must care for their physical needs and spiritual well-being. Then, when we do come to the heavenly gates, we will be able to tell our Father that, yes, we have brought His children home, too.
One of the ways you can practice tzedakah in your home is with a tzedakah box. Order a complimentary tzedakah box for your home today.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President