“If he leaves his father, his father would die” Genesis 44:34


They say that one parent can take care of ten children, but ten children cannot take care of one parent. In this week’s sidrah, when Judah makes an impassioned plea to the viceroy in Egypt (who turns out to be his brother, Joseph) to release Benjamin, he argues, “How can you not let him go? If his father finds out that he did not return, he will not be able to survive.”

Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Alter, the first Gerer Rebbe, points out that at that time, Benjamin had ten children. So, why did Judah not say: “How can you not let Benjamin go? You will leave ten orphans, they will not be able to survive without their father.” It was because ten children can somehow manage without a father, but a father cannot manage without one of ten remaining sons.

This may be a depressing idea to all of us parents, but it is the truth. Our children love and respect us, but it is not the same as our feelings for them. Rabbi Yissocher Frand cites an interesting explanation for this phenomenon. Humanity inherited every emotion from the first human being, Adam. Now, Adam fathered children and, therefore, had within him the emotion of a parent’s love for his progeny. However, he never had parents himself and never experienced a child’s love for a parent. This became an acquired skill developed by people in later generations, but it was never genetically passed down like filial love, which is innate.

Therefore, Judah recognised that the stronger argument for the release of Benjamin would be his father’s loss rather than the distress caused to any bereaved children. The challenge facing children is to strive as hard as possible to love and honour our parents as this goes against the grain of the bequeathed human condition.

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