Sir Walter Scott called Judah’s appeal to Joseph on behalf of Benjamin the most complete pattern of genuine natural eloquence.
What makes it so?
It is important to recognize that the eloquence starts even before the speech begins.
We read that Judah went up to him. But, to whom is “him”? Yes, Judah is about to approach Joseph, but some sages believe the text wants us to understand that Judah draws close first to himself.
Oblivious in early life to the needs of others and his own duties, Judah begins a process of transformation through his experience with Tamar. Among other things, he learns that another can be “more in the right than I.”
Through the trials imposed by the unrecognized Joseph, he begins to see in the captive brothers the image of the abandoned Joseph. He sees the way of, and decides no longer to be, the abandoning brother. In turning from his early ways, he approaches his transformed self, now ready to draw close and reconcile with Joseph. The complete pattern of eloquence begins before any words are spoken.
Going up to Joseph, Judah speaks straight to the heart of the matter. He feels and expresses the pain of their father at the possible loss of Benjamin, his seemingly only remaining son with Rachel.
The weak, “other” brother has been put in peril yet once again in the drama. But, now, however jealousy and hatred had driven them astray before, Judah is here to say on the brothers’ behalf, “we see, and we care.”
Having earlier pushed Joseph into being a slave, Judah now is prepared to make himself a slave in the place of Benjamin. And he’ll do whatever it takes to prevent the misery such a loss would cause their father.
The trial brings Judah right back to the very place on the path where he strayed. Now he speaks words of love and compassion instead of callousness and hostility. And now his eloquence extends to the most profound sort of act of lovingkindness.
This is what God wants most of us. This is what turns Joseph’s heart, and this is what touches and teaches us all so eloquently.