Beliefnet
Truths You Can Use

The most important Israelite tribe stems from line of Judah. Judah is the fourth son of Jacob and Leah. His name comes from the Hebrew root “yahdah,” which means “gratitude.”

King David came from the Tribe of Judah.

King David came from the Tribe of Judah.

The beginning of Judah’s life is marked by treachery and emotional indifference. He convinces his brothers to sell Joseph to traveling slave traders. Then he impregnates his daughter-in-law Tamar.

But then something happens. Judah awakens to a sense of right and wrong. He realizes he had hurt Tamar and acknowledges it saying, “She is more righteous than I.” (Genesis 38:26)

The Ancestor of King David

This act also establishes Judah’s hereditary significance. One of the children born to his daughter-in-law becomes the ancestor of King David. The tribe of Judah becomes the tribe of the Kings of Israel. 

Judah’s character transformation becomes more evident in next several chapters of Genesis. When he and his brothers travel to Egypt in search of food during the famine, Judah is their leader and spokesman.

He offers himself up as a hostage to Joseph when Joseph demands the brothers bring bring their youngest brother Benjamin to Egypt. When Joseph refuses, Judah succeeds in persuading their father Jacob to allow them to bring Benjamin to Egypt, and pledges to defend Benjamin with his own life.

It is Judah’s plea on behalf of Benjamin that finally leads Joseph to reveal his true identity to his shocked brothers. 

The Lone Survivor

Along with the Levites, Judah’s descendants become the only Israelite tribe to survive the Assyrian destruction of the Northern Kingdom in 722 BCE. Three factors account for their survival.

  • First, their territorial basis in Jerusalem. Through the ingenuity of King Hezekiah, who came from the tribe of Judah, Jerusalem survived the assault of the Assyrians through the construction of a water tunnel between the Gihon Spring and the Old City.
  • Second, their loyalty to King David. After the death of King Saul, the other tribes remained loyal to the Saul’s clan. Only the tribe of Judah supported the ascension of David. David’s success led to the success of the tribe of Judah.
  • Third, the tribe of Judah integrated other Israelite and non-Israelite tribes. The tribe of Benjamin was much smaller than Judah, and it eventually assimilated into it. Scholars have also discovered evidence that several Canaanites tribes became part of Judah through conquest and intermarriage.

 A Profound Legacy

Several of the Bible’s most significant figures come from the tribe of Judah. Beside King David and Jesus, most of the Hebrew prophets are Judahites.

The word “Jew,” first used in the Book of Esther, is derived from Judah, indicating the disproportionate number of Israelites who came from the tribe of Judah.

The Bible also teaches that the Messiah must come from the Tribe of Judah. Scholars trace this requirement to later generations understanding of the reign of King David as Israel’s golden age.

David united the Northern and Southern Kingdoms and oversaw an era of great conquest and prosperity. The return of one of his descendants to the throne would restore that glory.

 

I grew up with stories of my grandfather’s service during World War II. The stories conveyed inspiration, humor and love all at once.

grandpa

The dedication he felt to our country remains with me, and it explains the extraordinary tears I shed invoking a blessing at a deployment ceremony here in Chicago.

I had never been asked to give a blessing for departing troops, and I did not know a deployment ceremony even existed. It was a struggle.

What can I say to men and women who will not see their spouses, parents, children, boyfriends and girlfriends for 14 months? How can I bring comfort to their loved ones?

Does Prayer Work

These questions go to the heart of prayer. Do we pray for ourselves or others? Does God answer our prayers? Does prayer work even if we don’t hear God’s answer?

I believe prayer works, but not in the way we often think. An elevator works when it takes us up and down. Prayer works when it invests our lives with meaning and purpose, with comfort and understanding.

Prayer works when it brings out our most noble, empathetic and loving virtues.Prayer works when it changes us.

The Prayer

Here are the words I shared: Rabbi Deployment Ceremony

In Judaism the highest value is pikuach nefesh, the saving of a life. We are commanded to set aside all other tasks in order to save a life in need. That is what you are doing today. That is what you will do over the next 14 months. So let us pray:

Eternal God, we give you profound thanks for all those who serve our nation. Give them strength. Give them love. Bless them with your presence. Sharpen their skills. Make their judgments true.

Help them serve with wisdom, honor and integrity. May their faith be fostered and may they answer fear with courage. May your angels hold them and guide them, May your presence give them strength, hope and faith.

And bless their families, Oh God. Their mothers and fathers, spouses and children, loved ones: all who love them and will miss them. Bring them comfort and strength.

Let them know the blessing of their loved one’s service, the gifts they bring to the world, the courage with which they inspire us all. Let them be their strength, Oh God. Let them know you are near to them and to their loved ones, giving them your love and your grace.

And be present with our country’s leaders and officers, Oh God. Give them wise judgment, commitment and courage. Let them know of your love for them and guide them in protecting the freedom, liberty and justice we cherish.

We turn to You, Oh God, and in the words an ancient Jewish prayer we say, “May God grant strength unto our people, and may God bless all people with peace.” Amen

 

To Inspire Yourself and Discover More, check out Rabbi Moffic’s free weekly digest of spiritual wisdom

Beginnings are times of blessing. They are also times for reflection. As we enter the new year, let us look for ways to bless one another and be a blessing for the world. And let us reflect on what makes our lives a unique blessing and gift to the world.

birth

Every year, to help me in this task, I read a favorite prayer composed by Rabbi Alvin Fine. It pictures life as a journey with many beginnings and endings.

Underlying those moments is the Eternal Spirit, the God of the Universe, whose Presence is our greatest blessing. I share this prayer with the hope it brings blessings and comfort.

Birth is a beginning and death a destination;
But life is a journey.
A going, a growing from stage to stage:
From childhood to maturity and youth to old age.

From innocence to awareness and ignorance to knowing;
From foolishness to discretion and then perhaps, to wisdom.
From weakness to strength or strength to weakness and often back again.
From health to sickness and back we pray, to health again.

From offense to forgiveness, from loneliness to love,
From joy to gratitude, from pain to compassion.
From grief to understanding, from fear to faith;
From defeat to defeat to defeat, until, looking backward or ahead:

We see that victory lies not at some high place along the way,
But in having made the journey, stage by stage, a sacred pilgrimage.
Birth is a beginning and death a destination;
But life is a journey, a sacred pilgrimage,
Made stage by stage…To life everlasting.

 

In late June 1997 Rabbi Cyril Harris received an important phone call. As the chief rabbi of South Africa, Harris had been an outspoken supporter of the anti-apartheid movement. The phone call was from his long-time friend, Nelson Mandela.

Mandela called to ask Harris to keep an important secret. Mandela was getting married on July 18, his 80th birthday. The date was not yet public. Mandela told Harris he knew that the rabbi could not attend because it was the Jewish Sabbath. So, Mandela asked, would you be available to my home and the week before and give us a special blessing?

nelson-mandela

Harris later noted this was one of many times in which Mandela displayed tremendous empathy and understanding. What drove this modern-day Moses? How could we withstand decades of imprisonment and emerge with a commitment to forgiveness and reconciliation.

Mandela’s Secret

Mandela’s secret, I believe, is that he knew and lived the truth expressed by philosopher Frederic Nietzche, “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.”

Mandela had a why. He lived to achieve a free and democratic South Africa. He would do whatever was necessary to achieve it. He suffered. He forgave. He negotiated. He challenged. He did not give up.

A Modern Moses

Mandela was like Moses not only in the way he led his people to freedom.  Just as Moses grew up in Pharaoh’s palace, Mandela came from an African royal family. Like Moses, who had to flee Egypt for the wilderness of Midian, Mandela was in exile from his people, imprisoned for 26 years on a remote Island. Like Moses, Mandela also faced internal tensions and struggle over his legacy.

Moses left us with a renewed religion and people. Mandela leaves us with hope and possibility. He leaves us an example of vision and conviction inspiring a people to change the world. His legacy is not esoteric. It is immensely practical and applicable to us all. Here are three examples:

1. Look for the best in everybody: Mandela writes in his autobiography about a vicious prison guard who turned to him as he left and, for the first time, treated him like a human being. The guard said to him, “I just want to wish you people good luck.” Mandela looked for the sincerity and humanity even in those who hurt him.

2. Be generous:  As a lawyer, Mandela helped his fellow prisoners—included the white ones who despised him—when he was on Robbin Island. He even helped the prison guards. Mandela knew giving knows no boundaries, and one who gives often receives even more.

3. Forgive: Any student of history know the cycle of violence. One group is persecuted. Then they gain power and inflict horrors on their former persecutors. That cycle threatens Syria at this very moment.

Mandela prevented it in South Africa. He had the vision and influence to create a Truth and Reconciliation Commission that acknowledged the pain of apartheid while preparing a peaceful way forward.

It is one of the most remarkable projects of our time. And his was one of the most remarkable lives of our time. Nelson Mandela gave us insight into the best within ourselves.

May his memory be a blessing. 

To Inspire Yourself and Discover More, check out Rabbi Moffic’s free weekly digest of spiritual wisdom

Previous Posts