Judah and Joseph
Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers agreed. When some Midianite traders passed by, they drew Joseph up, lifting him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt. —Genesis 37: 26-28
In modern terminology, we would say that Joseph was the “baby of the family.” Though psychologists differ in their analyses of the effects of birth order, the stereotype of the youngest child is that he or she is the charmer of the family—self-centered but loving, adventurous but dependent, attention seeking but engaging. These qualities certainly seemed to hold true for Joseph.
The youngest of 12 brothers, Joseph was his father Jacob’s favorite, “the son of his old age.” Jacob demonstrated this love by giving Joseph an ornamental robe, the famous “coat of many colors.” This in itself would have been enough to cause resentment among his brothers, but to make the situation worse, Joseph delighted in telling them about the strange dreams he had—dreams in which he reigned over them. Not an approach guaranteed to win their most ardent support.
Ultimately, the older brothers had had enough. When Joseph was sent out by his father to help them with the flocks, they saw him coming and “conspired to kill him.” Though Reuben, the eldest of the group, was able to keep the others from carrying out this plan, it was the more pragmatic Judah whose advice they actually followed: What would be gained from killing him?, Judah wanted to know. Why not sell him to foreign traders and make a little money on the deal? After all, as Judah put it, “he is our brother, our own flesh.” They didn’t mind if Joseph died, but they also didn’t want to be the ones held responsible for his death.
As outsiders, we can easily see Judah’s rationalization for what it was: an attempt to deny culpability and to keep his conscience clear. As insiders, though, don’t we often find ourselves in similar situations, not overtly engaging in acts of injustice or malice or basic selfishness, but instead creating an environment where such destructive behavior can thrive? Who is to say which is worse?
O God, let me not be blind to my own indifference, but instead make me aware of all those things I do—or do not do—that feed the hatred and enslavement of people both near and far away.