The deal is this. Benjamin, the youngest brother, has been accused and judged guilty of a legal offence. Judah offers to take Benjamin’s place. “Let your servant stay in place of the lad as a slave,” he says (Gen. 45:33).
What motive is behind Judah’s offer? It is he who promised their father Jacob that Benjamin would return home safe.
But there is an additional aspect. Years before, the brothers had sold Joseph as a slave to Egypt. No-one had objected to the idea except Reuben. But who had made the suggestion in the first place? Judah!
The incident must have preyed on his mind for years, especially when he saw what a terrible effect the disappearance of Joseph had on their old father. Now he has an opportunity of punishing himself for his sin.
Because of him, Joseph had been lost to the family. Now it seems that Benjamin would also be lost. Judah’s conscience gives him one option and one only: to turn himself into a slave and save Jacob from further agony.
It is not necessary for us, all these centuries later, to judge our ancestor Judah. But his dilemma is one that almost everybody experiences.
A person makes a mistake and decades pass; maybe no-one else was aware of it at the time, and if they were they may have completely forgotten about it and even died in the meantime… but the person responsible has always felt bad about it and finally has an opportunity of doing something cathartic that may not erase the original mistake but at least helps him to feel better.
It is said that the sculptor Jacob Epstein crushed a bird to death when he was young and years later he had the opportunity of easing his conscience by using his hands constructively and creatively, and that’s possibly what made him such a great artist. We all have to face our demons…