The Torah tells us that Yehuda was the only one of Yaacov’s children able to convince Yaacov to entrust him to bring Binyamin to Egypt and return him safely home. When Binyamin was accused of stealing Yosef’s goblet, it was Yehuda who stood up to Yosef, leading Yosef to finally reveal himself to his brothers.
Yehuda was not always the leader as we will see.
Yehuda was the one who suggested to his brothers that they sell Yosef rather than kill him. They then dipped Yosef’s special cloak in goat’s blood to make it seem like he was mauled by a wild animal and showed it to Yaacov.
When the brothers saw how distressed their father Yaacov was over the loss of Yosef, they blamed Yehuda, claiming that had he suggested that they bring Yosef home they would have listened to him.
As a result, Yehuda’s stature was diminished, and the Torah tells us that Yehudah separated from the family for some time. During that time he got married and had three sons. Two of his sons died, leaving one son and his daughter-in-law, Tamar.
Because Tamar had no children, she was waiting for her deceased husband’s young brother to perform a levirate marriage. When she saw that it was not happening, she took matters into her own hands and planned to have the levirate marriage done with her father-in-law Yehuda who was widowed and permissible to perform a levirate marriage with her.
To pull this off, Tamar presented herself as a harlot and Providence directed that Yehuda had a relationship with Tamar without knowing that she was his daughter-in-law, and Tamar became pregnant with twins. When Yehuda heard that she was pregnant, he sentenced her to death for committing adultery, for she was reserved to marry a relative of her deceased husband.
Tamar secretly sent Yehuda items to prove that she was impregnated by Yehuda himself. Yehuda could have easily dismissed her claim, but he was bold enough and had the strength of character to admit that he was indeed the father, and thus Tamar was spared. She bore twin boys, Peretz and Zorach, and from them Moshiach will emerge.
After Yehuda displayed his strength of character by admitting to his deed he regained the confidence of his family and was raised back to his original position of leadership and his role of monarchy was restored.
When word came back to Yaacov that Yosef was alive, the Torah tells us that Yaacov sent Yehuda to precede them to Egypt in order to set up a Yeshiva – a school of study – in the land of Goshen where they were to reside. Yehuda was chosen because he had the ability to get things done.
Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin o.b.m. explains that Yaacov chose to portray a certain dynamic. Yosef was the ruler of Egypt, the most powerful country of the world, and Yehuda was destined for the monarchy over the Land of Israel. Yaacov specifically sent Yehuda to Yosef so that they both be involved in setting up a Yeshiva – a place of Torah study and law, to impress and emphasize that no matter where a Jew is, or how busy they may be, the nation cannot survive anywhere, not in the Land of Israel nor in the Diaspora, without Torah being studied. The Jewish leaders have to make Torah the top priority to ensure our continuity.
The Torah relates that before Yaacov passed away he called in his children and individually blessed them.
As part of the blessing to Yehuda, Yaacov pronounced, “He crouches and lies down like a lion, and then he gets up.” Says the Chidushai Harim, Yaacov was capturing how Yehuda held onto his special ability to lead. It was his gift of not falling prey to feelings of setback. Yes, at a point Yehuda was demoted from his stature, as depicted through a couching lion. However, he did not remain despondent, rather he bounced back and sprung up like a lion.
Our title Yehudim – Jews comes from the name Yehuda – which means we all have it within ourselves to raise ourselves and break out of anything that may bring us down!