December 18, 2018

‘Stand up already,’ God is calling to you

“Then Judah approached him and said, ‘Please, my lord,
let your servant appeal
to my lord, and do not be
impatient with your servant,
you who are the equal of Pharaoh.’ ”
(Genesis 44:18). 

Years before, when his brothers wanted to kill their egocentric younger brother Joseph, Judah stepped forward suggesting they instead throw Joseph in a pit. “An important action that saved Joseph’s life,” Judah would say to try to console himself in the years since. “I did my best.”  

Yet his half-action, which ultimately led to Joseph’s being sold into slavery and his father, Jacob, being sold a devastating lie, led to enduring suffering. Even Judah suffered, sure that the deaths of his own children somehow were tied to that moment of sin.

Now, Judah stood before Pharaoh’s prime minister — in truth, his brother Joseph, but he did not know that at the time. This powerful man sought to hold the youngest brother, Benjamin, as a hostage until Judah and his brothers returned with their father, Jacob. In that moment of truth, Judah stepped forward to protect his brother. Reconciling with the dishonesty of his past, Judah embraced a new truth. “I must do better. I must save Benjamin.” Judah offered himself up as a guarantor instead.  

Bi adoni,” Judah said. Usually translated as “please, my lord,” connoting humility before a powerful human ruler, “bi adoni” is understood by Sefat Emet, the late 19th-century Polish Chasidic rebbe, as “bi Adonai.” Sefat Emet notices that hidden within the letters of Judah’s name (Yud-Hey-Vav-Dalet-Hey) is the Tetragrammaton, the four-letter name of the Holy One (Yud-Hey-Vav-Hey), an unpronounceable word usually vocalized as “Adonai.” “God is within me,” Judah said.

Sefat Emet imagines that as Judah stood before this all-powerful human ruler, he finally acknowledged that there was a truth greater than his own survival. As we read in the Talmud (Shabbat 55a), “Chotmo Hakadosh baruch Hu emet” (the signature of the Holy One, blessed by God, is Truth). Judah remembered a truth, buried deep within himself, that the Holy One was within him.
In that moment, Judah stood courageous. He rediscovered his backbone. No longer would he take half-actions to save face (literally, to save his face and his very life). Where once Judah cowered before the crowd, now he stood up to the very seat of human power. 

In that moment, Judah made teshuvah, repenting for harmful actions taken years before. Faced with an analogous situation, he found the strength to push his ego aside, to let go of his own worldly concerns, and to act on the truth implanted within him by the Holy One. 

We each face moments like that. When protecting ourselves, holding our own needs or safety as the priority, no longer can be sustained. When we who, like Judah, need to face our own self-deception and to stop persistently lying to ourselves. 

These are moments when we, like Judah, need to face the hidden truths in our lives — the uncomfortable ones — about our moral failings, the declining health of our beloveds, the disappointments in our children, the struggles within our family, the dangers facing our nation and our world. These are the moments when, like Judah, we remember “bi adoni,” that God is within us, calling to us to take a stand, to stand up, to stand for something. 

Back in Torah times, Judah allowed his brothers to tell his father a lie: that Joseph was killed. He lied to himself that he had done all he could at the time to rectify a complex, dangerous situation. Because of their collective weakness, their father aged quickly and suffered greatly. Because of his specific weakness, Judah always felt that his own children died before him. Wholeness and peace came only later, when he finally faced the truth and stood up to protect

When will you face your truth? When will you stand up and say, “bi adoni — our God, who is Emet – truth, is within me.”  

Don’t wait too long. The truth awaits you. Your loved ones, your country, your world need you. 

So go ahead. Say it: “bi adoni.” 

Now go live it. Live like God is counting on you. And may we all walk the paths of truth.

Rabbi Paul Kipnes is spiritual leader of Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas. He and his wife, Michelle November, are authors of “Jewish Spiritual Parenting” (Jewish Lights Publishing, 2015). He blogs at and tweets @RabbiKip.