Bible studies with Don Isaac Abravanel’s commentary (also spelled Abarbanel) has withstood the test of
time. For over five centuries, Abravanel has delighted – and enlightened – clergy and layman alike,
offering enduring interpretations of the Bible.

Don Isaac Abravanel (1437-1508) was a preeminent Jewish thinker, scholar, and prolific Biblical
commentator. In chapter 44, an epic legal battle takes place between Joseph and Judah. Abravanel sets
the courtroom scene for Bible students so they can better appreciate the legal proceedings.

“Then Judah came near unto him, and said: Please my lord, let your
servant, I pray you, speak a word in my lord’s ears, and let not your
anger burn against your servant, for you are like Pharaoh [in my eyes].”

To begin, Abravanel poses a question on our verse: What does it mean, “Then Judah came near unto
him…?” Two verses earlier we read that Judah had already been conversing with Joseph (still preserving
his anonymity to his brothers): “And Judah said: What shall we say unto my lord…?”

What, then, does it mean now when Judah “came near?” Had Judah been far away, and now moved
somewhere, getting closer to Joseph? Further, Abravanel asks about Judah’s request to “speak a word in
my lord’s ears.” But Judah had been speaking to Joseph, as we noted. Was he not within earshot, per

Abravanel explains our verse’s plain meaning. Earlier in the chapter, Joseph handed down his (contrived)
guilty verdict to Benjamin for stealing his wine goblet. Judah sought to amend Joseph’s decision, begging
for mercy. Asking for Benjamin’s clemency, Judah petitioned Joseph to accept him in his youngest
brother’s stead. He would assume full responsibility for Benjamin’s “crime”, allowing Benjamin to join
his brothers and return to Jacob in Canaan.

Judah sought an appeal to Joseph’s verdict because he had offered Jacob assurances, and underwrote
Benjamin’s safety. “I will be surety for him…” Judah pleaded for a disposition, expressing fears to Joseph
that if Benjamin remained in Egypt, Jacob would writhe in agony and die, so attached was he to his
youngest son.

Judah well understood the delicacy of the mission, considering palace authority; a viceroy’s decision is
not subject to appeal. Discretion was key, Abravanel teaches. Until now, Joseph had been surrounded by
staff, the hearing a public one. That changed. “Then Judah came near unto him.” Judah hoped to speak
with Joseph in privacy. He was, after all, requesting Joseph release a criminal (Benjamin), and
incarcerating an innocent man (Judah), contrary to the viceroy’s indictment: “And he said: “He with
whom it is found shall be my bondman, and you [all] should be blameless.”

“Please my lord, let your servant, I pray you, speak a word in my lord’s ears” suggests a hushed
conversation. Judah knew that confidentiality was vital.

In sum, we now better understand Judah’s tack, one that demanded forethought and tact, so that
Egypt’s viceroy would not lose face by letting Benjamin go free.