Joseph and Judah


The lives and roles of Joseph and Judah, the two prominent sons of Jacob, have implications for the Israelites of today and the future. This article will examine their roles through history based upon classical biblical and rabbinic texts.

Talmudic Sources

Talmud – Sotah 10b

Rav Chanin bar Bizna said in the name of Rav Shimon Chasida, “Joseph who sanctified the name of heaven in seclusion, merited that Hashem added one letter to his name. However Judah, who sanctified the name of heaven in public, merited that he is called by a name that is entirely based upon the name of Hashem.”

Joseph’s sanctification relates to his resisting the seduction of Potiphar’s wife (Genesis 39:7-12) even though this led to his imprisonment. If he had agreed to her advances she would not have alleged that Joseph tried to rape her (Genesis 39:13-18). Hashem rewarded Joseph’s actions by adding the letter ה to his name to form יהוסף (Psalms 81:6). It is interesting to note that this is the only time in the bible that his name is spelled with the extra letter. In this manner Joseph’s expanded name contains three (ו-ה-י) of the four letters of Hashem (ה-ו-ה-י), indicating a divine potential but not as the same level of Judah (יהודה) which contains all four letters of Hashem. 

Judah’s sanctification relates to his admission that he had relations with his daughter in law Tamar instead of giving her in marriage to his son Shelah (Genesis 38:26). Judah had suspected that she had relations with a stranger instead of waiting for Shelah to mature. Previously Judah’s two sons had died while married to Tamar (ibid. 6-10).

Talmud Sotah – 36b


It is interesting to note that the statement of Rav Chanin bar Bizna appears also verbatim in Sotah 36b with the Talmud, in its subsequent discussion, adding some significant details. In the case of Joseph the name change occurs when he is released from prison, 12 years after the incident with Potiphar’s wife (Genesis 41:14). When Pharaoh wanted to appoint Joseph as his viceroy (Genesis 41:44), his advisers protested that Joseph was unfit to rule due to his apparent slave lineage. Pharaoh contented that Joseph’s divine inspiration and exceptional wisdom indicated that he must have descended from royalty (ibid. 38-39). They countered that if he is indeed a child of royalty, he should know the seventy languages of the world, which in fact Joseph did not know. The angel Gabriel attempted to teach him these languages but Joseph could not learn all of them. Gabriel added the letter ה to his name and he was thus able to learn these languages, as it is stated (Psalms 81:6), “He appointed it in Joseph [Yehosef] for a testimony, when he went forth against the land of Egypt, the speech of one that I did not know I heard (Psalms 81:6). The next day when he appeared before Pharaoh he could answer the king in any language that Pharaoh spoke with him and was appointed viceroy (Genesis 41:40-44).


In the case of Judah, his name is associated with the crossing of the Sea of Reeds which occurred more than 200 years after the incident with Tamar. Actually the association with Judah’s name and this crossing is a matter of dispute (Sotah 36b-37a). Rabbi Meir contends that each of the 12 tribes of the Israelites wanted to jump in first with the tribe of Benjamin taking the initiative. By contrast Rabbi Yehudah contends that the Israelites were afraid to jump in to the sea until the tribe of Judah, led by their prince, Nachshon the son of Aminadav, took the imitative. As a reward for this courageous action, the tribe of Judah merited to govern Israel as it is stated (Psalms 114:2-3), “Judah became His sanctuary, Israel His dominion.” However Genesis Rabbah 87:8 notes that the Sea of Reeds split in the merit of Joseph as the verse states (Genesis 39:12), “…He (Joseph) fled (from Potiphar’s wife) – וינס and went outside. “ At the sea the verse states (Psalms 114:3), “The Sea saw (Joseph’s coffin) and fled וינס. Hence we can conclude on the merit of Joseph and Nachshon the sea split, indicating the intertwined roles of these two tribes.  

Explanation of Texts

It is interesting to note that the Talmud makes no effort to reconcile the texts of Sotah 10b and 36b. However several commentators attempt to resolve the apparent contradictions between the two sources. The Talmudic commentator Maharsha explains that Joseph merited having the letter ה added to his name at the incident with Potiphar’s wife. However the actual awarding of this letter did not occur until the need arose to know 70 languages. We see from this explanation that the delay between the reward and its implementation are related to the person’s destiny. 

 Similarly the Maharsha resolves the apparent contradiction involving Judah’s name as related to the different opinions regarding the crossing of the Sea of Reeds. According to Rabbi Meir Judah’s tribe was not first to enter the sea hence his sanctification was with Tamar. According to Rabbi Yehudah both incidents (i.e. Tamar and crossing of the sea) were factors in his name Judah.

In addition Maharsha points out that Leah, Judah’s mother, called him Judah at his birth (Genesis 29:35). He explains that the Hashem gave her the idea of naming him Judah, instead of the name אודה (I will give thanks) or יודה (he will give thanks – Yaavetz), as a reflection of his divine mission. The author would like point out that the Talmud does not say he was named Judah after the above incidents but rather was called Judah, implying that his name was given by his mother but the fulfillment of his mission was up to Judah himself and his descendants to secure the line of royalty.  

Significance of Names

It is interesting to note that among the 12 sons of Jacob, 3 had two or more letters of Hashem’s name as shown below, 6 had one letter, and 3 with no letters.

Son of Jacob – EnglishSon of Jacob – HebrewLetters of HashemKingdom
Judahיהודה412 Tribes
Josephיהוסף310 Tribes
Leviלוי2Second Temple

All three sons of Jacob, as shown in the above table, spawned dynasties that ruled Israel at different times. Judah’s monarchy started with coronation of King David, lasted throughout the years of the first temple, and will resume in the era of the messiah. By contrast the other two sons spawned dynasties that will not continue in the time of the messiah, who must be a descendent of King David. Joseph’s descendant Jeroboam, from the tribe of Ephraim, fomented a revolt against King Rehoboam, King Solomon’s son, and ruled over 10 tribes in Northern Israel during the time of the first temple. This kingdom came to an end when the Assyrians conquered Israel and exiled the 10 tribes from their land. Similarly the Hasmoneans, descendants of Levi, assumed the monarchy in the latter part of the second temple era. This kingdom came to end with the Roman conquest of Israel. 


The Torah, written and oral, focuses on the offspring of Judah and Joseph since these tribes played a major role in the monarchy in the biblical era.


Initially Judah had three sons, Er, Onan, and Shelah (Genesis 38:3-5, respectively). The Torah relates that Judah took a wife for Er who was named Tamar (ibid. 6). However Er sinned with Tamar and was killed by Hashem (ibid. 7). Similarly Onan sinned with Tamar and was also killed by Hashem (ibid. 10). Judah, suspecting Tamar’s complicity in their deaths, asked Tamar to wait until Shelah matured and then marry Tamar (ibid. 11). After Shelah grew up and Judah did not allow him to marry Tamar, she took action herself (ibid. 14) by disguising herself as a harlot and having relations with Judah (ibid. 14-18). 

The reader may ask, “How could Judah consort with a suspected harlot?” The biblical commentator Mizrachi on Genesis 38:14, also quoted by Maharsha on Sotah 10a, suggests that Judah had intended to marry her through the pledge that he gave her. Maimonides (Laws of Marriage 1:4) writes that in this situation before the Torah was given at Sinai, Judah followed the Noahide laws where harlotry is permitted for an unmarried woman. The Talmud (Sotah 10a) states that Judah inquired about her status (e.g. unmarried, not an idolatress, and ritually pure) before having relations with her. Tamar became pregnant from this relation and ironically Judah suspected her of immorality (Genesis 38:24). Tamar defended herself by producing the pledge that Judah gave her and said (ibid. 25), “By the man to whose these belong I am with child.” Judah confessed that he was the father (ibid. 26) and according to the Talmud (Sotah 10b) he married Tamar. From this relation Tamar gave birth to twins, Peretz and Zerah (ibid. 28-30). In turn Peretz spawned the line leading to King David as listed in the end of the book of Ruth (Ruth 4:18-22). 

Even though this story appears strange and at first glance partly immoral, the Talmud and Midrash Rabbah provide some significant insights. Rashi on Sotah 10b (שידעה כיון) explains that Tamar acted for the sake of heaven because she realized that she would be the line of royal offspring (Zohar 1:188b). Genesis Rabbah chapter 85 expounds on this incident from the divine perspective as follows:

Midrash NumberTheme
1Hashem prepared the light of the messiah before the slavery in Egypt.
7Tamar prayed to Hashem for success in her plan.
8Hashem implanted an extra libido in Judah to produce the royal line.

The Talmud adds (Yoma 22b) that Hashem purposely orchestrated these events to allow for some taint in the royal lineage, שרצים של קופה (literally a basket of creeping reptiles, in the vernacular skeletons in the closet) to prevent a ruler from becoming haughty and to relate to the common man. In this vein Judah’s name יהודה develops from the root verb ידה to admit or confess to wrongdoing, implying that a Torah leader must admit to his failings. In the case of Judah he admitted publicly and is greatly praised by the Talmud as explained above in the section Talmud – Sotah 10b). 


The Talmud Sotah 36b relates the details of the seduction of Potiphar’s wife and Joseph’s reaction. These details have a bearing on the destiny of Joseph and his offspring. On a certain day, Joseph went into the house to do his work (Genesis 39:11). Rabbi Yochanan says, “Both Joseph and Potiphar’s wife stayed in the house alone as they intended to sin. In reference to this work Rav and Shmuel disagreed, with one interpreting this work literally and the other understanding it as a matter of sin. The verse continues, “And there was none of the men of the house (ibid.). The Talmud asks, “Is it possible that in the large house of Potiphar that no one was there?” The school of Rabbi Yishmael taught, “That day was a pagan festival (overflow of the Nile or a national day of theatrical performances Genesis Rabbah 87:7) and they all went to their house of idol worship. Potiphar’s wife claimed to be sick with the intention of seducing Joseph.” The verse states (ibid. 12), “She caught him by his garment, saying: Lie with me.”  At that moment, Jacob’s image appeared to Joseph and he stopped.” The Zohar (1:222a) states that Jacob’s spirit was actually there with Joseph and therefore witnessed his righteousness in withdrawing from sin. However while still in passion his semen was emitted between his fingernails.

In relation to this incident the Talmud (ibid.) comments, “Joseph was worthy of having 12 tribes descend from him, as his father Jacob has 12 sons. However he only had 2 sons because the semen was emitted from his 10 fingernails (12-10 =2). However the offspring that should have descended from Joseph came through Benjamin who in fact had 10 sons (ibid. 46:21).   Nevertheless since Joseph withstood the overall trial he merited to become a shepherd of the Jewish people, as the verse states (Psalms 80:2), “Listen O Shepherd of Israel who leads like the flock (כצאן) of Joseph.” In addition the Talmud Yoma 35b calls a Joseph a righteous person צדיק and a role model for every handsome person who faces the test of seduction. Genesis Rabbah 90:3 highly praises Joseph for withstanding this test and connects his high position in Egypt with its associated gifts as a reward for resisting temptation (e.g. a body that did not touch sin will wear garments of fine linen, a neck that did not incline toward sin will be decked with a golden chain, and a hand that did not engage in sin will wear the ring of Pharaoh – Genesis 41:42). Combining this section of the Talmud (i.e. Sotah 36b) with the one above (i.e. Sotah 10a) we see that Joseph was granted a letter of the divine name, indicative of a divine mission, and was worthy of being a shepherd of the flock of Israel.  However in contrast to Judah, his leadership was limited to:

  1. A foreign power – Egypt.
  2. Himself – not a line of kings.


The section of the article will deal with the roles of the tribes of Joseph (e.g. Ephraim) and Judah in terms of the leadership including monarchy and the temples.

Leadership in Egypt

In Egypt, Joseph was the viceroy (Genesis 41:40-44) and supported the Israelites (ibid. 44:7 and 47:11-12). Hence his role was primarily economic and political. By contrast Jacob assigned a different role to Judah as the verse states (ibid. 46:28),” He (Jacob) sent Judah ahead of him to Joseph to prepare (להורת) ahead of him to Goshen.” Genesis Rabbah 95:3 offers the following explanations for this preparation, a place for:

  1. Living – material needs.
  2. Torah – spiritual needs.   

Jacob foresaw the role of Judah as taking care of the internal needs of the Israelites, in this case away from the idolatrous influences of the Egyptians, as opposed to Joseph who was responsible for the external needs. Jacob also foresaw the benefits of the Israelites living in separate neighborhoods during the long exile to protect and strengthen their Jewish identity.  This Midrash emphasizes the need for   a meeting and study place for scholars to teach, expound, and apply the Torah to the tribes. Although Jacob appointed Judah as the administrator of the yeshiva, he assigned the tribe of Levi as the primary teachers of Torah (Maimonides Laws of Idolatry 1:2 based upon Pirkei of Rabbi Eliezer chapter 37). The commentators point out that the verb to prepare (להורת) as the same letters as לתורה for the sake of the Torah, implying that Judah’s actions should lead to strengthening of the Torah. 

Leadership in Israel   

Rabbi Yose says (Talmud Sanhedrin 20b), “Three (national) commandments the nation of Israel was commanded upon their entrance to the land of Israel as follows (and in this order):”

  1. Appoint a king (Exodus 17:16, Deuteronomy 17:15).
  2. Destroy the nation of Amalek and other enemies of the Jewish people (ibid. 25:19),
  3. Build the holy temple (ibid. 12:10, 11).

The following sub-sections will discuss these three points in some detail

1 – Leaders/Kings

The following table lists the first leaders of Israel either a general/religious head or king, his tribe, number of years in command, and source (i.e. Seder Olam, Talmud tractate Temurah based upon 1 Samuel 13:1, and scripture respectively).  Joshua was the first Jewish leader to enter and conquer the land of Israel after the exodus from Egypt.  Since Joshua did not have sons (Eruvin 63b) he could not develop a dynasty. Rather the leadership passed through many judges before the arrival of Saul, the first king in Israel. He only ruled for three years, one with Samuel and two alone, before dying in battle against the Philistines (1 Samuel 31:1-6). The kingdom then transferred to David who formed the Davidic dynasty. Unlike the previous leaders, the selection of David and his descendants is permanent, meaning that the messiah will similarly be from the line of David. By examining the history of the leaders as shown below, we can see that Joseph is the initiator (i.e. Joshua from the tribe of Ephraim son of Joseph) with the tribe of Judah as the closer (i.e. David and his dynasty). The tribe of Benjamin plays a role in the monarchy which will be explained in an article on this tribe.

Similarly, Genesis Rabbah 70:15 makes the distinction of permanent vs. impermanent based upon Genesis 29:16 where Leah is called the greater הגדלה and Rachel the smaller הקטנה.  In a literal sense these adjectives (i.e. greater and smaller) refer to their ages. However the Seder Olam Chapter 2 (Jewish history written in 2nd century) points out that Leah and Rachel were in fact twins. Hence the greater and smaller refer to the destiny of their offspring (e.g. Judah and Joseph respectively) permanent vs. impermanent in terms of the monarchy. The following verses show the selection and permanency of the line of David:

Psalms 78

70 – He chose His servant David and took him from the sheepcotes.

71 – From behind the nursing ewes He brought him, to shepherd Jacob His people and Israel His heritage.

1 Samuel Chapter 7

13 – He (your son Solomon) shall build a house for My (divine) name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.

16 – Your house and your kingdom shall be confirmed forever before you; your throne shall be established forever.

Leader –  EnglishLeader  –  HebrewTribeYearsSource
JoshuaיהושעEphraim28Seder Olam 12
SaulשאולBenjamin3Temurah 15a
DavidדודJudah402 Samuel  5:4

2 – Amalek

The king is commanded to destroy the nation founded by Amalek, who was a grandson of Esau, and the other enemies of the Jewish people before building the temple. Although Joshua was not a king he was the first Israelite general to subdue Amalek, albeit in the desert but not in Israel (Exodus 17:9-13). King Saul was commanded to eradicate Amalek (1 Samuel 15:3) but failed in his mission (ibid. 9). As a result he lost his kingdom (ibid. 11 and 26) and died soon afterwards (1 Samuel 31:1-6). By contrast King David subdued Amalek (1 Kings 11:15-16) and the other enemies (1 Samuel 7:1) and thereby fulfilled his mission as king leading to the construction of the temple by his son Solomon.  Again we see the pattern of the offspring of Joseph (i.e. Joshua) as the initiator and the offspring of Judah (i.e. King David and Solomon) as the closers.    

3 – Temple

The following table lists the sanctuaries and temples within Israel showing the city names, tribe where located, number of years in operation, and source (i.e. the number of the Mishna in Zevachim Chapter 14). All of these mishnayot appear in the Talmud Zevachim 112b.

City –  EnglishCity –  HebrewTribeYearsSource
JerusalemירושליםJudah/Benjamin830 + Messiah8

Private altars were permitted during the time of the sanctuaries but not in the time of the temples (ibid.).Only the cities of Shiloh and Jerusalem were privileged to house the temples. After 369 years, Shiloh was rejected by Hashem when the Holy Ark was captured by the Philistines (1 Samuel 4:3-5, 11). After 57 years Jerusalem was chosen as the permanent site of the temple. The first temple stood for 410 years and the second temple for 420 years.  Unlike Shiloh, the selection of Jerusalem for the temple location is permanent, meaning that the third temple in the time of the messiah will be similarly located on the temple mount in Jerusalem.  By examining the history of the temples as shown below, we can see again that Joseph is the initiator (i.e. Shiloh in the tribe of Ephraim son of Joseph) with the tribe of Judah as the closer (i.e. Jerusalem). The tribe of Benjamin plays a role in the temple which will be explained in an article on this tribe.  

 Hashem’s decision about these temples is reflected in Psalms in the following verses: 


78:60 – And He abandoned the Tabernacle of Shiloh, the tent that He had stationed among men.

78:67 – He rejected the tent of Joseph and did not choose the tribe of Ephraim.

78:68 – He chose the tribe of Judah, Mount Zion, which He loved.


132:13 – For Hashem has chosen Zion; He desired it for His habitation.

132:14 – This is My (divine) resting place forever; here I shall dwell for I desired it.

It is interesting to note that the second temple was built through the leadership of Zerubavel, a descendant of King David (Ezra 5:2). Although not the messiah he served as governor of Israel under the Persian monarchy continuing the Davidic line in a more muted fashion (Haggai 2:21-23).

The difference between the roles of Joseph and Judah is summarized in the following table.

FocusExternal – Non – Jewish NationsInternal – Jewish Nation
ActivityPhysical – EconomicSpiritual

Messianic Era

This section of the article will deal with the future in terms of the messianic roles of Joseph and Judah with a glimpse into the eventual transformation of Israeli society and government from a secular standpoint to one in harmony with the Torah.

Messiahs – Son of Joseph and son of David

The Talmud Succah 52a identifies a Messiah descended from Joseph and a second Messiah descended from David. The former messiah will fight a war against Esau based upon the verse (Obadiah 1:18), “The house of Jacob will be a fire, the House of Joseph a flame, and the House of Esau like straw; they will kindle them and consume them; and there will be no survivor of the (wicked) House of Esau.” The Talmud Avodah Zarah 10b clarifies that this verse only applies to the wicked ones of Esau who will not recognize the messiah, however the others of Esau will survive. The Talmud (ibid.) further relates that the first messiah will die in battle in the war of Gog and Magog. Although he will subdue Esau, the allies of Esau will regroup and kill the first Messiah (Maharsha on Bava Batra 123b).  The latter messiah, seeing the death of the former, will pray to Hashem to live, with Hashem granting his request as stated in Psalms 21:5, “He (the messiah) asked You (Hashem) for life; You gave it to him, length of days forever and ever.” The Messiah of David will then subdue the remaining enemies of Israel and build the temple in Jerusalem (Maimonides Laws of Kings 11:4). Again we see the pattern of the offspring of Joseph (i.e. first messiah) as the initiator and the offspring of Judah (i.e. second messiah) as the closer.

Joseph vs. Esau

The reader may ask, “What is the special merit of Joseph and his descendants that enable term to be victorious over the evil ones of Esau?” The Maharsha on Bava Batra 123b explains that Isaac conferred special blessings to Jacob (Genesis 27:28-29) and acknowledged him as the fitting recipient even after he was aware of the deception (ibid. 33). In addition Esau forfeited his first born status after the sale to Jacob (ibid. 25:31-33). In turn Jacob conferred these blessing to his preferred son Joseph (ibid. 37:2 and 49:26).In addition to the blessings of Jacob, Joseph and his descendants merit overcoming Esau by their moral standing as described in Genesis Rabbah 99:2 and Midrash Tanchuma  Ki Teitzei 10 (on Deuteronomy 25:18) and listed in the following table. 

FactorJosephVerseEsau (Amalek)Verse
HashemReverenceGenesis 42:18No reverenceDeuteronomy 25:18
FatherRespectGenesis 37:13DisrespectGenesis 27:31
Brother(s)SupportsGenesis 47:12HatesGenesis 27:41
EnvironmentEgyptGenesis 39:1CanaanGenesis 36:6

In each of the above factors Joseph followed the ways of Torah and by contrast Esau did not live up to expectations. For example Joseph was sold into slavery and lived in a foreign land away from his family and maintained a Torah life. Esau lived with his righteous parents, did not follow their ways and left his father when Jacob returned from exile.

Judah’s Role

The reader may ask, in light of the many moral qualifications of Joseph, “Why did Hashem not choose him or his descendants as the royal line?  In addition what is the reason for his death in the war of Gog and Magog?” Genesis Rabbah 98:6 and 99:8 answer these questions based upon the verse in Genesis 49:8, “Judah your brothers shall acknowledge you יודוך.” The former midrash comments that Judah’s line is fit for monarchy because he is accepted by his brothers בך מודים. The latter midrash comments that Judah is fit because he is ready to admit הודית his mistakes, even publicly as in the case of Tamar, as mentioned above. Maimonides Laws of Kings 3:6 rules, “The heart of the king is the heart of the entire Israelite nation” meaning that the king must be focused on the nation and similarly the nation must accept him as their leader.  By contrast Joseph was not fully accepted by his brothers and in fact they grew to hate him (Genesis 37:4 and 11). Even after their father died they suspected him of taking revenge for selling him to slavery (ibid. 50:15). In addition when Joseph died the Torah does not mention that his brothers mourned his passing (ibid. 26). 

Zionism – Secular and Religious

Rav A. I. Kook zt”l, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel (then called Palestine under the British mandate) interpreted modern Zionism in terms of the roles of messiah the son of Joseph (secular) messiah son of David (religious) as discussed in his article,” “I Have an Ox and a Donkey”.  He viewed the tribe of Joseph including its messiah representing the material aspects of the state (e.g. economy, foreign affairs, and military). By contrast the tribe of Judah including its messiah represents the spiritual side of state (e.g. Torah education, synagogues, and eventually the temple in Jerusalem). These ideas do not necessarily mean that the arrival of the messiah is imminent. Especially since the article was based upon events in the early 20th century. Rather Rav Kook viewed the Zionist enterprise as part of a very gradual redemption process based upon Isaiah 60:22, “I, Hashem, in its time (the redemption) I will hasten it.” The Talmud Sanhedrin 98a interprets this verse, in its time meaning preordained and hastened meaning before its preordained time. Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi resolves the apparent contradiction as follows; if the Israelites are worthy then Hashem will hasten the redemption, if not then the redemption will occur in its predestined time. Rav Kook further viewed the “death of messiah son of Joseph” as the death of a totally secular Zionism and its integration with the religious perspective of the messiah son of David. The prophecy of Ezekiel (37:15-28) on the reconciliation of the kingdoms of Ephraim (son of Joseph) and Judah may be interpreted in a similar fashion.   

Integration – Secular and Religious  

Following the comparison of secular Zionism to the role of messiah son of Joseph, the author would like to elaborate on several characteristics of Joseph that made him such a great leader in Egypt and would also lead to the integration of the secular and religious camps. Joseph was:

  1. A Torah scholar studying with his father Jacob and acquiring his vast Torah knowledge (Genesis Rabbah 84:8).
  2. Observant of Torah (in secret) (Targum Onkelos on Genesis 49:24).
  3. Observant of Shabbat – the inauguration offering of the tribe of Ephraim (descendants of Joseph) was on Sabbath in recognition of Joseph’s observance of Shabbat (Numbers 14:2 and Midrash Aggadah on Numbers 7:48).
  4. Righteous by refraining from intimacy with Potiphar’s wife (Talmud Yoma 35b).

Admittedly, these are the characteristics of an observant Israelite and not a secular Zionist. However in the integration process the secular camp should be aware of these characteristics. In addition a great leader with these qualities fulfilling the role of messiah son of Joseph may influence the secular camp, both through his personal integrity and contribution to the Israeli economy and government. In fact Genesis Rabbah 93:5 alludes to this ideal by describing Judah as the plower and Joseph as the reaper which appears to contradict the thesis of this article where Joseph is the initiator and Judah is the closer. However this Midrash, based upon Amos 9:13, describes the agricultural process and harvest where the prowess of Joseph overrides the abilities of Judah as it occurred in Canaan and Egypt (i.e. famine in the former and prosperity in the latter – Genesis 42:2 and 5). In a similar manner the physical success of the current state of Israel starting from the early 20th century ad continuing to the present in terms of technological advances, is in the hands of the secular camp despite the settlements of religious Jews in Israel over the millennia.   


In addition to the above sources numerology (gematria) provides additional insight to the names and destiny of Joseph and Judah.

KeywordKeyword HebrewGematria/WordVerse(s)
Josephיוסף156 ויקם (arose)Exodus 1:8
Joseph extra letterיהוסף161 כצאן (like sheep)Psalms 80:2
Judahיהודה30  יהיה (shall be)2 Samuel 7:16,26
Thanksיודוך46 י-ה-ל-א (G-d of)2 Samuel 23:1

Of course there are many words that share the same numerical value as the keywords. However the table reflects those words and verses that directly relate or actually include the keywords.

Joseph -156

The numerical values of ויקם and יוסף are 156, as in the verse (Exodus 1:8), “A new king arose (ויקם) over Egypt, who did not know Joseph (יוסף).” This verse highlights Joseph’s role in a foreign land and the impermanence of his achievements.   

Joseph (extra letter) – 161

The numerical values of יהוסף and כצאן are 161, as in the verse (Psalms 80:2),” He Who leads Joseph like sheep”. This verse indicates the divine protection of Joseph in Egypt and contains a reference to Joseph as the shepherd of Israel in Egypt (Rashi ibid.).

Judah – 30

The number 30 relates to the 30 prerogatives of the king (Avot 6:6 based upon 1 Samuel 8:11-17). In addition the letter ל (numerical value of 30) is the tallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet indicating the regal status of Judah. However the word מלך (king) indicates a required degree of humility since each of its letters is in deceasing order (i.e. 40, 30, and 20) indicating that the king may enjoy an initial rush when coroneted but must come down and serve the people. In fact the Talmud Sotah 10b identifies the word מך (two of 3 letters of מלך – king) with the humility of King David.   

The word יהיה meaning “shall be” has a numerical value of 30 and reflects the permanence of the house of David as indicated by the following verses:

2 Samuel 7:16 – And your house and your kingdom shall be confirmed forever before you; your throne shall be יהיה established forever.

2 Samuel 7:26 – … the house of Your (divine) servant David shall be יהיה established before You.

Thanks – 46

The word יודוך (thank or acknowledge) occurs only once in the Torah and seven more times in scripture (all of the rest in Psalms). In each case in Psalms the word יודוך refers to unanimity in a group as follows: 

PsalmVerse NumberGroup
684 (twice), 6 (twice)Nations together
8811The living
1384All of the kings
14510All of Your (divine) works

Similarly in the Amidah prayer we say, “Everything alive will acknowledge (or thank) You (Hashem) יודוך החיים וכל. Therefore by comparing the use of the word יודוך in Psalms to the case of Judah we see that Judah and his descendants must earn the acknowledgment and respect of the Israelites.

The numerology of 46 corresponds to the divine energy invested in the line of David as stated in 2 Samuel 23:1, “…the anointed of the G-d of Jacob.” In addition three times in scripture this name of Hashem is directly connected to David (i.e. twice with David דוד – 2 Kings 20:5 and Isaiah 38:5 and once with the full name of David דויד 2 Chronicles 21:12). This latter verse speaks of a mystical letter from Elijah the prophet, after he ascended to heaven, warning the wicked king Jehoram of his impending doom. By contrast this name of Hashem is not linked to Joseph or Judah.


This article examined and analyzed the roles of Joseph and Judah including their descendants through history, starting from their youth, continuing through their lives in Egypt, and following the tribal roles in the land of biblical Israel. Drawing upon their destinies implied by their history and Hebrew names, the article examined their roles in the modern state of Israel and the future messianic era.

The difference between the roles of Joseph and Judah is summarized in the table below and highlights the conflicts and challenges involving the physical and spiritual domains.

FocusExternal – Non – Jewish NationsInternal – Jewish Nation
ActivityPhysical – EconomicSpiritual

Nevertheless the prophet Ezekiel (37:22) predicts the fusion of these two approaches, “I shall make them into a single nation in the land upon Israel’s hills… they shall no longer be two nations.” In addition the prophet states (ibid. 26),” I (Hashem) shall seal a covenant of peace with them, an eternal covenant.”

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