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Yahuda was the fourth son of Yaqob, born to his first wife Leah. His descendants would become the leaders in both the Yahudi and Natsareti movements. Before that, his descendant Dawid Ben-Yeshi had become king of Yitskaq before the division into Yahuda and the breakaway kingdom that kept the old designation of Yitskaq.
Yahuda, whose name means "Praise," was son of Yaqob and Leah in the mid-sixth century TM. It was in the midst of a 'baby war' with Leah's sister Rakhel. By that time, Rakhel had provided her slave girl for Yaqob when she could not seem to get pregnant herself. In the end, Yahuda would have four full siblings and nine half-siblings.
When he was only a toddler, right after Rakhel's firstborn son Yosef was born, the family had moved from living with grandfather Laben. Displaced and nomads in the desert, life was hard for the family. However, the early years proved to be good for the most part. Once Yaqob and Eshu had reconciled their differences, the community of the Yitskaqi lived in harmony for a few years. However, when Yitskaq died, Yaqob and his family moved to an area near the town of Shechem.
As the brothers grew into their teen years, they became known locally as the Yaqobi. They were often in trouble with the local authorities for their pranks and petty crimes. As one of the leaders of the gang, Yahuda often moderated disputes between the brothers. When their half-brother Yosef showed himself to be a favorite to their father, he was not welcome as he tried to be a part of the gang.
Life in Shechem was quiet. However, the chief's son, named for the founder of the town, fell in love with the brother's little sister. The young man became too involved in the relationship and assaulted the young teenaged Dinah, raping her in a passionate moment. In spite of diplomatic attempts to win her hand in marriage, Yahuda's big brothers instead plotted revenge. Without consulting their father, Lewi and Simeon promised Shechem that if the men would join the Yaqobi tribe by way of ritual circumcision the marriage would be approved. After all the adult men were circumcised, the two went into the city and slaughtered the wounded men as they "healed."
After his Aunt Rakhel (also his stepmother) died giving birth to baby Ben-Oni (later named Ben-Yamin by Yaqob), the family was in disarray for years. The brothers of Leah and the concubines grew closer while their father stayed close to his "other family" (now managed by Rakhel's slave Bilhah). This led to distrust among the sons of Leah, who plotted against Yosef, Ben-Yamin's big brother. One day, when Yahuda was away, his brothers sold the Yosef into slavery. It would be years before Yahuda and his brothers were reunited.
Having moved away from home soon after saving his half-brother Yosef from his brothers' plot to kill the young man, Yahuda married a woman of Paleset after having established pasture privileges from her father. From that marriage he would have three sons, Er, Onan and Shelah. When Er was in his early twenties, Yahuda found a wife for him. However, before his oldest could father a child, his two oldest sons were involved in a violent brawl with local ruffians in which they both died.
This left his daughter-in-law Tamar a widow without a legal redeemer for the family line. Yahudah promised when Shelah, then a young teen, was old enough, he would be able to preserve Er's inheritance in the traditional way. However, when Shelah was old enough, Yahuda made excuses, thinking that Tamar might bring death to the lad as well,
Tamar secretly put aside her widow's garments and disguised herself as temple prostitute in the Palesti worship community. Having recently lost his wife, Yahuda went into the town to partake of the services of the women dedicated to the Palesti gods. It was supposed to bring good fortune on one's crops. Tamar's disguise worked, and she became pregnant with twins. Tamar had understood the customs of the day, and had preserved her late husband's blood line. Displeased with the deceit, Yahuda had almost had her banished, but when she pointed it out that he had withheld Shelah from her, he accepted the responsibility of his son's family. The twins, Pharez and Zarah, were to inherit his firstborn son's portion. Shelah would marry and his children would grow up with their "uncles" who were also their "cousins."
Yahuda in Misra
When the weather on the plain took a turn for the worst, the families of the Yaqobi looked to the Misraim for relief. When they went to see what help they could get, the Pharaoh's chief of staff, a man named Zof-p'Neh. Though this high official looked oddly familiar, none of the brothers figured out that it was actually Yosef. Zof-p'Neh was a honorary name meaning "Treasurer of our blessed rest" for the job he had done in managing the crisis of the famine that had overtaken even Misra.
Yosef had not remained a slave for long. His gift for management had moved from that of a slave over a household to a top general of the army, to a prison where he was unjustly imprisoned to an unlikely post within the palace itself. His expertise had saved the Mitsraim to such an extent that the Pharaoh now owned all the land as the people became workers under the government's care. As the Zof-p'Neh, Yosef pretended that his brothers were spies.
Yahuda and the others were sent back to bring Ben-Yamin with them when they came back for more food. This was hard on Yaqob, but Yahuda promised that if anything happened to his young brother, he would pay with his own life. In the end, Yahuda and the rest of the extended tribe of Yaqob were given the best land that Yosef could find among the Misraim. While Yosef lived, the arrangement worked well. Yahuda died at peace in the province of Geshem in Mitsra.
The Patriarchal Blessing
As Yaqob lay dying, he blessed all his children, though some probably felt he was cursing them. Though the honor of the firstborn went to the sons of Yosef (for his firstborn of Leah had been disqualified), the responsibility for leading the people fell on Yahuda. Reuben, the firstborn, had disgraced his father by seeking the love of Bilhah, the slave girl who had birthed two sons for his Aunt Rakhel. Simeon and Lewi had shamed the family in the revenge killing of all the men at Shechem. This had left Yahuda, the fourth born son to take the reins of leadership many years later.
Yahuda's family would grow strong in Egypt. His son Zarah would marry an Mitsri princess and travel north to explore the lands of the Jepeti. His son Pharez would be a general in the army of Pharaoh as the nation of Mitsra faced invasions from the south.
After the Yaqobi had become slaves, it would be a Yahudi by the name of Caleb would be one of the leaders of the armies that had liberated them from the slavery in the days of Moshe, the Liberator. Another descendant by the name of Nahshon would assist in the conquest of Cana'an, taking for his bride a Khami woman captured in Yerikho, the mightiest city of Kena'an. From this family line would come the mighty Yeshi and his sons, the greatest being his youngest, Dawid, the king.
A thousand years after Dawid, another champion named Simeon Bar-Josef would rise up to rebel against Roman oppression. Bar-Yosef, though, would become a teacher of peace after his twin brother Yosef took his place on a Roman cross.