Judah the Guarantor - ויגש

Friday, 25 December, 2020 - 11:10 am

 Judah the Guarantor

The Torah has two facets: both a body, law, and a soul, inner meaning, philosophy, and spirituality. By examining the detailed Talmudic analysis, the body, of a given topic, we can gain insight into the inner spiritual dimension.


The Talmud offers two opinions for the scriptural source of the legal liability of a guarantor, the person who agrees to assume the liability to repay a loan given to a third person. Rav Huna states that the scriptural source is from the story of Judah, who committed to his father to become a guarantor to return Benjamin safely home from Egypt: 

Rav Huna said: From where is it derived that a guarantor becomes obligated to repay a loan he has guaranteed? As it is written that Judah reassured his father concerning the young Benjamin: “I will be his guarantor; of my hand shall you request him” (Genesis 43:9). This teaches that it is possible for one to act as a guarantor that an item will be returned to the giver.

This source, however, is somewhat problematic, because Judah’s offer to be a “guarantor” was not referring to the obligation to repay a debt. Since Judah’s commitment does not conform to the scenario of a financial guarantor, the Talmud offers another opinion:

Rabbi Yitzḥak said that the source is from here: “Take his garment that is surety for a stranger; and hold him in pledge that is surety for an alien woman” (Proverbs 20:16). 

And it is stated: “My son, if you have become guarantor for your neighbor, if you have shaken your hands for a stranger, you have become ensnared by the words of your mouth”.

While it seems that the two opinions in the Talmud are debating a technical point, the scriptural source for the legal obligation of a guarantor, in reality, they are debating a deeper philosophical question: what is the nature of the obligation of the guarantor? 

It is clear that according to the second opinion, the relationship between the guarantor and the borrower is limited to a financial obligation. The quoted verses from Proverbs clearly define the borrower as a “stranger”, a separate and distinct entity. 

However, according to the first opinion, the relationship is a far deeper one. When Judah states that he will “guarantee” the return of Benjamin, he is not referring to a financial obligation; instead, he is stating that he is bound to Benjamin as though they were one entity, and he would therefore ensure Benjamin's return. If Judah’s commitment to Benjamin is the scriptural source for the laws of the guarantor of a debt, this indicates that the philosophical underpinnings of the guarantor’s responsibility to repay, is not because he agrees to repay the loan of a “stranger”, but rather it is as if the guarantor himself borrowed the money, because he and the borrower have become one entity.  

The Hebrew word for guarantor {arev} derives from the word blended {meurav}. The guarantor can be considered one entity with the borrower because, in our spiritual source, we are all part of one whole, interconnected and interrelated. This explains why, in Jewish Law, one can recite a blessing on behalf of a fellow who is obligated to recite the blessing, although the reciter himself is not obligated. The reason is because all Jewish people are considered one entity, if one person has not fulfilled his obligation, then his fellow is also “obligated”. 

The interconnectivity between all Jewish people is because of our shared spiritual identity. Therefore, all agree that we are considered one entity in spiritual matters, such as the recitation of a blessing. The Talmudic debate is whether our spiritual connection can play itself out in physical matters as well, expressing itself in financial matters. If, while engaged in the material world, we are unable to see ourselves as one entity, then the commitment to repay a fellow’s debt can only be considered a financial obligation to a fellow. Rav Huna, however, believes that our spiritual core can express itself even in the marketplace. He therefore says that the financial obligation on behalf of derives from the understanding that we are one entity. 

Judah’s family was traumatized by terrible division, when the brothers kidnapped Joseph and sold him as a slave. The healing, the reunion between Joseph and his brothers, could only have occurred once Judah expressed true brotherhood, demonstrating that a family is, in fact, one entity. 

Judah, and his descendants, became the leaders of the Jewish people precisely because a true leader senses that he is one with the people he leads. A true leader helps us all feel that we are part of one whole, part of one family. We are not complete until we are all complete.    

(Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos 30 Vayigash 1)

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