Shabbat Vayeshev 5779

In last week’s Torah reading, our People received our Biblical ethnic identity. Once Ya’akov’s name was changed to Yisrael, the scene was set for us to become his descendants, B’nai Yisrael. But this week, the wheels are set in motion for us to become Yehudim, Jews. We derive our religious, cultural and ethnic moniker from only one of Yisrael’s 12 sons, and not even from his favorite son, Yosef. We are named for Yehudah, and so we are Yehudim.

What is it about Yehudah that makes him worthy of having a nation of namesakes? Well, consider that early in this week’s Torah reading, Parshat Vayeshev, he is the brother who says of Yosef, “What do we gain by killing our brother and covering up his blood?Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, but let us not do away with him ourselves. After all, he is our brother, our own flesh” (Genesis 37:26-27). On the one hand, his words are admirable–let’s not commit fratricide. On the other hand, he doesn’t seek to rescue their brother, rather suggests they let someone else “do away with him.” So for him we are named?
Then, after marrying off two sons to the same woman, Tamar, and watching them die prematurely, Yehuda withholds Shelah, his third son, out of fear. It’s understandable, perhaps, but it also leaves Tamar trapped. Then, after his own wife dies, he hooks up with a prostitute, not knowing it’s actually Tamar. He impregnantes her, and upon learning she’s pregnant, demands that she be burned. So for him we are named?
Indeed, we are named for Yehudah, not in spite of his shortcomings, but because of them. On Shabbat morning, I’ll talk about why we are Yehudim, and why I carry that identity so proudly.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wise