Shabbat Vayeshev/Hanukkah 5784

As if the sibling rivalries of earlier generations didn’t produce enough anxiety for the Biblical reader, now we have a generation with a dozen brothers from four different mothers, and there’s even more rivalry. From chapter 37 of Genesis until the end of the book, we are telling the story of Yosef, who becomes the dominant character of the narratives in conflict with the others. But though he’s only fourth-born, it is Yehudah who emerges as the leader of the other faction. He has the attention of his brothers, who seem prepared to do whatever he suggests as Yosef sits at the bottom of an empty pit.

In the next chapter, Yehudah is the subject of a lengthy narrative aside about his three sons and especially his unfortunate daughter-in-law, Tamar. She is married to Yehudah’s oldest son, Er, and after Er’s premature demise she is supposed to go to the next in line, Onan, as part of the Levirite marriage laws. But Onan also dies, and Yehudah is unwilling to risk his third son, Shelah. This leaves Tamar stuck in her widowhood, so she takes hold of the situation, disguises herself as a prostitute, and ends up impregnated by an unwitting “client,” Yehudah. When he learns that she is with child, he orders her to be executed, but Tamar has thought one step ahead. She has taken collateral for her services that implicate Yehudah and invites him to recognize those items that are clearly his.

It’s at this point in the story that Yehudah becomes a hero. He is a man of power, wealth, and prestige. He could, despite the evidence, have made like the protagonist in Michael Jackson’s famous hit, Billie Jean. But he doesn’t deny, deny, deny. He admits to the truth, saying “tzadkah mimeni–she is more in the right than I” (Genesis 38:26). Or, in Rashi’s formulation, “Tzadkah–she is right; mimeni–it is from me.” The kid is indeed my son.

Given his powerful station, and frankly because he’s the man in the relationship, had Yehudah obfuscated, who do you think would have been believed? Evidence notwithstanding, do we really think that Tamar would have received justice in a “he-said/she-said” case? On Shabbat morning, we’ll dig deeper into what Yehudah’s admission means for generations of Tamars, and what the world might learn from this story.

Shabbat Shalom, Hag Urim Sameah, and Shalom al Yisrael,

Rabbi David Wise

Candle lighting: 4:09 PM
Torah Reading: Genesis 37:1-40:23
Maftir: Numbers 7:18:23
Haftarah: Zechariah 2:14-4:7