Perashat Vayesheb 5778
Perashat Vayesheb 5778Friday, December 08, 2017
If we do not closely examine this week's Perasha, we could miss a very valuable lesson. The Torah tells us about Yehudah, who leaves his brothers, settles near an Adullamite and marries a local woman. This woman bears him three sons, Er, Onan and Shelah. Yehudah finds a wife for Er named Tamar. Er dies because of his sins, leaving Tamar a childless widow. He instructs his second son, Onan, to raise children in Er's name with Tamar, but he too dies because of his sins. Then Yehudah instructs Tamar to remain as a widow in her father's house until his third son Shelah is old enough to marry her and fulfill the levirate obligation.
Time passes, and Shelah has grown enough to be given to Tamar. Yet Yehudah does not arrange for her to marry him. In the interim, Shua, Yehudah's wife dies, and after being consoled, he travels to the sheepshearing at Timnah. Tamar, informed of his trip, conceals her identity with a veil and strategically places herself in Yehudah's path. The Midrash emphasizes the hand of Divine Providence in Yehudah's turning aside to the tent of Tamar [Beresheet Rabbah 85:8]. Yehudah wanted to pass by her, without entering the tent; however, Hashem summoned the angel responsible for desire to influence him. Only then did he "turn aside to her" to proposition her. She demands his seal, cord, and staff as surety for payment.
Sometime later, a rumor reaches Yehudah that Tamar is pregnant by harlotry. Being a judge, he angrily condemns her to be burned. She sends a messenger to show Yehudah his staff, seal, and cord, saying, "By the man whose these are, am I with child."
Yehudah, recognizing them as his own, suddenly understands what has taken place. Despite his position of high stature, he admits the truth. He speaks to the crowd who assembled to witness the execution, including Tamar, and says, "She is more righteous than I."
At this moment he cares not about his honor, reputation or stature. What mattered to him at that moment was the truth. And the truth was that he erred. By not keeping his promise to Tamar about Shelah, he prevented his sons' names to be continued. Through her actions, Tamar allowed Yehudah to become the one to fulfill the levirate marriage.
Greatness, as evidenced here, is when a person is able take responsibility and admit his mistakes. That is why Jews are called Yehudim. Yehudah comes from the term L'hodot which has a double meaning, to thank but also to admit the truth.
We learn from Yehudah that Hashem is looking for those who put truth above all their ambitions and assume responsibility for their actions. Those who demonstrate these virtues deserve to be leaders. Jewish kings were destined to come from the tribe of Yehudah and eventually so will Mashiach.
In the words of the opening morning prayer, "A person should always be God fearing, even in private, admit to the truth and speak the truth in his heart".
Jun 19 2019
Sivan 16 5779