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Judah: A Perplexing Character?
Video 7 of 22
I mentioned to you before that Rashi was kind of basing himself on a playoff of this word; Vayeired Yehuda mei'eis echov - that Yehuda went down from amongst his brothers. That's the word that Rashi wants to suggest to us, kind of in a Medrashic sense, means that he was caused to descend politically from amongst his brothers. It turns out that there is a little bit more to the story than that. That Rashi seems to be getting this from somewhere. In order to see this I want to challenge you, take a moment and look earlier in the text, look in Chapter 37, do you see this word or a version of this word anywhere in Chapter 37 that comes to mind in a way that might support the argument that Rashi is making? Take a look at 37, especially the end of 37, see what you find.
So it turns out that there actually is some evidence for this, I think, and Rashi sees the evidence in making a connection between the text's two uses of this word right over here, Vayeired - going down. Because the other time we have it right before Chapter 38, indeed just a couple of verses before this we have it right over here. Let's take a look at this verse; Vayakumu kol banav v'kol benotav lenachamo - and all of his children, all of Yaakov's children got up to try to comfort him; Vayema'ein lehitnachem - but he would not be comforted. Vayomer - why wouldn't he be comforted? Because he said; Ki eired el beni - I will go down - there's that word again, going down - I will go down to my grave mourning Yosef. Vayevk oto aviv - and his father cried for him. Well isn’t that interesting? Because just a verse or two after this - this is at the very end of Chapter 37 - a verse or two after this we get to this, the first verse in 38 in which we have this word one more time.
Rashi seems to be making a connection between these words. It's almost as if he's saying, you want to understand this Vayeired? In order to understand this Vayeired you have to go back to this Ki Eired. The reason why Yehuda went down, was demoted, from amongst his brothers is because Yaakov his father said; Ki eired el beni avel she'olah - I'm going to go down my grave mourning Yosef. When the brothers saw the depth of his pain they came to the conclusion that Yehuda had failed them. So you see Rashi seems to be linking these two Vayeireds, these two goings down.
Now it's interesting because it's not just two, it's actually three, it's actually a triangle. Remember we talked about this whole section Genesis 38 being what appears to be a digression? We've got Chapter 37 the sale of Yosef, we've got Chapters 39 - 50 the rest of the Book of Genesis, which is the whole story of Yosef in Egypt when he meets up with his brothers, eventually meets up with his father. And then the story which we're looking at right over here, Chapter 38, Yehuda and Tamar, which seems to be this unconscionable digression right in the middle of this great story of the sale of Yosef. Now, the very first verse in this digression, as Rashi reminds us, begins with these words; And Yehuda went down from amongst his brothers. That's the very first verse, the transition verse, that is the link as it were between Chapter 37 and 38, it opens 38. Well it turns out that if this over here is the transition verse that opens 38, as we've just seen the verses that end 37 also have this went down verse.
Well now if we come back to the end of the digression, so to speak, the transition verse going into 39, let's take a look and see what we find there. Well here it is right here, this is the verse that ends the transition, that brings us back to the sale of Yosef where we're going to spend the next 12 chapters or so in, after the story of Yehuda and Tamar, the whole rest of the Book of Genesis, the transition verse is right over here, Chapter 39, verse 1. Look what it says. V'Yosef hurad Mitzrayma - oh isn't that interesting? Yosef was brought down to Egypt. See what's going on here? There's this triangle of Vayeireds, this triangle of going down. It begins with Yaakov's mourning at the very end of Chapter 37; Ki eired el beni avel she'olah. It then continues with the transition verse into the digression; Vayeired Yehuda mei'eis echov - Yehuda went down from amongst his brothers. Then, as we come out of that digression it continues with one more; V'Yosef hurad Mitzrayma - Yosef went down to Egypt. There is a tale to be told in these goings downs. These are the links that make the digression sort of make sense.
What Rashi seems to be suggesting is that there is this triangle of Vayeireds and the triangle would look something like this. There's the top of the triangle, a cause of it all, and the cause is somehow this. Yaakov's statement, I will go down to my grave mourning Yosef, has ramifications. One ramification it has is for Yehuda; Yehuda gets demoted from his position of leadership when the brothers see what it is that Yaakov is saying here; I will go down to my grave mourning Yosef, and that causes them to regret the sale of Yosef. So one ramification is for Yehuda and his position of leadership over the brothers, he goes down, he is demoted, as Rashi says, from his position of leadership over them. But another cause is for Yosef. There is a second person that is affected by all of these cataclysmic events that have been caused in Chapter 37, and that of course is Yosef. Yosef went down to Egypt.
So in other words, what it's saying is, is that the ramifications of the sale of Yosef are not to be understood narrowly, just in terms of what happens to Yosef when Yosef went down to Egypt. No, there is another story to be told here too, the ramifications of the sale of Yosef for Yehuda; Yehuda's going down from his brothers, and that is what the story of Yehuda and Tamar is about. What I want to argue to you is it's not just what the first verse is about, it's about, Rashi is saying, what the entire story is about. It's about understanding what the ramifications, what the cataclysmic effects were of the sale of Yosef. The cataclysmic effects for Yosef we'll get to in Chapter 39, the cataclysmic effects for Yehuda come much earlier in the very next chapter, in Chapter 38, and that's how Rashi wants us to understand the story.
Okay, we're still just scratching the surface of Rashi, but we're beginning to make some headway in understanding the evidence in the text for some of these assertions. Let's come back and examine some of the other assertions and let's look a little bit deeper and continue to put this together.
1. Introduction to Yehudah and Tamar
2. Kinds of Questions
3. A Question of Placement
4. A Tale of Two Digressions
5. Does Rashi Answer The Question?
6. Are We Explaining One Sentence or a Whole Story?
7. A Triangle of Descent
8. The Unexpected Element
9. Perpetual Mourning
10. Failure to Persuade
11. Patchwork Quilt
13. Lest it Come to Scandal
14. Recognize, Please..
15. Tales of Goats and Coats
16. Keepsake or Evidence?
18. How Many--and Why?
19. What's At Stake?
20. Yehudah's Name
22. Superfluous Details
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