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Judah: A Perplexing Character?
Video 22 of 22
And what I want you to do while I'm doing that, is listen to the story but out of the corner of your eye, try to watch out for connections of one kind or another. Conceptual connections, linguistic connections, language connections, words, phrases, ideas, that seem to link Genesis Chapter 38 with the surrounding text. That is with Genesis Chapter 37 - Bereishit Lamed-Zayin, the story of the sale of Yosef itself, or the story afterwards Bereishit Lamed-Tet - Genesis 39, the story of Potiphar or later on in the story of Joseph in Egypt. Are there any indications that Chapter 38 is intimately connected? Do you hear resonance between this apparent digression, the story of Yehuda and Tamar, and the surrounding text? What ideas, themes and phrases seem to kind of be popping up here, that popup elsewhere in the Joseph story? Do you find any?
So you take a look at that, I'm going to talk about what comes to mind for me as I read through this, and then we'll come back and compare notes.
So with no further ado, let's jump in over here, Bereishit Lamed-Chet, Pasuk Aleph. Vayehi ba'eit hahi - and it happened at that time; Vayeired Yehuda mei'eis echov - and Yehuda went down from amongst his brothers; Vayeit ad ish adulami ushemo Chira - so he came to this man by the name of Chira. Vayar sham Yehuda bat ish canaani - so Yehuda saw there the daughter of a Canaanite man; Ushemo Shuah - his name was Shuah; Vayikacheha vayavo eileha - and he married her and had children with her. Vatahar vateiled ben - she conceived and had a child; Vayikra et shemo Er - Yehuda called the name of that child Er.
The names, by the way here, might be kind of significant. The names at least are kind of strange at first glance. For example, the name of the father of the bride of Yehuda is Shuah. Shuah from the language Yehoshua really means salvation. A strange kind of name for a father. Vatahar vateiled ben vayikra et shemo Er - a strange kind of a name for a son, Er: Ayin, Reish. What does Ayin, Reish mean? Well Er actually means awake, a strange kind of name, especially when you consider what happens to poor Er, we really don't know anything much about Er, but as I've mentioned to you before, he dies, and his name is Awake. Okay, kind of odd.
But anyway; Vatahar od vateiled ben - she then has a second child; Vatikra et shemo Onan - here too the name is strange, the second child's name is Onan. Onan - later on at least in Rabbinic Hebrew it means grief. Onan is the earliest stage of mourning, actually before burial you're known as an Onen. It's a kind of grief which is so pervasive and so dominating that you are Patur from all the Mitzvot, you don't have to put on Tefillin, you don't have to do anything, you're released from all obligations that you have towards G-d, you're just focusing on the deceased. So a strange kind of name for this child, Onan. Awake and Grief.
By the way, it's kind of interesting because the story has a lot to do with death. Everyone is dying and here you have the child named Grief, it just - again the names are interesting, what do we make of all that?
Anyway; Vatosef od vateiled ben - she then has one last child; Vatikra et shemo Shelah - and she calls the name of this child Shelah. Again, what does that mean? Shin, Lamed, Heih? Shel-ah, that it's hers or something? What does that name even mean or does it mean anything?
So anyway; Vehaya bicheziv belideta oto - so let's continue. So Vayikach Yehuda isha l'Er bechoro ushemah Tamar - so Yehuda then takes a wife for Er and her name is Tamar. Vayehi Er bechor Yehuda ra'ah b'einei Hashem - so Tamar now married to Er suffers the loss of Er because Er the Bechor of Yehuda, the firstborn child of Yehuda, is; Ra'ah b'einei Hashem - is evil in the eyes of G-d and G-d causes him to die young. Now a couple of things to point out here. First of all, why does the verse have to go out of its way to mention that Er is the Bechor of Yehuda, the firstborn child of Yehuda? I mean if you've been paying attention, we just went through the genealogy, we know that Er is the firstborn, Er was born first, Onan was born second, Shelah was born third. So why does the text have to tell us that which is completely obvious? Second of all, just an interesting play on words here. Look at how you spell Er, the name of this child, look at what he is, he turns out to be Ra'ah. Ra'ah of course is Er spelled backwards, kind of interesting little play on words there. Ayin Reish is Er; Reish, Ayin is Ra'ah.
Anyway so Er dies and there are two children left, that would be Onan and Shelah. At that point Yehuda says to Onan - and we talked about before; Boh el eishes achicha v'yabem otah v'hakem zerah l'achicha - go be intimate with the widow of your brother Tamar, and have a Yibum child, a child through a levirate marriage, as we talked about before, that's going to carry on the name of your brother Er. But; Vayeida Onan ki loh lo yihiyeh hazarah - Onan knows that the child is not going to be his. In other words, even though of course biologically the child will be his, but spiritually and in every other way, the child is going to be seen as the legacy of the deceased Er, not the legacy of Onan. Therefore, he didn't want the situation, and therefore; Vehaya im bah el eishes achiv veshicheis artzah - he made sure that if he was intimate with the wife of his brother he would not impregnate her; Levilti netan zerah l'achiv - so he would not have these children which were not his. And, G-d didn't like that either - G-d didn't like what Er did before, G-d didn't like this either; Vayeirah b'einei Hashem asher osoh - it was evil in the eyes of G-d what Onan was doing. Vayomess gam oto - so G-d did away with Onan too.
So now there are two children dead, Er and Onan, and there's Shelah left. At that point remember Yehuda's perspective on this is very different from ours, Yehuda doesn't know what we the reader knows. We the reader knows why it is that Er and Onan died. Er and Onan die for their sins. Vayehi Er bechor Yehuda ra'ah b'einei Hashem - Er was evil in the eyes of G-d. Vayeirah b'einei Hashem asher osoh - G-d thought it was evil what Onan was doing, so G-d killed them. But Yehuda doesn't know all this. All Yehuda knows is there's this woman who marries my children, and she married two of them and they're both dead, so it doesn't seem very safe to allow her to marry the next one.
With that in mind; Vayomer Yehuda l'Tamar kalato shevi almonoh beis avich - so Yehuda says to Tamar, I know that you have your eye on Shelah because if you marry Shelah you can perform Yibum with him and have this child that will carry on the legacy of your deceased husband Er. But he says, Shelah is too young. Shevi almonoh beis avich - why don't you wait as a widow in your father's house; Ad yigdal Shelah beni - until Shelah gets a little bit older. That's what he told her. But; Ki amar - he said to himself; Pen yamus gam hu k'echov - lest he die like his brothers. He was worried that Onan would die like his brothers and actually had no intention of giving Shelah to her even when Shelah gets older. So he puts off Tamar and tells her to wait, but in fact he's really not going to give her Shelah at all. Vatelech Tamar vateishev beit aviha - so in this situation Tamar goes and waits in her father's house.
So, as it happens; Vayirbu hayamim vatamas bat Shuah eishes Yehuda - so after a long while the daughter of Shuah, who was Yehuda's wife, dies; Vayinochem Yehuda - and Yehuda finds comfort for the loss. Actually it seems like a superfluous kind of thing over here, why is it that that's important? It is kind of interesting though that Nichumim - comfort for loss - I'm kind of tipping my hat here, but this is one of the connections to the Joseph story. Can you find where? Where does this connect to? If you look through Chapter 37 where do we find the idea of comfort and seemingly we're hearing comfort again. So you can kind of think about that and we'll come back to it.
But anyway, Yehuda finds comfort from his loss; Vaya'al al gozezei tzono hu v'Chira rei'eihu ha'adulami timnata - so it turns out he goes for a sheep shearing festival out to Timnah. Vayugad l'Tamar leimor - and Tamar hears about this; Hinei chamich oleh timnata lagoz tzono - that Yehuda is going to be passing by on his way to Timnah to shear his sheep. So at that point Tamar comes up with a plan, if she's not going to get Shelah, and there's no other brothers, how is she going to perform Yibum? She persists in this idea that she wants to have a child to carry on the legacy of her dead husband, and therefore she goes and sets out to actually seduce Yehuda.
Vatechas betza'if vatisalaf - she goes and she covers her face with a veil, she's disguised, he doesn't know who it is; Vateishev bepetach einayim - she sits by the crossroads; Al derech timnata - on the way to Timnah; Ki ra'atah - why? Because she saw that; Ki gadal Shelah v'hu loh nitnah lo l'isha - that years had passed and Shelah has gotten older and Yehuda is still not giving her. So evidently Yehuda has no intention of giving her Shelah, so she's going to take matters into her own hands. Vayireha Yehuda - so Yehuda sees her; Vayachsheveha l'zonah ki chistah paneha - and he thought that she was a harlot because he wasn't able to recognize her because she had covered her face.
At this point, you know the Torah is going to go and - if you were writing this, you don't want to get into too much detail about these acts, you could suffice it in a sentence and dispose of this. But interesting, the Torah dwells on this. Why does the Torah dwell on this? It gets into details. Vayeit eileha el haderech - so he comes to her by the way; Vayomer - and he says to her - and then we get into this, it's just astounding, this bargaining session between Yehuda and the harlot. I mean the Torah is a minimalist document, it conserves words and why are we getting this detail about negotiations between Yehuda and the harlot? What purpose could this possibly serve? So this, I think, is a very big question that you have to ask as you're reading through this.
Vayomer hava nah avoh eilayich - so he says, come let me come on to you; Ki loh yadah ki kalato hi - he didn't realize who she really was. Then she says, well what are you going to give me? This isn't for free; Mah titen li ki tavoh eilay? Vayomer - so he says; Onochi ashalach gedi izim min hatzon - I'll come up with a sheep and I'll send a sheep to you from my flock. So she says, well you don't have the sheep, so what are you going to give me meanwhile? Im titen eiravon ad shalchecha - I need some sort of collateral. I mean, why are we hearing about this? This long and detailed bargaining session and what it is that's collateral, it just seems all so superfluous. Vayomer mah ha'eiravon asher eten lach - so he says, well I don't have any collateral, what could I possibly give you? So she says, well, you know you've got your staff; Chotomcha upetilecha umatecha - you have your cloak, you have your ring, why don't you give me that? Vayiten lah ve'yavo eileha vatahar lo - so he gives her that, the deed is done, they're intimate, and she actually becomes pregnant and has a child.
Why are we hearing about the details of this apparently sordid story? This, I think, is a clue as to, I think, what's really going on in this story. In these verses which seem very, very superfluous, nothing superfluous is happening. The Torah doesn't have a habit of engaging in superfluous things at all. We have to come back and figure out what the significance of this is.
We've gone through about half of this story here, again as I've gone through this, are you hearing any echoes of the rest of the story of Joseph? Go back again, read Chapter 37, read Chapter 39 and the rest of the Joseph story, at least skim it, become familiar with its themes, are you hearing those themes echo in this story? Let's come back in the next video, read the second half and then begin to put this all 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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