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Judah: A Perplexing Character?
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So let's read. This is the end of Chapter 37, the end of the sale of Yosef, which I don't think we've actually read yet in the text, let's take a look at this. So the brothers they send; Vayeshalchu et ketonet hapasim - I'm reading here in verse 32 - so they send the special coat back to their father, it's the alibi covered in blood. Vayavi'u el avihem - they bring it to their father. Vayomru zot matzanu, - we found this; Haker nah haketonet bincha hi im loh - recognize please is it your son's coat or not? Vayakira - so he recognizes it; Vayomer - and he says; Ketonet beni - it is my son's coat; Chaya ra'ah ochalatu - so a terrible beast has devoured him; tarof taraf Yosef - Yosef has been torn apart alive. Vayikre'ah Yaakov simlotav - so Yaakov tears his clothes in mourning; Vayasem sak bemosnov - and he wears sackcloth; Vayitabel al beno yamim rabim - and he mourns for his son for many, many days. Vayakumu kol banav v'kol benotav lenachamo - and at that point all of his sons, all of his daughters get up to try to comfort him. But; Vayema'ein lehitnachem - but he would not be comforted, he withheld himself from being comforted. Vayomar - because he said; Ki eired el beni avel she'olah - I will go down to my grave mourning my son. Vayevk oto aviv - and his father cried for him.
Meanwhile; V'hamedanim machru oto el Mitzrayim l'Potiphar seris Paraoh sar hatabachim - meanwhile Josef was being taken down to Egypt and Josef was sold to a man by the name of Potiphar.
Okay, so that's the end of Chapter 37, let's go to Chapter 38 the beginning of the story of Yehuda and Tamar. So; Vayehi ba'eit hahi vayeired Yehuda mei'eis echov vayeit ad ish adulami ushemo Chira - so it happened at around that time that Yehuda went down from among his brothers and he came to some fellow from Adulam by the name of Chira. Anyway; Vayar sham Yehuda bat ish canaani - Yehuda saw a Canaanite woman there; Ushemo Shuah - her father's name was Shuah; Vayikacheha vayavo eileha - and he married her and he had children from her. Vatahar vateiled ben vayikra et shemo Er. Vatahar od vateiled ben vatikra et shemo Onan. Vatosef od vateiled ben vatikra et shemo Shelah - it turns out that she has three children, remember these three children, they are Er, Onan and Shelah. So; Vayikach Yehuda isha l'Er bechoro ushemah Tamar - so it turns out Yehuda finds a wife for Er and this woman's name is Tamar and she of course is the woman after whom the story is colloquially named when we call it the Yehuda and Tamar story, this is Tamar, and Yehuda of course is her father-in-law.
Anyway, so as we progress it turns out that Er died while he was young. Er of course is the oldest of Yehuda's children; Vayehi Er bechor Yehuda rah b'einei Hashem - Er, the oldest child of Yehuda was evil in the eyes of G-d, so G-d got rid of him; Vayemiteihu Hashem - G-d caused him to die young.
Now at this point something happens which you need a little bit of background for. So the background that we need here is the law of Yibum. The law of Yibum was given much later on in the Torah in Sefer Devarim - in Deuteronomy, and I have it right here up on the screen, the original verses. Basically what this law mandates is the following. Ki yeishvu achim yachdov u'meit achad meihem u'ben ein lo - this law takes effect when there are two [or 3:58] more brothers and one of the brothers marries and has no child from that marriage, and then that brother dies. Should this happen; Loh tihiyeh eishes hameit hachutzah l'ish zar - it's a Mitzvah for the woman not to marry some other man, but instead to marry Yevama - the brother of the deceased. It's a Mitzvah for him to marry the widow, his brother's widow, and to have children with her.
Vehaya habechor asher teiled yakum al shem achiv hameit - and the reason for this, the rationale, is that the child - the first child that they have - will carry on the name of the deceased brother. V'loh yimocheh shemo m'Yisrael - and the brother who died his name will not be lost in Israel. There will be a child that will carry his name. In some sense, the child that's born is going to be the spiritual legacy of the deceased brother. It will be the biological child of course of the brother of the deceased but in a spiritual sense the child is seen as a child of the deceased. It's almost like in a certain kind of way surrogate fatherhood.
Now this law takes effect of course once the Torah was given at Sinai. Right now we've been looking at a story of Yehuda and Tamar in the Book of Genesis before the Torah was given at Sinai. Nevertheless there's a fascinating comment of the Ramban here. The Ramban says that the idea behind Yibum predated the giving of the Torah. People knew about this idea, and there were customs having to do with Yibum even before the Torah was given. This was just something that you would do. What the Torah did was it took this custom and it regulated it. Actually, according to the Ramban, it constricted the custom. The Ramban says that before the giving of the Torah at Sinai the law of Yibum was actually more expansive than it was after the Torah was given. Before the Torah was given at Sinai if a brother would die, anybody from the family could marry the widow and could bear a child that would bear the name, so to speak, of the deceased. After Sinai the law became constricted and it was limited to just the husband's brother.
The Ramban goes a little bit further and really makes a case for almost an idea of the reincarnation of the soul, that the child that was born somehow is a reincarnation of the soul of the deceased brother. But whether or not you go that far, even if you don't go that far, the idea is that in some way, shape or form, this child that's born carries on the name of the deceased brother, and this was something that was practiced before the Torah was given at Sinai.
Okay, now with that background, let's come back to our story of Yehuda and Tamar. Okay so let's look at the story of Yehuda and Tamar visually for a moment. We have no idea what these people look like, so I'm just going to represent them by different color silhouettes. So let's let this first silhouette over here be Yehuda. So Yehuda gets married, he's got three children. Child number 1, Er. Child number 2, Onan. Child number 3, Shelah. So we've got these three brothers. Now Er gets married, congratulations Er, Er marries Tamar. Now Er and Tamar do not have any children, no children. Then, very unfortunately, Er dies, no more Er, goodbye Er. So now Tamar is alone and here we would have a sort of Yibum kind of situation, the stage is set for Yibum. Because there's a man and woman and they do not have any children, no children, and there are surviving brothers Onan and there's Shelah. So at this point if you follow the story, Yehuda then instructs Onan to go and perform Yibum with Tamar, to go marry Tamar. Why? Again, for the express purpose of having this child that is going to carry on the name of deceased Er. So it would be Onan's biological child, but spiritually this child that's going to be born would carry on the legacy of Er.
Okay, so now what happens in the story? What happens in the story is that Onan actually does take Tamar as wife, but in the words of the text; Vayeida Onan ki loh lo yihiyeh hazarah - Onan knows that the child is not going to be his. That even though it's going to be his biological child, that he's being asked to be a surrogate father and that it's not really going to be his. In some spiritual sense the child that is going to be born is going to belong to his brother and not to him, and he's not okay with that. Onan therefore when he is intimate with Tamar makes sure that he does not impregnate her, G-d does not like this, and Onan dies, G-d gets rid of Onan too.
So now we have two brothers down, 1 and 2, both of these brothers are dead, and now there is one brother to go. Shelah. So Tamar is waiting for Shelah and is hoping for this; is hoping that Shelah is going to marry her and that Shelah is going to perform Yibum and that the child that would be born to Tamar and Shelah, again, would be this child over here, that is going to carry on the name of her dead husband Er. But Yehuda does not like this plan. Yehuda has already seen two children die - remember Yehuda does not know what we know, Yehuda does not know that Er died because G-d thought Er was evil, doesn't know that Onan died because G-d didn't like what Onan did. All Yehuda knows is that this woman is bad luck; I have two of my children dead after having been in contact with her, and he is reticent about giving Shelah to her.
Now at that point - we'll get into the details of the story later - but Tamar figures out that at some point she's not going to get Shelah. At that point she takes matters into her own hands and something bizarre happens. Tamar actually goes and dresses up and poses as a harlot and sits by the crossroads and actually seduces Yehuda who, not knowing who she is, is intimate with her. All, in her mind, for the purpose of performing Yibum. If she can't have one of the brothers of the deceased, she'll have somebody else from the family that will carry on the name of her dead husband Er, and that would be Yehuda. Tamar indeed becomes pregnant from the union, Yehuda doesn't know he is the father, and then all sorts of interesting things happen in the story, which we'll get to in a little bit, when we look at the story in more closely.
But this is the beginning background of what's happening in the story. Just when we look at that beginning background I want to just ask you, what sort of questions come to mind as you look at this story? So I want you to just think about the story, mull that over, maybe read over the text - if you want it's right there in Chapter 38 - and just ask yourself, what are the big questions in the story? What are the questions that bother you? What main - if you had to pick one big question out of the hat, the biggest question in the story that really troubles you, what would that be?
Okay, you think about that, and let's come back and talk about it.
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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