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Judah: A Perplexing Character?
Video 3 of 22
A lot of the times when people talk to me about the story of Yehuda and Tamar, the question that is on their minds is how could Yehuda have done it? How could Yehuda have succumbed to the advances of this woman posing as a harlot? Right, that's a very troubling question we might imagine. Here's Yehuda a man that we revere as one of the 12 Tribes, a founding father, as it were, of the Jewish People, or if not quite a founding father like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, pretty close, we look up to the 12 Tribes at some level as role models. So how could Yehuda have done such a thing? This is a question that many are troubled with. Indeed I suspect it might be one of the reasons why people sometimes avoid teaching this story, sometimes kind of skip over Chapter 38, it seems like a difficult thing to confront in schools. How do we confront the behavior of Yehuda in this story?
But getting back to our matrix over here I want to suggest to you that that is not the big, internal question that should be bothering you in this story. It might be a big question, but I'm not convinced that that is an internal question, I think that may well be an external question. The reason why I say that is because as you read through the text there isn't really an indication that the text is crying out for you to be bothered by that question. This is what happened, he was seduced by a harlot, okay, so sue him. I mean, that's what happened to him. We may be bothered by this, it may cause some kind of crisis for us in looking at Yehuda's behavior, but it's not like the text as you're reading it seems to be crying out for you to figure out how he could have done this. It just doesn't seem to be the focus of the story.
An internal question, as we defined it, is a question that when you take the text on its own terms, even without any preconceived notions in which we the reader bring to the text, such as Judah was a very righteous person, how could he have done it? That's a preconceived notion, that's an external question. But an internal question is no, let's take the text in its own terms, what question is the text forcing me to ask? I'm just reading the text as a text, I'm just coming into the text world and just buying all the assumptions that the text wants me to buy, even so, the text on its own terms is forcing me to ask this question. What question like that should be bothering us in the story of Yehuda and Tamar?
Okay so the question I want to suggest should be bothering us in this story, the internal question which we should be asking, the big, internal question, is, what in blazes is this story doing here? What is it doing here at all? To make clear what I mean by that, let's just pull back the zoom lens and take sort of a global view of the second half of Sefer Bereishit, the second half of the Book of Genesis. What's the main story that we're focusing on in the second half of the book of Genesis - all the way from Chapter 37 through Chapter 50, what is the story we're looking at? Of course the story is the story of Joseph. It begins in Chapter 37 with the sale of Yosef, it continues in Chapters 39 all the way through 50, through the very end of the chapter, with the whole long story of Yosef in Egypt, it's a very, vivid story. We get all sorts of portrayals, all sorts of detail, a kind of detail which we almost never get in the rest of the Five Books of Moses. The story is treated in great, great detail for, what, a good 14 chapters or so. It's all about Yosef and the focus is Yosef and the sale of Yosef and what happens to Yosef in Egypt, and his interactions with the brothers and all of that.
Then, all of a sudden, right in the middle of the story, right smack at the good part of the story, right when Yosef is sold and everything is falling apart and you're wondering what happens next, we get this digression. Chapter 38, a story of Yehuda and Tamar that has nothing to do with anything. It has to do with a relative of the main character Yosef, it has nothing to do with Yosef, we've forgotten about Yosef. It's a very interesting story, but it has nothing to do with all of this. It has nothing to do with Yosef in Egypt, it has nothing to do with Yosef with his brothers, it's an entirely self-contained story which just seems to be plopped right down here in the middle of the text. Why is it here? Is it that the Biblical author, G-d, thinks that we're a little bit too bored and we need a little bit of a break from the story of Yosef, so maybe put in this story over here, which has some exciting, diversionary themes? Is it that, well if you - just in case you were wondering about Yehuda's family let's tell you about his family now? I mean, why is this story here?
By the way, as we'll see in a moment, this really is the very question that Rashi addresses - Grandfather of Medieval Commentators - at the very beginning of the story of Yehuda and Tamar. This is the great, internal question of our story. What is this story doing here?
By the way, like any great, internal question, the way you find the answer is by looking at the little questions in the story, by looking at the details in the story and often the little questions will lead you on a trail to answer the big questions. So that's what we're going to do here, we're going to try to look at Chapter 38 carefully with an eye towards answering what is this story doing here? Is this really a digression?
Before we do that though, I just want to ask you, almost for fun, is this the only chapter-long digression which [we imagine 6:20] in the Book of Genesis? Is there any other point in Genesis where we have a very long story, kind of like this, where you have a story devoted to one particular person and then smack in the middle you have a digression which just doesn't seem to belong? Anything else like that in the Book of Genesis? Can you think of an analogy to this? So I can think of one and I want to share that with you in our next video, so let's come back and talk about that. Then we're going to look more carefully at Chapter 38 and try to figure out what in blazes is this story doing here?
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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