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Judah: A Perplexing Character?
Video 4 of 22
It seems kind of odd, and what's even more strange actually, or really intriguing, is that when you begin to look at these two stories side by side, you actually see some curious connections between them.
Okay, so what I want to assert here is that we've got here going almost a tale of two digressions. In a moment we're going to look very carefully at the story of Chapter 38, and we're almost going to forget about the story of Lot and his daughters. But after we finish looking at all of the details of Chapter 38 and after we begin to understand what this story is doing here and whether or not it's really a digression that interrupts the Yosef story, or complements it, then I want to come back and talk about this other story, Lot in Sodom. Again, see if they're connected in any kind of way. Because at the face of it the stories are actually eerily similar to each other. Here are some initial connections, we'll see more once we finish the story of Yehuda and Tamar - I think on a deeper level. But just for starters take a look at this. Here's the beginning of a glance of what I want to call A Tale of Two Digressions here.
Let's start with Yehuda and Tamar, just to summarize some of the stuff that we've seen. The story of Yehuda and Tamar we've got a digression - an apparent digression - from the story of Yosef that focuses on a relative of the main character. As we said, the main character is Yosef, over here we're looking at a brother, and that brother is Yehuda. So that's one element in the story of Yehuda and Tamar.
Next element, it's a seduction story, that's what we began to talk about. Not only is it a seduction story, but it's a seduction story to be more specific in which a woman actually seduces her father-in-law. Remember, Yehuda is the father-in-law of Tamar; Tamar married Er the child of Yehuda, making Yehuda her father-in-law. To go a little bit further, in this case the woman tricks the man, she's not straightforward with him, she dresses up as a harlot and tricks him, and the reason she does so is because she fears that he won't go along with it if he knows what's really going on. Tamar worries that Yehuda won't marry her to perpetuate the line of heir if he knows who she is, because he's worried that she's killed two of his sons. He doesn't know the reason why they died had nothing to do with her. So she fears he wouldn't go along with it and therefore she has to resort to trickery, to subterfuge.
Now what's her motive? Her motive in this case is trying to make sure that her husband's legacy isn't wiped out. She has a pure motive you might say, she's trying to make sure that Er will not be childless, that there will be a Yibum child, as it were, that will carry on the legacy of Er. So while her motives are pure, Yehuda's motives are less pure, we might say.
Finally, at the end of the story there are two children that are born, and those two children are named Peretz and Zerach.
Now what does this remind you of? What other story in the Book of Genesis does this remind you of? The answer is, it reminds us of this story, the story of Lot and his daughters. It's not just that these are the two chapter-length digressions in big stories in the Book of Genesis, but in these kind of eerie ways the stories are kind of the same. Just as Yehuda and Tamar is a story that focuses on a relative of the main character, so too the story of Lot and his daughters also focuses on a relative of the main character. The main person of the saga is Abraham, and over here we're talking about Lot his nephew. Whereas this story focuses on Yehuda, a brother of the person we've been focusing on previously, this story focuses on Lot, the son of a brother of the person we've been focusing on previously, namely Abraham.
Now if we continue the story of Lot and his daughters is also a seduction story. Remember at the end of that story, after Sodom is destroyed so the children of Lot fear that the entire world has been destroyed, they're not aware that it's a localized destruction. Therefore they think it's up to them to repopulate the world. Therefore they seduce their father so that they will have children through him. So over here where a woman seduces her father-in-law, over here the seduction involves the father himself.
Remember, how the woman tricked the man because she fears he won't go along with it? Same thing in this story. Both of the children of Lot trick their father because they fear he won't go along with it, so they get him drunk and seduce him and he's unaware of what's really going on. What's her motive? The women's motive is pure. Not only that, it's the same kind of motive, it's trying to make sure that a line is not ended. It's not just a localized line, that of her husband's legacy, over here it's the line of all of humankind trying to make sure that the human race is not wiped out. What about the man's motives? Well the man's motives again, less pure in this case. As Chazal understand it, as our Sages understand it, Lot was quasi aware of what was happening and allowed it to happen anyway. And, lo and behold, two children are born. The two children over here were named Peretz and Zerach, the two children over here that are born are named Ammon and Mo'av.
Now it's not just this, it's not just that there are all of these particular connections between the stories. But in the deep way, these two stories actually become one story. Where do these two stories become the same story? The answer is, it happens in the Book of Ruth. Because in the Book of Ruth, there is a man by the name of Boaz and there is a woman by the name of Ruth. Who are these people? Boaz, a great grandchild of this man, Peretz. Ruth, a great, great grandchild of this man Mo'av. They come together, they unite together, and these two stories become the same story in the Book of Ruth.
Interestingly, if you think about the themes of these stories, this is a quasi Yibum story, not a real Yibum story, not a Halachic Yibum story, because a woman is not marrying the brother of the deceased, is marrying a father-in-law, but the same kind of thing, an attempt to perpetuate the legacy of a dead husband. This also a quasi - or you might say a corrupted - Yibum story, a woman seducing a father but in order to perpetuate a legacy that would otherwise be destroyed. And of course, what is this story? In this story we also have the sort of quasi Yibum story. If you remember the Book of Ruth; Ruth is trying to perpetuate the legacy of her dead husband too. So these two stories are actually coming together over here in the Book of Ruth.
So in the Tale of Two Digressions, it's not really two digressions, they actually unite and almost become the same story.
But as interesting as the Tale of Two Digressions are once you project these things forward into the Book of Ruth, I don't think that this suffices in and of itself to answer our question, which is, what is this story doing here right now in the Book of Genesis? What is it doing here interrupting the sale of Yosef? It's interesting that we have these two digressions over here and that they bear some similarity to each other and that they become the same story, that's very, very intriguing, we'll want to come back to that in terms of understanding the larger significance of this story. But we still need to figure out the local significance of this story, what is this story doing here? Why is it interrupting right over here in the middle of the sale of Yosef? We've not yet found a sufficient answer to that, that is the question we need to come back to and try to figure out, is this really as much of a digression as it seems?
So let's come back, take another close look at Chapter 38 this time and see if we can figure out the answer to that question.
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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