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Judah: A Perplexing Character?
Video 19 of 22
To answer that I think we need to come back to the Rashi that we began with, that Rashi at the very beginning that seems to be explaining only one sentence of the Yehuda and Tamar story, but I think it's actually explaining the whole story. Let's get back to the Rashi. Remember Rashi's theory; Vayehi ba'eit hahi - why is this Parsha here Rashi says? Why does the story of Yehuda and Tamar seem to interrupt the story of Yosef? Rashi answers it's not an interruption at all. Lelamed - it teaches us; Shehoriduhu echov migedulato - that in the wake of the story of the sale of Yosef, in the wake of Yehuda's role of that sale; Keshera'u betzarat avihem - when they saw the pain that their father experienced, that he'd never got over the loss of Yosef, it was an unremitting mourning for a quasi death. Horiduhu echov migedulato - they caused Yehuda to descend from his position of leadership over them. Said, you can no longer be leader. Amru - they said; Atah amarta lemochro - you were wrong, you told us to sell him; Ilu amarta lehashivo - we would have listened to you; Hayinu shomim lecha - if you would have told us to return him. This was their argument.
Rashi's theory is that this is a story of Yehuda's loss of leadership in the wake of the sale of Yosef. It's the consequence for Yehuda and that brings us back to a very interesting little piece of the story which we thought at first glance seems superfluous. The strange bargaining session, Yehuda's barter with Tamar that seemed to have nothing to do with anything and why do we need to hear of these apparently almost salacious details? Well let's look at what happened in that story. What was it that he gave? A staff, signet ring and cloak. What kind of person wears these things, could put that all together? The answer is, a king. Go back to Rashi. What is this story about? It's about Yehuda's loss of kingship; Horiduhu echov migedulato - losing his position of leadership over them. How can Yehuda be king if he allows the sale of Yosef to happen? That's what the story of Yehuda and Tamar is about.
When Tamar takes these things from him, what is she really taking? All she's doing is taking the physical reminders, the physical symbols of kingship. She is taking from him that which he has lost his right to. Except, she's not taking it for good, it's only collateral. Who owns collateral? The answer is collateral is still owned by the borrower - when a borrower gives collateral he doesn't give it for keeps to the lender, he gives it to him but it's possible for him to get it back if he pays his debt. So too in Yehuda's barter with Tamar, he has to give the staff, signet ring and cloak because he doesn't have the goat, because the goat is dead, because the goat was killed in the story of Yosef. If he can redeem what he did wrong in the story of Yosef, if he can somehow redeem himself, he can get back these implements of kingship and that's what the story of Yehuda and Tamar is about. The story is about his loss of kingship, but it's also about how he gets it all back.
How does he get it back? How does Yehuda get himself out this mess? The answer is he has to find a way to redeem that collateral, it's a painful process, but he redeems it, he stands up and he recognizes it, he answers correctly to Haker Nah. Haker Nah were those immortal words, those words that will live in infamy, those words that galvanized the story of the sale of Yosef; do you recognize the coat? Now Yehuda will have to answer Haker Nah, will have to recognize it, and in so doing he has to recognize the collateral, he has to get his coat back. But he can only do it by admitting to a fearsome truth. If he does this though it will put him in position to do something else.
As we said before, what's the story of Yehuda and Tamar really about? Perhaps from G-d's perspective, G-d is putting Yehuda in exactly the same position he put his father in. Well once Yehuda does successfully get the collateral back, once he gets himself out of that mess, he'll be in a position to do something much harder. He'll be in a position to help Yaakov get out of the mess. Yehuda put Yaakov in a mess, Yehuda put Yaakov in this position where he lost his child and then lost another child in a chain reaction, and then is going to lose a third child, but would only get that child back if he understood, but he's too fearful to send that child, Binyamin. Reuven tries to help, but Reuven can't help and now it's up to Yehuda to help. How does he help? He helps by promising collateral. This time it's not a cloak, this time it's himself and he has to redeem himself and he does it in the end through a fearful admission. That's how he gets Yaakov out of the mess that he put himself in. The story of Yehuda and Tamar is a story about how Yehuda is primed for leadership, is primed for a way to redeem not just the collateral but himself. To redeem himself, actually, literally, to redeem the collateral he promises for Benjamin and figuratively, to redeem himself and to get his kingship back.
When does Yosef reveal himself to the brothers? After Yehuda redeems the collateral of Benjamin, after he says take me instead, I can't let it happen again. After he admits to the terrible truth about everything that transpired, to this Egyptian official that he doesn't understand is really Yosef. I can't let father mourn again, take me instead. That's when Yosef reveals himself and that's when Yehuda can once again assume his position of leadership. Yehuda gets practise in redeeming collateral in this story, he redeems it for real in this story, the story of the sale of Yosef.
What were the stakes? What would Yehuda lose if he failed in Chapter 38? He would lose his position of leadership over the brothers as Rashi said, right, if he never gets back the collateral, if he's no longer the king. But he loses something more than that doesn't he? He loses his children Peretz and Zorach, because if Tamar is condemned to death, if she dies, she dies with his children, and who are his children? His children are really the only hope for his long-term kingship. It's not just his short-term position of leadership over his brothers which he loses, but he'll lose the long-term legacy. Peretz is the child through whom the Davidic dynasty is going to come, his kingship for generations will be lost. As Rashi says, what is this story about? It's about Yehuda's loss of kingship and it's not just about the loss, it's about how he gets it back, how he gets back in the short term, but ultimately how he gets it back in the long term. There will never be kings from Judah if Yehuda fails, if Tamar goes to her death.
Again, the story of Yehuda and Tamar is a story about how Yehuda lost the right to lead, but how he gained it back again. Let's come back and take a closer look about how he did just that.
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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