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Parashat Vayeshev (Genesis 37:1-40:23)

“And when his master saw that the Lord was with him and

 that the Lord lent success to everything he undertook. “ (Genesis 39:3)

Parashat Vayeshev introduces the story of Joseph and his brothers.  On the surface, it’s a tale of sibling rivalry.  Underneath, it’s a parable about leadership.  It chronicles not only the beginning of Joseph’s rise to power but also Judah’s ascendancy to pre-eminence among the Israelite tribes.  The curious and complex episode of Judah and Tamar, which interrupts the Joseph narrative, emphasizes the power of truth and justice.

When Judah’s wife dies, he takes comfort with a woman he believes is a cultic prostitute.  He is unaware she is Tamar, his twice-widowed but childless daughter-in-law, to whom he has refused his third son.  Tamar disguises herself, and requests from Judah his cord, seal, and staff as a pledge for “services rendered.”  Later, Judah learns Tamar is pregnant, is outraged, and vows to have her burned.  Tamar responds by sending Judah the cord, seal, and staff, stating, “I am with child by the man to whom these belong.”  Judah recognizes his pledge and realizes he has wronged Tamar for having refused to let his youngest son marry her. (Gen. 38:12-26) Tamar gives birth to twins, Perez and Zerach.  Perez is King David’s ancestor.  And in Jewish thought, the Messiah is descended from King David.

Tamar knows without heirs she has no role in society and pursues her right with determination and cunning.  Rather than humiliating Judah publicly, she lets the evidence speak for itself and gives Judah the chance to do the right thing. The truth is Tamar’s source of authority and tact is her strategy for achieving justice.   The Torah validation is to make Judah and Tamar the Messiah’s progenitors.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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