I quite often write about the current week’s Torah reading—the weekly portion into which the first five books of the bible are divided. These portions are given names in transliterated Hebrew which are usually associated with words occurring in the first verse of the weekly potion. This past week’s portion is entitled Vayigash: And he drew near. It comes from Genesis 44:18-47:27. The highlight of the portion is Judah drawing near to Joseph to plead for the release of Benjamin. This appeal by Judah is in stark contrast to the disregard with which he agreed to the disposal of his brother Joseph some 22 or so years earlier.
The description of this event between Joseph and his brothers is described in the Torah portion Vayashev in Genesis 37. It is in this same Torah portion that I say there seems to be a salacious intrusion of scrip-ture. Inserted in this whole narrative of Joseph’s riches-to rags-back to riches story is the story of Judah and Tamar (Gen 38:1 et seq).
About the time of Judah’s participation in Joseph’s betrayal and consignment to slavery the spicy story of Tamar unfolds. In this story Judah has seen two of his sons die seemingly because of their marriage to Tamar. Judah, unreasonably delays the required marriage of his young-est son to this woman, Tamar. Torah will ultimately speak to this family conundrum of brother’s responsibility to brother (Deut 25:5). Judah reasons this delay in marriage will thereby protect the last of his three sons from untimely death. As the story unfolds, Judah, sometime after the death of his wife, buys the sexual favor of Tamar, not knowing, because of her deception and disguise, she is his daughter-in-law. Tamar’s plan was to bring the procrastination of Judah to light. Tamar may not have expected the course her decision would take. But out of this sexual relationship she becomes pregnant. This condition is brought to Judah’s attention. As tribal chief, he renders the death penalty for the “whoring” woman. My speculation is Judah saw this as a guaranteed way to protect his youngest son and eliminate the possibility of his death—no Tamar, no “curse.” But before judgment is executed Tamar reveals the personal items Judah had given her as pledge for her services—stating the owner is the father of her unborn. Judah is personally convicted of his sin, pro-claims Tamar more righteous than he and removes the death sentence. (As an aside, Tamar goes on to give birth to twins, one of whom is Perez, who is in the physical lineage of Yeshua).
Is this really just a juicy, salacious little family secret that is inserted gra-tuitously here in Joseph’s story? Or, is there a life lesson we can learn? I wouldn’t have started this whole dialogue unless I believed the latter so, let me explain:
As the story unfolds the ten brothers are now faced again with their re-sponse to a younger brother. All the elements are once again established for the brothers to have the same jealousy, contempt and hatred of the youngest brother, Benjamin, as they did of his brother, Joseph. Father Jacob (Israel) is resisting letting Benjamin being taken to Egypt. It’s not because Benjamin is too young (he’s probably around 30 years old and has a large family of his own). No, it’s because, with the supposed death of Joseph, Benjamin is the favored son and considered by Jacob to be the preferred heir. He even states to Benjamin’s ten brothers that he would not send Benjamin to Egypt lest some calamity befall him (Gen 42:3). So, why wasn’t Judah willing, even egger, to pitch Benjamin to the Egyptian wolves when given the chance? Why shouldn’t this favored son’s removal be greeted, making room for one of the ten to be favored? What life experience had prepared Judah to now offer himself to be sentenced as a slave in place of Benjamin?
The reason for the seemingly gratuitous insertion of a salacious family secret is to establish the applicable life lesson. Judah was learning from his experiences. Yahweh was permitting Judah to grown in understand-ing. From the time Joseph is sold into slavery until Judah now stands be-fore Joseph, much has transpired. Judah is now a father who has lost not one, (as Jacob) but two sons. He now desires to protect his youngest son whose mother is deceased (as is Benjamin’s mother, Rachel). Further, Jacob has been taught a lesson by reaping that which he has sown in yielding to his fleshly lusts with Tamar. And, if, as I suspect, although the plan backfired, it was in his heart to protect his youngest son by expedi-ently eliminating a potential threat–ordering Tamar’s execution. Judah could now, with empathy learned from his life experience, offer his life to his father to be surety for Benjamin’s protection. Further, he could make one of the most impassioned soliloquies in scripture to Joseph—to whom he drew near—on behalf of his father and his brother. I might add a very successful appeal which brought Joseph to tears and the res-toration of the family relationship. Because of Judah’s life experience he had a new, deeper understanding of his father’s fear at losing his re-maining son; the last of the two sons born to the love of his life, Rachel. It no longer mattered to Judah that his father preferred this youngest brother over the other ten brothers. It had now become a matter of the heart—an understanding now of what had seemed murderously unfair some 22 years earlier concerning his brother Joseph.
Would it be too obvious to point out the life lesson? Let me just quote a proverb, well it’s really a little gross—so look it up: Proverbs 26:11—Judah was not a fool.
December 20, 2015
Some of my expressed understanding is original with me (as far as I know), but my thanks to instruction by Aleph Beta, Monte Judah and Russell Resnik. The “me” is, I trust and give glory and credit to, Yah-weh’s Ruach HaKodesh.