Posted by: mosesfromsinai | December 7, 2009

Vayaishev – Honor and Integrity

For Mature Audience Only. This week’s Torah reading is Vayaishev.   It mainly deals with Yoseph and eventually his being sold by Yehuda and his brothers and ending up in Egypt.  This sets the stage for the Jewish nation, that will number 70, to begin the exile in Egypt.  However, before this is to happen the seeds of redemption for the Jewish nation has to be put in place.  We are talking about the ultimate redemption, Moshiach, the Messiah from the house of King David and the tribe of Yehuda.

This takes us to the slight detour in the Parsha that we read, the story of Yehuda and Tamar.  Tamar is descended from Noach’s son, Shem, who we know as a very holy person.  Tamar is either the daughter or grand-daughter.  Either way she is special and of priestly origins.  Thus Yehuda is anxious to have her be a part of his family and marries his oldest son Er to her.  Er does not want her to become pregnant and as a result he dies.  Then Yehuda has Onan, his next son, do the Mitzvah of Yibum, to marry the wife of his deceased brother who had no children.  Apparently this was a common practice even before the commandment was given in the Torah.  Onan acts in the same manner as his older brother, not wanting Tamar to become pregnant.  The reason being either, not to ruin her beautiful figure or because the child born would be associated more with his dead brother than with him.  Bottom line is Onan dies as well.

Note that Yehuda is going through a mourning state similar to that which he caused his father Yakov to go through by selling Yoseph and having the special coat that Yoseph wore smeared with blood so that Yakov would see it and think that Yoseph is dead.

Yehuda promises Tamar that when his third son grows a little older he will marry Tamar and in the mean time she should wear mourner’s clothes and go back to her family.  Time passes on and Yehuda does not fulfill his commitment to have Tamar marry his third son.  There are various reasons given, such as he feared that his third son would act in a wrongful manner and die as well

Tamar is a very special woman coming from a unique family.  She knows her destiny is to be connected to the family of Yehuda and give birth to the future dynasty of King David and eventually the redeemer of all Israel and the world, Moshiach.

She formulates a plan of action to act as a prostitute and entice Yehuda to have relations with her so that she should become pregnant by him and thus give birth to the future monarchs of the Jewish people.

Moses may have asked the Al-mighty if it is alright to skip this part of the scene but that was not to be the case.  Yehuda travels and meets up with Tamar at the crossroads, a general hangout for prostitutes.  (Note that prostitution was not illegal at that time – still under normal circumstances Yehuda would not have given in.  However his desire was intensified for the purpose of starting the dynasty of King David directly from him rather than from his third son.)  Yehuda asks her a variety of questions to make sure she is not forbidden to him.  (Also note that in those days any relative, including a father-in-law could marry his daughter-in-law if she had no children to perpetuate the memory of his son.)  They do their thing and she asks for Yehuda to leave some pledge as a sign of future payment.  One of the items he leaves is a staff.  (Note this staff is the staff that Jacob used to split the Jordan river to cross over and this was the staff that Moshe used to split the Red Sea – Moses obviously recognizes the staff as he watches all this happen).

Yehuda did not recognize his daughter-in-law during this encounter.   In a couple of months he learns that Tamar has acted improperly and is pregnant.  She is judged and Yehuda finds that she should be punished by fire.  There are a  variety of explanations given.  The bottom line here is Tamar is willing to undergo fire rather than to publicly disgrace Yehuda by saying he is the father.  She is a woman of honor and integrity.  She does say that the man responsible left some items with her including a staff as a pledge.  The ball is now in Yehuda’s court.  Will he also be a man of honor and integrity and publicly admit to his act?  The house of Kind David is founded on honor and integrity.  Thus Yehuda speaks up and says that Tamar is more righteous than he is.  Yehuda admits to being the father which exonerated Tamar.  Standing up for what is right, even though one might become publicly disgraced in the process takes great courage, honor and integrity.  This is part of the natural fiber of the House of King David and the future redeemer of Israel.  With this in place we can go to Egypt, be in exile for hundreds of years and know that we will be redeemed because ultimately the Jewish soul in each and everyone one of us will have the courage, honor and integrity to remain strong in his or her commitments to Judaism.

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