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   by Jacob Solomon

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Judah recognized (the objects giving away his having inadvertently slept with his Tamar, his daughter in law). He said: 'She is more righteous than me, in as much as I did not give her to my son Shelah' (38:26).

The second part of the Parsha at first glance seems to divert from the major theme of the last four Parshiot of this Book - the story of Joseph and his brothers, and the events leading to movement and settlement of Jacob and his descendants from Canaan to Egypt. It recounts a series of events that at first glance do not appear to advance that main story - namely the death of Judah's first two sons in Canaan, and the circumstances of his coming to sleep inadvertently with Tamar, his own daughter-in-law.

Rashi links this narrative with the main one in two ways. Judah's leaving his brothers - the opening of the story - was inserted in the text because his part in the sale of Joseph caused his brothers to demote him from leadership status. Furthermore, as Rashi (to 39:1) writes, the proximity of the narratives of Tamar, and Potiphar's wife indicates that they both had underlying pure motives - namely to found families in Israel.

In addition, this story is a vital link in the development of Judah, the son of Jacob with by far the biggest recorded role in the story. Each link shows progression of the development of his personality for his decisive function ensuring that in the throes of the famine 'we will live and not die, neither we, you, or our children' (43:8) - as examined below:

(a) Judah acted as a leader by convincing his brothers not to kill Joseph, but to sell him: 'let our hand not be on him, for our brother is our flesh' (37:27). His subsequent rejection by his brothers (38:1; Rashi ad loc) led to his 'walking away', rather than to go to futile lengths to justify his advice to sell Joseph. Leaders in general need to know when to temporarily 'leave the room', rather than stay to force their case at the wrong time or place…

(b) Judah was shown up by Tamar's declaring that the 'man that these things belong to' (the articles given by Judah in pledge for payment for her 'services') made her pregnant. Judah did not cover up his conduct, but immediately admitted that his error in judgment was the underlying cause of Tamar's pregnancy: 'She is more righteous than me, in as much as I did not give her to my son Shelah' (38:26). Thus Judah developed a further quality essential in leadership: he could admit, and own up to his own mistakes - and subsequently learn from them. (As did his descendant King David, after Nathan's parable of rebuke: 'I have sinned to G-d' - Samuel II 12:13)

(c) Judah convinced his Father, Jacob, to agree to change his mind and allow Benjamin to accompany the older brothers to Egypt, to rescue Simeon and replenish their diminishing stocks of food so that 'we will live and not die, neither we, you, or our children' (43:8). He reinforced it by promising full personal responsibility should any harm happen to Benjamin: 'I will personally guarantee him; from my own hand you can demand him' (43:9).

(d) When the silver goblet was found in Benjamin's sack, it was Judah who pleaded with the Viceroy of Egypt to take his place as a slave, so that Benjamin would return with his brothers to Canaan (44:33). He carried out full personal responsibility as Benjamin's guarantor.

(e) Later on, when Jacob came down to settle in Egypt, it was Judah who he selected to make the necessary arrangements for the continuance of his way of life in Egypt (45:28 - and Rashi ad loc). For that, Judah needed another quality of leadership - to be able to focus on, and carry out detail - enabling his aged patriarchal Father to adjust to the very different conditions in Egypt.

These are the five essential links in the chain (one of which is within the story of Judah and Tamar) which made it possible for Jacob to set the future of the Israelite nation in motion as he blessed his sons before his death: 'Judah shall be a young lion… and the scepter of majesty shall never depart from Judah…' (49:10)

Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.

Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site:

Also by Jacob Solomon:
From the Prophets on the Haftara

Test Yourself - Questions and Answers


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