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Parshas Vayechi

A Royal Confession
by Rabbi Yosef Levinson

Yaakov Avinu gathered all his children together before his passing. He began by chastising his three eldest sons for their past misdeeds. The next son, Yehuda was afraid that he too would be censured for his misconduct with Tamar. Therefore Yaakov gently called to him: "Yehuda, your brothers shall acknowledge you (Bereishis 49:8)". The Midrash explains - just as you confessed your misdeed with Tamar, so too, your brothers will acknowledge you and accept you as their king (Bereishis Rabba 99:8, see also Targum Onkelos).

Apparently Yehuda ascended to the throne in the merit of his admission of guilt. One explanation is that in order for a monarch to rule successfully, he requires the trait of gevura, might. By confessing, Yehuda displayed great inner strength. Yehuda did not balk from the great shame and embarrassment that he would suffer as a result of his admission. He could easily have found another way to pardon Tamar from her death sentence without incriminating himself. He therefore proved himself worthy of receiving the crown.

We also find elsewhere that this ability to admit one's transgression is an admirable quality for a leader. When listing the korban, sacrifice that a nasi (leader of the tribe) brings for an unintentional sin, the passuk says: "When a nasi sins (Vayikra 4:22)" instead of the usual, "If a nasi sins". Rashi explains that the hebrew word for "when", is asher, which is related to ashrei, meaning fortunate. Therefore, continues Rashi, "Fortunate is the generation whose leader seeks atonement for his unintentional sins, all the more so he will regret his intentional sins." The reason for this may be that no one would have the audacity to rebuke a nasi or a king for their misdeeds and if the leader on his own cannot admit his errors, then he could never repent. However, since the king is an example for the entire nation, if he can indeed admit to his faults, even though no one else would compel him to do so, this serves as a strong lesson to his people.

Yehuda's reward of the monarchy can also be explained differently. The Seichel Tov writes that Yaakov said: "You are Yehuda"- Yehuda's ability to confess originates from the time of his naming. From the time of creation, Leah was the first to express hoda'a, thanksgiving to Hashem. At Yehuda's birth she said: "this time I will thank Hashem." (Bereishis 29:35). When he was named, this trait of hoda'a became internalised in his being. Therefore Yehuda confessed, he expressed hoda'a for his conduct. This idea is also found in the Midrash. Leah gave hoda'a to Hashem, therefore she merited children who were ba'alei hoda'a, masters of hoda'a - Yehuda who admitted his misdeed with Tamar, and David Hamelech who said "Hodu LaHashem, give thanks to Hashem for He is good." (Tehillim 118:1). There is an obvious difficulty with this Midrash. The words for confessing and offering thanks share the same root, hoda'a, but in terms of meaning they are apparently totally unrelated. Why then were Leah's praise of Hashem and her naming of Yehuda instrumental in his later confession concerning his wrongdoing?

Rav Yitzchak Hutner zt'l (Pachad Yitzchak, Chanuka) writes that it is no coincidence that the hebrew word for expressing thanks and praise is identical to the word for confessing. If the word hoda'a has a dual meaning, it reveals that these two concepts are indeed related. Rabbi Hutner explains that whenever we express gratitude, we are also making a confession. We would all like to be self sufficient, not dependent on the benevolence of others. Alas, we all need help at some stage. When we thank those who assist us, we are also admitting that we could not have managed on our own. The same principle applies when we thank Hashem. Human nature is such that we consider our accomplishments to be our own: "My strength and the might of my hand made me all this wealth." (Devarim 8:17). When we sincerely express gratitude to Hashem, we are admitting that it is He who rules the world. We are not really in control at all.

We can now understand the Midrash. Since we find that Leah had the quality to express her gratitude to Hashem, then it must be that she also had the midda of being "modeh al ha'emes", admitting the truth. With his naming, Leah passed these traits to Yehuda. This is how Yehuda was able to admit the error of his ways.

Now we can also explain why Yehuda merited that kingship should emanate from his descendants. When a king leads his nation to victory, all his subjects praise him for his might and courage. If the ruler can then stand up and declare: "Hodu laHashem, Give thanks to Hashem, for He is good, His kindness is forever", he is making a tremendous Kiddush Hashem, sanctification of Hashem's name. He has publicly proclaimed that it was not his achievement, rather it was the yad Hashem. All his subjects will learn from the King's example and they will praise Hashem for all the kindness He does for them. Ultimately this is the purpose of creation: "This people which I fashioned for Myself, that they may declare My praise" (Yeshaya 43:21). However in order for the king to acknowledge and declare Hashem's praises, he must first admit that everything is in Hashem's power, he is totally dependent on Hashem.

We find that David Hamelech inherited both attributes of hoda'a. The Gemara (Yoma 22b) observes that Shaul erred once - he spared Agag the king of Amalek, contrary to Hashem's command to kill every Amalekite - and the kingship was taken away from his descendants. On the other hand, David sinned twice - he ordered Uriya to the front where he was killed in battle (see Shabbos 56a) and he also conducted a direct census of the nation. As a result, the people suffered a terrible plague. Despite these two infractions, David's dynasty remained intact. The Maharsha explains that this was not a show of favouritism. Rather, David admitted his guilt and accepted the Divine decree. He therefore merited Hashem's assistance and he fully repented. Shaul, on the other hand, gave many excuses until he finally agreed that he was in the wrong. David Hamelech, we know was the author of Sefer Tehillim. Not only did David Hamelech prove that he should not lose the throne, on the contrary his contriteness demonstrated his worthiness to be the progenitor of royalty. David utilised the trait of being modeh al ha'emes. He then acknowledged his total dependence on Hashem and sang Hashem's praises. Along with Sefer Tehillim, this is David's legacy to us.

Let us learn to admit our shortcomings. And let us acknowledge our dependence on Hashem. May we then merit many opportunities to sing Hashem's praises: "Hodu LaHashem ki tov, ki l'olam chasdo."

Daf Hashavua Kollel Beth HaTalmud Copyright (c) 2002 by Rabbi Yosef Levinson

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