Parashat Vayeishev (And He (Jacob) dwelt…) Genesis 37:1-40:23
Haftarah (Prophet Reading) Amos 2:6-3:8
In this week’s Torah portion there is a reminder that one should not become casual with spiritual things. For some people their life is so connected to spiritual pursuits and activities that there is a danger that such behavior can lose its significance. This is exactly what happened to Judah. I believe one can see his spiritual decline in the fact that his sons were not walking with G-d.
In chapter thirty-eight Judah had a Biblical obligation to tend for Tamar his daughter-in-law. He was also obligated by the Torah to make sure that Tamar bore an heir for her late husband Er. Judah began to act on this responsibility, but when his other son, Onan (who was also an evil man), died at the hand of G-d because he was not willing to fulfill his obligation to the Word of G-d, Judah blamed Tamar and sent her away. When Judah sent Tamar away he promised to have Shelah, his youngest son, fulfill this commandment when he became an adult; however, in actuality he had no intention of doing so.
When Tamar learned that this was the case, she pretended to be a prostitute and positioned herself in a place where she knew Judah would pass. It is quite a sad commentary that Judah, without a hesitation, propositioned her. What would cause this man of G-d to behave in such a manner? When one begins to drift away from G-d, Satan pounces on his prey. Judah promised to send a young goat to pay for her services, but Tamar required some type of pledge or collateral in the meantime. She demanded three things; his signet ring, his prayer shawl, and his staff. The number three when it is applied to an individual represents a testing, and Judah failed this test.
Why did Tamar request the things she did? The signet ring would have been unique to Judah and identified him as the man she was with. The staff was a walking staff and, in a symbolic way, showed a change in Judah’s walk. The concept of “walking” in the Bible is used to depict a lifestyle or one’s behavior. Without his staff Judah would walk differently. This is to show the reader that Judah in this instance was not the Judah that one expected; his behavior was quite different than the man he was. The third thing that Judah gave (actually mentioned second in the list) was his prayer shawl. The word which is used here is just a “thread” but it relates to the same word which is used in Numbers 15:38.
How is it that Judah could have given his prayer shawl as a pledge to a prostitute? Something that related to the commandments of G-d and the L-rd’s covering upon a person. Judah had drifted so far away from G-d that those things that relate to HaShem lost all significance to him. In a sense Judah was using the spiritual for his fleshly pursuits.
This is where a lot of “so called” bible teaching is today; it sad that so many popular bible teachers are selling a false message. They incorrectly teach that G-d wants to help you fulfill your dreams and desires, rather than accurately teach that G-d wants to equip you to fulfill His will for your life.
Tamar’s purpose was not selfish. She wanted to raise up an heir for her departed husband, exactly as the Torah demanded (see Deuteronomy 25:5-10). It was Judah who disobediently ignored this command. Tamar became pregnant by Judah, because it was ultimately his responsibility to ensure that Er had an heir. When Judah heard that Tamar was with child he said,
“…take her out and she shall be burned.” Genesis 38:24
Is it not interesting how one can be so angry and self-righteous in regard to other’s sins (or in this case Tamar’s apparent sin) that they want to inflict upon them harsh judgment, but be totally unaware of their own sins?
When Tamar showed the three items that she received as a pledge, Judah was convicted by his own sins. First and foremost that he had lied to Tamar by withholding Shelah and did not fulfill his Biblical obligation of raising up an heir for his son. Tamar was a righteous woman. She was not thinking of herself, but you and me. Without Tamar’s righteous act the Messianic lineage would have been lost and all hope of redemption would have been lost (Tamar and Judah’s son Perez is in the Messianic lineage).
Which do you resemble, Tamar of Judah?
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