Torah Portion: Vayeishev (He Continued Living) B’Resheet (Gen.) 37:1-40:23
HafTorah: Amos 2:6-3:8
New Testament: Acts 7:9-16
Tonight we read about the life of Joseph from an early age until he gets out of prison. However I would like us to spend most of our time on Genesis 38, which is the story of Tamar and Judah. I think as we read this chapter it would at first glance seem to have little connection with the flow of the life of Joseph. However, we will see similarities as we go through it.
In Genesis 38 verse one begins with “Judah went down.” In 39:1 it says Joseph was taken down. Both have a spiritual implication. Joseph’s descent into the darkness was not his choice. However, it was G-d’s choice. Romans 8:28. Judah went down willingly. What was the result of Judah’s descent? He married a certain Canaanite woman. The Torah by omission does not even tell us her name just the name of her father. Here and in I Chron. 2:3 she is only identified as the daughter of Shua. Later, when we meet Tamar she is never identified as a Canaanite but possibly a Semite with some ties to Israel. Her name is a Hebrew word meaning, “date.”
In Genesis 38:6 we see where Judah takes a wife for his firstborn son, Er. The two Hebrew letters of his name are the same letters found in the Hebrew word for evil, “ra” but in reverse order. We see in 38:7 he is described as wicked and for that G-d took his life. According to the custom of the land and later introduced into Torah, the next brother was given Tamar to carry on the name of the dead brother. He too dies for his sin. This leaves Judah with one remaining son who is too young to marry. Judah sends Tamar away to her father’s house with a promise to give her to his last son when he comes of age. He does not do this and Tamar sees the writing on the wall. The life of a widow in this time was very difficult and also the Law required that Judah fulfill the duty of giving his son an heir.
Now to the really interesting part: In Genesis 38:12 it tells us that Judah “went up” to his sheep shearers. But more importantly this started him on a spiritual path that in the future would be the way G-d brings Messiah into the world.
In Genesis 38:14 Tamar disguises herself as a Temple prostitute and sat beside the road at a place, in Hebrew called Pitach Eniem. She was determined to stay part of Judah’s family even if it meant doing such a thing as pretending to be a prostitute. Judah was the step – something he should have done anyway. Now to the place… It means “Opening of the Eyes.” As we will see G-d has arranged for Judah’s eyes to be opened. This follows a pattern in the Torah where things were concealed. Abraham and Isaac concealed the identity of their wives. Jacob concealed his identity from his father, Leah concealed her identity from Jacob and here Tamar concealed her true identity from Judah. But, his eyes were about to be opened.
Judah strikes a deal with her. He will send a young goat as payment but since he has to pay later Tamar asks for ID and a major credit card. He leaves his ring, his staff and his cords or fringe of his garment. So as Judah had deceived his father with a young goat so he is also deceived by means of a goat. Jacob used a goat and Judah used a goat and now Tamar uses a goat. Later Judah sends his friend to make good on his payment but the friend could not find a prostitute.
Three months later it is told to Judah that Tamar is pregnant. He orders her to be bxrought out and burned alive. However before the sentence she pleads her case by producing evidence to identify the father of her child. She speaks to Judah to please identify these items. Judah must have been stunned. Those were the exact same words, in Hebrew, he had used when he brought Joseph’s coat back to Jacob in Genesis 37:32.
Immediately Judah confesses his sin and says Tamar is innocent. Did he have to confess? No, he could have kept quiet and no one would have known. But he didn’t. G-d arranged this to redeem Judah and provide a physical path for the coming of Messiah when eyes would spiritually be opened.
How do we deal with conviction? Do we walk away or do we recognize G-d’s hand in our lives and when presented with, “identify this,” do we keep our eyes shut and continue on in our own ways or do we open our eyes and acknowledge who G-d is and that He has a plan for our lives.