Torah Insight for parashas Vayeishev 5780
Judah, the first ba’al teshuvah (penitent),
by Tzvi Schnee (21 Kislev 5780)
Yes, he was the first to leave the derech (path), and the first to return: as is written, “Judah went down from his brothers,” depicting his spiritual descent when he left the company of his brethren; consequently, he went into a business partnership with an Adulamite. Being within those circles of influence that pertain to the commonalities of one’s profession with other’s of similar interest, he thereby became enamoured of the daughter of a prominent merchant. The result bring that he married her, who in all likelihood was a Cananite. Note that Abraham had not permitted Eliezer to take a wife for his son Isaac, from amongst the Canaanites.
Yet, this did not turn out well for Judah. His first son was evil, and died. His second son refused to honor his Levirite marriage to his deceased brother’s wife. H’Shem did not approve; so, Judah’s second son also died. Out of superstition, Judah delayed to give his third son to Tamar, the woman in question, after both her husbands died. Yet, justice prevailed for the sake of Tamar’s reputation, who took matters into her own hand. In fact, it is noted in the Zohar, that she had a prophetic vision, concerning Moshiach. She envisioned that he would descend from her offspring; for that higher reason, she disguised herself as a harlot, and enticed Judah. Incidentaly, Judah’s wife had already passed away; this should, at least, be noted in regard to his cohorting with a harlot, who he did not realize was his daughter-in-law, Tamar. Regardless, his conduct may still be seen as morally reprehensible by some. Yet, G-d can bring light out of darkness. “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?” (Job 14:4, JPS 1917 Tanach).
Judah’s repentance occurs when he admits in front of many that the staff, cord, and signet that Tamar presented was his own, given to Tamar, who he thought was a harlot, as a pledge of payment due, namely, a goat from his flock. Judah’s acknowledgment of sin, regards not giving his third son to Tamar. “And Judah acknowledged them, and said: ‘She is more righteous than I; forasmuch as I gave her not to Shelah my son.’ And he knew her again no more” Genesis 38:26, JPS 1917 Tanach). The progression of Judah’s spiritual descent, having run away from his past involvement in selling his brother, Joseph as a slave to Midianites, includes his assimilation, and eventual humiliation, wherein he admitted his culpability. As for Tamar, she bore twins: Perez and Zerah (Genesis 38:27-30). From her son, Perez, the royal line descended (see Ruth 4:18-22).