Gen. 38 – Judah and Tamar

Genesis 38

Dear Family and friends, it is easy to mindlessly rush into something without thinking it through thoroughly. In Genesis 38, Judah misjudges several essential matters. It’s easy to jump to conclusions.

Our discussion is about Judah, the righteous son of Jacob, and Tamar, the virtuous daughter of Shem, who is also known as Melchizedek. 

Genesis 38.1
And it came to pass at that time, that Judah went down from his brethren, and turned into a certain Adullamite, whose name was Hirah.

Genesis 38 Chronologically follows Joseph from being sold into slavery. It was at that time Judah became diminished in the eyes of his brothers. Judah was responsible for encouraging his brothers to sell Joseph into slavery. Genesis 37.26

Genesis 38.2
And Judah saw the daughter of a certain Canaanite there. Her name was Shua. He took her [as a wife], and went into her. And she conceived, and bare a son, and he called his name Er.

Remember our discussion in Genesis 9.22-29? Noah’s son, the father of Canaan, emasculated Noah during his intoxication. When Noah awoke, he realized what Ham had done to him. Ham’s evil action prevented Noah from having a fourth son. So Noah cursed Ham’s fourth son, Canaan.

Abraham instructed his chief servant, Eleazar, to not take a wife for Isaac from the daughters of Canaan, Genesis 24.2-4. They were cursed. Rebecca, the wife of Isaac, expressed her concerns regarding the Canaanite women. Esau took two Canaanite women for his wives. He was interested in sexual gratification, not spirituality. Esau’s wives worshipped idols and burned incense to them.

Genesis 27.46
And Rebekah said to Isaac, I am weary of my life because of the daughters of Heth. If Jacob takes a wife of the daughters of Heth, like these daughters of the land [of Canaan], what good shall my life be to me?
As noted, the righteous descendants of Abraham were forbidden to marry Canaanite women. Judah married a Canaanite wife. That is part of his going down! Judah’s actions showed that he was angry and frustrated.

Judah’s wife bore him three sons, Er, Onan, and Shelah.

Now we will briefly turn our discussion to chronology. Just before the time Judah went down, Joseph was sold into slavery when he was 17 years old, Genesis 37.2. Thirteen years later, Joseph becomes Viceroy of Egypt, at the age of 30, Genesis 41.46. There were seven years of plenty, then two years of great famine. Joseph was 39 years old when Jacob and all his descendants came down to Egypt. Jacob and Joseph were separated for 22 years.

During these 22 years, Judah had five sons and two grandsons. 

Genesis 38.6-10
And Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, whose name was Tamar, [the daughter of Shem and granddaughter of Noah.] And Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of The Lord; and The Lord slew him. And Judah said to Onan, Go into your brother’s wife, and marry her, and raise seed to your brother. And Onan knew that the seed should not be his; and it came to pass, when he went into his brother’s wife, that he spilled it on the ground, lest that he should give seed to his brother. And the thing which he did displeased The Lord; therefore, He slew him also.

Judah instructed his son to have a levirate marriage, yibum, with Tamar, See Deuteronomy 25.5-10. If a married man dies childless, the widow is to marry her dead husband’s brother. This practice is known as yibum. The purpose of yibum allows the spirit of the deceased brother to transmigrate into the birth of the child.

Genesis 38.9-15
Onan knew that the seed would not be his; and it came to pass when he went into his brother’s wife, that he spilled [his seed] on the ground, lest he should give seed to his brother. This thing which he did was evil in the sight of The Lord, so He Slew him also. Then Judah said to Tamar his daughter-in-law: ‘Remain a widow in your father’s house, till Shelah my son is grown up’; for he said: ‘Lest he also dies, like his brethren.’ And Tamar went and dwelt in her father’s house. And in the process of time Shua’s daughter, the wife of Judah, died; and Judah was comforted, and went up unto his sheep-shearers to Timnah, he and his friend Hirah the Adullamite. And it was told Tamar, saying: ‘Behold, your father-in-law goes up to Timnah to shear his sheep.’ And she put off from her the garments of her widowhood, and covered herself with her veil, and wrapped herself, and sat in the entrance of Enaim, which is by the way to Timnah; for she saw that Shelah was grown up, and she was not given unto him to wife.

Judah’s firstborn son and second born son were slew because of their evil. They spilled their seed of life onto the ground. The Lord slew Judah’s firstborn son and second born son because their actions were evil. עֵר Er’s name is spelled ער Ayin ע – Reish ר. Er lived a backward life, as his name indicates. The reverse order for spelling his name is ר Reish ע Ayin, i.e., Rah, meaning evil. So we have an evil man, Er, with a righteous wife, Tamar.

תָּמָר Tamar was righteous! Her righteousness is represented by the mysterious מ Mem in the center of her name. Tamar was Toh Mehr {straight} like a palm tree rising out of the ground. The essence of Tamar Mystically reveals that she is straight. Because of Tamar’s righteous actions, her descendants include David Ha Melech, Shlomo Ha Melech, and the coming Moshiach/Messiah! Tamar entices Judah [to marry her]. Seven months pass. Tamar gives birth. Our Sages Rave about Tamar’s Righteousness. Tamar is a Tzadehkah! She went to the cave of Avraham to pray for a close relative to carry on the seed from her departed husbands, Er and Onan. Ha Torah Records that she covered her face NOT as a harlot but as a righteous woman. When she was in her father-in-law’s house, she also covered her face because of her righteousness. Judah did not know what his daughter-in-law looked like. 

At this time, the third brother Shelah was seven years old. Judah does not want Shelah to marry The Righteous Tamar. He puts her off. Judah wants to wait until Shelah is a man, age thirteen. Tamar waits a year. She feels Judah is not honest with her. She takes matters into her own hands. It is clear to her that Judah is not going to give Shelah in Yibum. She considers Shelah a man. He is older than either of his brothers. Yet he is under ten. Tamar waited at the crossroads for Judah to come to shear his sheep. Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz and Rabbi Nosson Scherman, The Artscroll Tanach Series – Bereishis Vol. I(a) (Brooklyn, New York: Mesorah Publications, Ltd. 3rd Impression, 1989), p 1673 Ha Torah Says, ‘She sat at the crossroads…’ Genesis 38.17. What crossroads? It was the crossroads in which one path continued, and the other went to Avraham’s home. 

Judah impregnates Tamar:
Genesis 38.15-16
When Judah saw her, he thought her to be a harlot, for she had covered her face. And he turned to her by the way and said: ‘Come, I pray you, let me come to you’; for he did not know that she was his daughter-in-law. 

And [Tamar] said: ‘What will you give me, that you may come into me [i.e., marry me]?’ 

And [Judah] said: ‘I will send you a kid of the goats from the flock.’ 

And [Tamar] said: ‘Wilt you give me a pledge, till you send it?’ 

And [Judah] said: ‘What pledge shall I give you?’

And [Tamar] said: ‘your signet and your cord, and your staff that is in your hand.’ And he gave them to her and came in unto her, and she conceived by him. {The Midrash Says that ‘Judah performed the marriage ceremony in the presence of two witnesses, the two people who accompanied him.’ Rabbi Moshe Weissman, The Midrash Says (Brooklyn, New York: Benei Yakov Publications 1980), p 364 

Judah was widowed. Still, he could take a second wife. This custom still exists among some in Yisroel and in countries where more than one wife is permitted. How do we know this was a marriage? Judah took Tamar with her consent. He gave a token of money represented by the signet ring, etc.}

Genesis 38.19-24
And she arose, and went away, and put off her veil from her, and put on the garments of her widowhood. And Judah sent the kid of the goats by the hand of his friend the Adullamite, to receive the pledge from the woman’s hand, but he found her not. Then [the Adullamite] asked the men of her place, saying: ‘Where is the harlot, that was at Enaim by the wayside?’

And they said: ‘There has not been a harlot here.’ And he returned to Judah, and said: ‘I did not find her; and also the men of the place said: There has not been a harlot here.’

And Judah said: ‘Let her take it, lest we are put to shame; behold, I sent this kid, and you did not find her.’ And it came to pass about three months after, that it was told Judah, saying: ‘Tamar your daughter-in-law has played the harlot; moreover, behold, she is with child by harlotry.’ 

And Judah said: ‘Bring her forth, and let her be burnt.’ 

When she was brought forth, she sent to her father-in-law, saying: ‘By the man, whose these are, am I with child’; and she said: ‘Discern, I pray you, whose are these, the signet, and the cords, and the staff.’ 

Genesis 38.24-26
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.

One has to ask the question, How can a righteous man like Judah be so mistaken about his daughter-in-law? 

Judah’s marriage and sexual relationship with Tamar was not a sin. There were only two individuals that could fulfill the right of yebum, Shelah, and Judah. Since Judah had, through design, refused to give Shelah to Tamar, he was the only other option.

The Lord permitted Judah to be mentally dense. Remember, he turned aside. He was drawn by sexual passion. His desire for Tamar clouded his sense of reason. Judah said to Tamar regarding her requests for his signet, cord, and staff he gave them to her. The Stone Chumash Says, ‘So great was the passion burning within him [as a result of the Providential intervention (Abarbanel) that Judah gave her three valuable items as a pledge for a single goat (Ibn Ezra)…’ Rabbi Nosson Scherman, The Stone Edition The Chumash (Mesorah Publications, Ltd., Brooklyn, N.Y. 1993), p. 211 

Our Sages interpreted מִמֶנִי midrashically: An ethereal Voice Said, ‘From Me מִמֶנִי and through Me did these things come to pass, Because she conducted herself modestly in her father-in-law’s house, and I decreed that kings shall descend from her. And it is from the tribe of Judah that I have decreed that kings be established for Israel.’ Rabbi Avrohom Davis / Rabbi Avrohom Kleinkaufman, The Metsudah Chumash / Rashi Bereisheit (Hoboken, NJ: KTAV Publishing House, Inc. 1993) p 438

We can question what was he thinking? Listen, we have all had minutes where our thinking was clouded. Our Sages teach that this was not by accident. What is the point? Judah’s misjudging the situation was Divinely Inspired. The point is that we are not in charge of all our senses. We would like to think we are, but… sometimes when situations happen among righteous people, it is no one’s fault. There is a noble purpose involved. There is intervention from heaven. At the time, we may be caught up in all the things that are happening and, as a result, can easily miss out on Who is sponsoring what is happening…

May Hashem, Blessed is He, Assist us to see when His Righteous Hand is at Work in our life and the lives around us. May we be careful not to blame others. May we be careful not to jump to conclusions without first considering all the possibilities. Blessed be Hashem! Blessed be His Wonderful Name!

Blessings and peace,

Dr. Akiva Gamliel
Author

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