Bereishit 38:01 – 38:30
Judah And Tamar
After causing their father, Jacob, anguish over the loss of Joseph, the sons of Jacob blamed Judah. For it was Judah who suggested that they sell Joseph. They respected Judah for his leadership, and listened to his suggestion. But when they saw the grief it caused their father, they lowered their respect for Judah, saying, “You could have told us to return Joseph to his father, and we would have listened. But you didn’t. You told us to sell him.”
When the Torah says Judah went down from his brothers, it means that his brothers lowered Judah in esteem. They had less respect for his leadership. Judah settled in Adullam where he became a business partner to a man named Hira. Another merchant, named Shua, had a daughter that Judah liked….and married. They had three sons, Er, Onan, and Shelah.
Years later, Judah found a wife for Er. Her name was Tamar. She was so beautiful that Er did not want to make her pregnant. The whole point of getting married is to raise a family. Since Er prevented himself from making Tamar pregnant, Er died. Judah told Onan to take Tamar, which he did. However, Onan did not want to make children in his brother’s name, he wanted his own children. So he avoided making Tamar pregnant. And he died too. Judah’s sons caused him grief as he had caused his father grief.
One son, Shelah, was left. Judah did not want him to follow in his brothers’ footsteps, though the rule was that Shelah was supposed to take his brothers’ wife and have their children. Instead of getting married right away, while Shelah was so young, Jacob told Tamar to go stay with her father until Shelah grows up and is more mature.
Many days passed and Judah’s wife died. Judah mourned her passing, and when he was ready, he and his friend, Hirah,h went to Timnah to oversee the shearing of his sheep.
Somebody told Tamar that Judah was going to Timnah for the sheep shearing. She took off her widow’s garments and wore a veil. She had seen that Shela had grown, and she very much wanted to have children from the line of Judah. It turns out it wasn’t Shelah, but Judah himself who would end up with Tamar.
Judah saw Tamar at the crossroads on the way to Timnah. He had no idea it was Tamar. Judah thought she was a harlot, covered in a veil and all. Judah went to her to ask her to come with him.
Tamar asked Judah how he would pay her to consort with her.
He told her he would send a kid from one of the goats from his stock.
Tamar said, “Well, that’s fine. But you have to leave me some kind of pledge.” [Note: Tamar did not want money. She wanted something substantial to prove – if need be – that she was with an upstanding member of the community, namely Judah.]
Judah gave Tamar his wrap, his signet, and his staff.
So, Judah consorted with Tamar. Soon after, Tamar discovered she was pregnant. Meanwhile, she took off her veil and went back to wearing her widow’s clothes.
As he promised, Judah sent a kid to the harlot to get back his wrap, his signet, and his staff. His friend brought the kid but could not find the prostitute. When he asked the locals about the prostitute at the crossroads, they all said, “There was no prostitute here.”
When Judah heard this, he said, “Let her keep the pledge, lest we become a laughingstock. I sent the kid, right? And you could not find her.”
Three months passed, and of course Tamar was showing signs of pregnancy. Word got to Judah that Tamar had committed harlotry and was pregnant.
In anger, Judah said, “Take her out and have her burned.”
So they took Tamar out, and when they did, she sent word to her father-in-law, saying, “You see this signet, this wrap, and this staff? The man that these belong to is the man who made me pregnant.
Judah looked at the evidence and admitted that he was the man who had given her this pledge.
How one thing leads to another!
All these events occurred for a reason. One thing led to another which led to another, etc., all to lead up to this point.
Tamar found she had twins in her womb. At the time she was giving birth, one stuck up a hand. The midwife tied a crimson thread on the hand and said, “This one emerged first..”
As that child drew back his hand, the second brother emerged. They saw with what strength the second brother emerged, and they called him Peretz.
The other brother, with the crimson thread, came out, and they called him Zerah.