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A Shabbat Nugget: Parashat Vayeshev

In this week’s Torah portion we learn about two incidents which involve Judah.

In the first incident, Jacob asks Joseph to go to Shechem where the other brothers tended his sheep, to see how they are doing.  As Joseph is approaching Shechem, his brothers see him from afar and because of an ongoing feud with Joseph, plan to kill him.  There are two people who are against the plan, Reuvain, the firstborn and Judah.  Reuvain does not feel that he can convince his brothers to change their mind and therefore convinces them  only not to murder him directly but rather to throw him into a pit and let him die.  The Torah tells us that he planned to come later and save Joseph.  However, Judah does convince  his brothers not to kill Joseph but, instead to sell him as a slave, which is how ultimately Joseph ended up in Egypt.

The second incident the Torah tells us is that Judah had three sons.  His oldest son Er got married to Tamar.  Er died childless.  In the Torah there is a concept that if a man dies childless it is preferable for his wife to marry the deceased’s brother.  So Tamar got married to Judah’s second son, Onen. Onen also died childless. Judah did not want Tamar to marry his third son since he was afraid that perhaps the reason his sons are dying has something to do with Tamar. He therefore gave Tamar an excuse.  However, Tamar had a great desire to remain in Judah’s family.  Therefore when Judah’s wife died she masked her identity and got Judah to consort with her.  Tamar became pregnant from this union and had twins, one of which was named Peretz.  Peretz was the beginning of the lineage of King David who G-d promised that the dynasty of kingship would always remain in his family until the King Messiah, who would also be a descendant of David.  What is the connection between these two incidents which the Torah teaches us consecutively?

In Jewish thought the role of a Jewish king is not just to rule the country in a material sense but to also inspire and influence the Jews to follow in the path of the Torah.  This is the reason that Judah was chosen to be the father of the dynasty of Kingdom, because Judah has this power embossed in his soul as we can begin to see in the way Judah was able to influence his brothers not to kill Joseph.

About Rabbi Pesach Scheiner

Rabbi Pesach Scheiner is the Rabbi of Boulder County Center for Judaism. In addition, he teaches extensively throughout Boulder County and is the author of "Finding the Joy in Everyday Living," a book of short chapters explaining the ways to access happiness through appreciation, gratitude, and a sense of purpose.

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