Parshat Vayeishev 5779: The Fall and Rise of Yehudah’s Righteousness and Leadership — Lessons for Today’s Leaders in Israel

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Parshat Vayeishev 5779: The Fall and Rise of Yehudah’s Righteousness and Leadership — Lessons for Today’s Leaders in Israel

by Moshe Burt

Our parsha opens by relating how Yosef, born to Rachel, was Yaakov’s favored son — his “Ben Z’kunim” (son of old age) to whom he bestowed a multi-colored coat which sources indicate could have been the coat of Eisev which was worn by Yaakov in receiving the Brachot from Yitzchak. Yosef’s favored son status aroused jealousy among his brothers. Yosef’s tale-bearing about his brothers, as well as his dream-telling aroused anger and hatred of him in the brothers.

They saw Yosef’s tale-telling — often without knowing all of the facts and his pronouncement of his dreams, as fostering their perception that he sought to rule over them, that he sought their subservience to him. They viewed Yosef in the light of the family history — their great grandfather’s Avraham’s reluctance to separate from his other son Yishmael and their grandfather Yitzchak’s apparent favoritism for his son Eisev, that “master of kibud Av,” who nonetheless was wicked and not connected with Shemayim.

“The Midrash Says”, by Rabbi Moshe Weissman on Sefer Breish’t explains (page 350):

It seemed to them (the brothers) that Yosef by his conduct was attempting to win the position of Yaakov’s only successor. Hence they considered all thoughts and plans against him a mitzvah. They were unaware that they were actually distorting the truth as a result of their envy.

“Torah Gems”, by Aharon Yaakov Greenberg cites Tiferet Yehonatan (page 274-275) on Sefer Breish’t, Perek 37, posuk 4, above:

They hated him [Yosef]; and they were not able to speak to him peaceably.” …Had they sat down together, they would have spoken to one another and told… what bothered them. Then they would have ironed out their differences. The trouble… is that there is no common language and no one listening.

Yosef’s brothers, while acting inappropriately out of anger, jealousy and hatred, perceived Yosef as a threat to the future nation that was to grow from them as the offspring of Yaakov.

In short, Yosef and the brothers stood on two polarizing sides, totally lacking in any sort of dialogue with each other.

When Yaakov sent Yosef in search of his brothers and he found them in the fields of an area called Dothan, Torah then relates:

“They [the brothers] saw him from afar… and they conspired toward him to kill him.” (Sefer Breish’t, Perek 37, posuk 18, as rendered to English in The Sapirstein Edition, “The Torah: with Rashi’s Commentary”)

Our parsha records (Sefer Breish’t, Perek 37, posukim 21-22)

“Reuven… rescued him from their hand; he said, ‘We will not strike him mortally!’ And Reuven said to them: ‘Do not shed blood! Throw him into this pit in the wilderness, but send no hand against him!’ — in order to rescue him from their hand, to return him to his father.”

Rabbi Shmuel Goldin summarizes the events leading to Yosef’s sale and transport to Mitzrayim (Egypt) in his sefer “Unlocking The Torah Text” (Sefer Breish’t, Parshat Vayeishev, page 201):

Reuven, the eldest, objects and convinces the others to thrust Yosef into the pit alive, rather than murder him… Reuven fully intends to return later, release Yosef and bring him safely back to their father.

Yosef arrives [to his brothers’ location]. The brothers rip off his cloak and throw him into the pit.

But it seems that Reuven left the company of his brothers at that point. This author has yet to see a definitive, unequivocal explanation of why Reuven left, but some say that he went to serve his father, while “The Midrash Says”, by Rabbi Moshe Weissman on our Parshat (page 354) indicates:

Reuven left the company. He never partook in meals since he was constantly fasting and praying for having committed the sin of disarranging his father’s couch.

The conspiracy discussions continued among the other brothers until they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites, with their camels carrying spices and balsam and headed toward Mitzrayim (Egypt).

Rav Goldin’s summary continues:

When… the brothers observe an approaching caravan, Yehudah convinces his siblings of the benefit of selling Yosef as a slave rather than allowing him to die in the pit.

As the caravan passes, Yosef is pulled from the pit and sold into bondage for twenty pieces of silver. Reuven returns, finds the pit empty and bemoans the loss of Yosef. The brothers return to their father and lead him to believe that Yosef has been killed by a wild beast.

Torah relates Yehudah telling his brothers ( As rendered to English in The Stone Edition Chumash, Sefer Breish’t, Perek 37, posukim 26-28):

“… ‘What gain will there be if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? Come let us sell him to the Ishmaelites — but let our hand not be upon him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.’ And his brothers listened. Midianite men, traders, passed by; they pulled and brought Yosef up from the pit and sold Yosef to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver; then they brought Yosef to Mitzrayim.”

Torah relates how the brothers, save Reuven, then feigned Yosef’s death by slaughtering a male goat and dipping Yosef’s fine woolen tunic in the goat’s blood before returning home to Yaakov to report Yosef’s alleged death. Upon hearing the news and seeing Yosef’s blood-stained woolen tunic , Yaakov was inconsolable in his grief mourning for his son Yosef endlessly (Summary – Sefer Breish’t, Perek 37, posukim 31-35):

Our Parsha relates:

“They took Yosef’s tunic, slaughtered a goatling, and dipped the tunic in the blood. They dispatched the fine woolen tunic and… brought it to their father, and said,’We found this; identify, … Is it your son’s tunic or not?‘” As rendered to English in The Stone Edition Chumash, Sefer Breish’t, Perek 37, posukim 31-32)

“My son’s tunic! An evil beast devoured him. Yosef has surely been torn to bits.” (As rendered to English in The Stone Edition Chumash, Sefer Breish’t, Perek 37, posuk 33)

Torah relates ( As rendered to English in The Stone Edition Chumash, Sefer Breish’t, Perek 38, posuk 1):

“It was at that time that Yehudah went down from his brothers and turned away unto an Adullamite man…”

Rashi relates on this posuk (Rashi on Sefer Breish’t, Perek 38, posuk 1):

To teach you that [Yehudah’s] brothers took him down from his greatness, i.e. from his position of of leadership among them, when they saw the distress of their father. They said, “You said to sell him. Had you said to return them to Yaakov, we would have listened to you.” And he turned away from his brothers.

Although the other brothers sought to kill Yosef, they blamed Yehudah, who they had looked to as King, for the inconsolable grief and suffering of their father. And Yehudah, as leader, made the errant decision to sell Yosef into slavery, and manufacture evidence of Yosef’s death, errors which he would come to learn and grow from on two subsequent occasions.

With this separation between Yehudah and his brothers begins the story of Tamar. We learn that Tamar, the daughter of Shem (Rashi on Sefer Breish’t, Perek 38, posuk 24 as cited from The Tanna Ephraim Maksha’ah in the name of R’ Me’ir) married the first of Yehudah’s three sons, Er, but Er was evil and Hashem caused him to die. Yehudah then had his second son Onan enter into levirate marriage with Tamar, but Hashem caused Onan to die for the same reasons as Er. Rashi notes (Rashi on Sefer Breish’t, Perek 38, posukim 6-8):

… Like the death of Er was the death of Onan, i.e., they both died for the same reason. Why would Er destroy his seed? So that [Tamar] should not become pregnant, and thereby spoil her beauty.

The son whom Tamar would bear by Onan would be called by the name of the dead one, i.e, would be considered the son of the dead brother [Er].

Our Parsha then relates (Sefer Breish’t, Perek 38, posuk 11, as summarized by this author, as, well as Rashi commentary and citing Divrei David; Be’er BaSadeh) that Yehudah then told Tamar to remain a widow until his youngest son Shelah is grown, as a pretext to push Tamar aside, fearing that Shelah too would die if he marred Tamar.

Torah relates (Sefer Breish’t, Perek 38, posuk 11 As rendered to English in The Stone Edition Chumash,) that: “….Tamar went and lived in her father’s house.”

A summary of the subsequent posukim (Sefer Breish’t, Perek 38, posukim 12-26, “The Midrash Says”, by Rabbi Moshe Weissman on our Parshat, page 364 ) relates:

Upon the death of his wife, after the mourning period, Torah relates that Yehudah went to his sheep shearers in Timnah. Tamar was told that Yehudah was coming, and that Shelah had grown and that she had not been betrothed to him. Tamar had been a modest in the time that she had lived in Yehudah’s home, and thus she would not be recognized.

Knowing that Yehudah was heir to Kingship, Tamar acted L’Shem Shemayim (in the Name of Heaven) in her intentions seeking to conceive by Yehudah. She changed from her widow’s clothing, covering her face with a veil and wrapped herself in order to deceive Yehudah. She positioned herself at a crossroads on the way to Timnah. Yehudah, not recognizing his daughter-in-law, saw a woman that he thought was a harlot and asked to be with her. Tamar asked remuneration and Yehudah promised her a kid goat from his flock. Tamar requested Yehudah’s signet, his wrap and his staff as pledge against the kid goat.

Yehudah attempted to satisfy the pledge by asking his Adullamite friend to locate the harlot and to deliver the kid goat, but to no avail as the Adullamite could not locate the harlot at the crossroads.

That pledge was to be key to saving Tamar’s life and to Yehudah’s asserting righteous leadership which would serve as paradigm for future Jewish Malchut (Kingship) both regarding Tamar, and subsequently, in standing up to Egypt’s Viceroy on behalf of his youngest brother Benyamin.

Tamar conceived twins, Peretz and Zerah, as a result of the liaison.

Not knowing that the assumed harlot was actually Tamar, three months passed and Yehudah was told that his daughter-in-law had committed harlotry and was pregnant. Yehudah ordered her to be taken out and burned.

Torah records (Sefer Breish’t, Perek 38, posukim 25-26 as rendered to English in The Sapirstein Edition, Torah with Rashi Commentary):

“She was being taken out, and she sent (word) to her father-in-law, saying, ‘By the man to whom these belong I am pregnant.’ And she said, ‘Recognize, if you please, whose are this signet, this wrap, this staff.’

Yehudah recognized; and he said, ‘She is right; it is from me, inasmuch as I did not give her to Shelah my son’… “

Rashi relates (Sefer Breish’t, Perek 38, posuk 25) that Tamar said to Yehudah:

“Recognize, if you please…” The… context expresses nothing but request. Tamar implied, “Please recognize your Creator –and do not destroy three souls,” i.e. Tamar and her unborn twins.

Torah then records (Sefer Breish’t, Perek 38, posukim 27–30):

“And it came to pass at the time she gave birth, and behold! [there were] twins in her womb. And it happened as she gave birth, one put out a hand; the midwife took a crimson thread and tied it to his hand… and… as he drew back his hand, that behold! his brother emerged. And she [the midwife] said, ‘With what strength you asserted yourself!’ …And he [Yehudah] called his name Peretz. Afterwards his brother on whose hand was the crimson thread came out; and he [Yehudah] called his name Zerach.

History tells that from the descendants of Peretz came the Malchut [Kingship], and will come Moshiach. (Citing Rashi on Sefer Breish’t, Perek 38, posuk 29)

The point of this entire narration for our times seems to this author to be Yehudah’s learning and growth as a result of his errors in urging the other brothers to sell Yosef into slavery and manufacturing Yosef’s bogus death, as well as falsely concluding that Tamar had sinned. Yehudah could have acted against Tamar, as only she had known what he had done. But instead, as told in “The Midrash Says”, by Rabbi Moshe Weissman on our Parshat, page 367):

When Yehudah saw the pledge, he felt ashamed and was tempted to deny that it was his. But he won the battle against his yeitzer hara (evil inclination), thinking, “I would rather be put to shame in this world than be ashamed before my righteous fathers in Olam Haba.”

He admitted, “She is right. I was at fault for not letting her marry my son Shelah. She is with child by me.”

Would that our leaders, our current prime minister, his cabinet and all of our current crop of politicians — the old ones too, would feel similarly ashamed over their collective egos, their yeitzer hara lust for continued power, even at national peril, and man-up, own-up to the Am Yisrael — the governed regarding their horrendous, abominable, egregious decisions and actions; of Oslo, with their resultant consequences, i.e., giving away 80% of Hevron, the Expulsion of their Jewish brethren from Gush Katif, the expulsions from Amona — twice, inconclusive wars in Lebanon and Gaza fought indecisively out of fear of condemnation by the nations, the failures to destroy homes of murderous Islamic terrorists, the enablement of enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication through providing them with water, electricity, internet, allowing them “building supplies” to build still more terror tunnels and much more as Yehudah did regarding Tamar and their twin sons? Isn’t it time that the body of Israel’s governance act Jewish toward Am Yisrael and act as proud Jews before the nations?

May we, the B’nei Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them and that the twice expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebuilt homes, at government expense; both due to alt-leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized Yassamnik gunpoint. May our dear brother Jonathan Pollard be liberated and truly free — only upon his return home to Israel, and that the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of four years ago. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and prevent Chas V’Challila the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem Al’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayrah b’yamainu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos!
Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.