parshat vayeshev (genesis 38)
A live recording of Geoffrey Stern, Rabbi Adam Mintz and friends on Clubhouse recorded on November 25th as they explore how the story of Joseph and the patriarchal origins of the Exile to Egypt is interrupted by the story of Tamar and the matriarchal origins of redemption through the Davidic bloodline. They wonder whether we might re-read Genesis as Her Story? With special “guest” appearances from Jonathan Kirsch (author of The Harlot by The Side of the Road) and Harold Bloom (the author of The Book of J).
Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/365002
Geoffrey Stern 00:04
Welcome to Madlik. My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we like to light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish text or tradition. This week I’m joined by Rabbi Adam Mintz on clubhouse recorded live on Thursday nights. And we are discussing Parshat Vayeshev, the story of Joseph and the patriarchal origins of the exile in Egypt, and we noticed that it’s interrupted by the story of Tamar and the matriarchal origins of redemption through the Davidic bloodline. So we are going to do what we always do at Madlik and read the Torah through a totally new lens. So put on a new fresh pair of glasses, sit back, and let us hear the story of Genesis as Her-story.
So welcome, everybody, as I said in the intro, we’re about coming to the end of Genesis. And one of the things we’ve always said about Genesis is a foreshadows events to come, the rabbi’s talked about Ma’asei Avot Siman l’banim. And the big event is obviously going down to Egypt and the Birth of a Nation and the Exodus. And we’re just about to get there. And we’re leaving the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and discovering the 12 sons, and beginning the story of Joseph. And in Genesis 38. There’s an interruption. We’ve already read about how Joseph is the favorite son, and how he engenerds jaolousy from all of the brothers and thrown into a pit. And one of the brothers Judah sells him as a servant. And then all of a sudden, in Genesis 38, there is a very strange story. And while most of us will know the story of Joseph, many of us do not know the story of Judah and Tamar. So how it begins is: Judah had a certain a daughter of a certain Canaanite, whose name was Shua and he married her and lived with her and she conceived and bore a son, and he was named heir, she conceived again and bore son and named him Onan, once again, she bought a son and named him shella. He was at Kazib when she bore him, so Judah got married to a local Canaanite woman, which is in itself, unique to us, because so many of the patriarchs went to such great trouble to make sure that their children did not marry Canaanite. And now we move on, and Judah got a wife for Er, his first born, and her name was Tamar. And the story goes on to say how Tama was married to Er. And all of a sudden, Er was displeasing to the Lord and the Lord took his life so Er dies, and then Judah said to Onan join with your brother’s wife and do your duty by her as a brother in law and provide offspring for your brother. So you might have heard of the rule of the Levirate marriage, and it has nothing to do with the tribe of Levi. It has to do with keeping one’s seed alive through a surrogate by way of one’s brother. And so Onan goes ahead. And he is married to Tamar. But he does not have offspring, and he did what was displeasing to the Lord. And basically he let his seed drop to the ground and did not impregnate his wife. And then the story goes on and says that he was afraid that he might die like his brothers. So Tamar went back to her father’s house, and a long time afterward. Sue adore sue his daughter, the wife of Judah died. So now Judah is a widower, and tomorrow is is not married. When this period of mourning was over Judah went up to Timnah to his sheepshearers together with his friend Hirah the Adullamite and Tamar was told your father in law is coming up to Timnah for sheep shearing, so she took off her widow’s garb, covered her face with a veil, and wrapping herself up sat down at the entrance of Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah, for she saw that Shelah was grown up, yet she had not been given to him as a wife. When Judah saw her, he took her for a harlot, a prostitute, for she had covered her face. So he turned aside to her by the road and said, Here, let me sleep with you, for he did not know that she was his daughter in law. What she asked, Will you pay for sleeping with me? He replied, I will send a kid from my flock. But she said, You must leave a pledge until you have sent it. And he said, What pledge Shall I give you? She replied, Your a seal, and chord and the staff which you’re carrying, and the story goes on. And I suggest that we all read the whole chapter in detail, it is engaging. Ultimately, then, a trial is created for this prostitute. And she is about to be burned at the stake for being a prostitute. And it’s a public hearing. And Judah says, Let her be burned. As she was being brought out, she sent this message to her father in law, I am with child by the man to whom these belong. And she added, examine these whose seal and cord and staff are these. Judah recognize them and said, she is more in the right than I am, in as much as I did not give her to my son Shela. And he was not intimate with her again. When the time came for her to give birth, there were twins in her womb. While she was in labor, one of them put out his hand and the midwife tied, a crimson thread on that hand to signify this one came out first. But just then he drew back his hand, and out came his brother, and she said, What a breach you have made for yourself. So he was named Peretz, which means a breach afterward his brother came out, um, whose hand was the crimson thread, he was named Zeira. What do we think of this fascinating story? Here, Judah, who ultimately is the precursor, the foreshadower of the tribe of Judah, from which King David comes, is definitely caught in a compromising situation. And, as we have seen so many times in Genesis, the punch line many times comes at the end, especially with a genealogy. And here we cannot but remember that Peretz, the child that was born, was directly related to Boaz, who was the father of King David? So what do we make of this story? Is it just something that the editor had laying around? Or that Hashem put into a story? Because he thought it needed a place? Why does it come here? And what is its meaning for us?
Adam Mintz 08:10
So thank you Geoffrey for bringing up all these amazing topics. What is the significance of the story of one son sticking out his hand? And that is the idea that in Genesis, generally, firstborn is never the one who is victorious. Ishmael loses out to Isaac, Esauv loses out to Jacob, and Reuven who’s the firstborn of Jacob, also loses out to Judah and to Joseph. And here Zerach who is born first, he’s second to Peretz. And that I think, is really very, very interesting. And it goes to show that if the book of Genesis is not a book about what’s coming to you, that you deserve it, you have to earn it. And that’s why Peretz pushes through. He’s not really the oldest, but he pushes through, and because he pushes through, that’s why he is the one who was the ancestor of the Messiah. And I think that’s a very important lesson, the lesson of the lesson of pushing through. It’s not what you deserve. Peretz should have been second, because Zerach; the red thread was around his head, but parents push through. That’s the right personality trait for the Messiah.
Geoffrey Stern 09:42
So I totally agree with you. But I think that one has to go back and cannot ignore the story behind it. Meaning to say that it’s not simply Peretz there’s context here
Adam Mintz 10:00
Charles did have something to add to that.
Charles S 10:04
Well, I was gonna talk more about the story as it relates to Judah. Because in some respects, you know, last week we were talking about Yaakov and how he gets the name Yisrael and what it means to, to struggle with with God and how, the people of Israel bear that name and what that namesake means for us, and obviously Yehudah is also the namesake for the Jewish people, in that we are Yehudim from Yehudah. And I guess I’ve always thought about this story and Yehudah’s story as just being a model for Teshuva (repentance). And Judah was instrumental in the in the Yoseph story. So this is kind of his teshuva story…. this is his story, which I’ve always thought as a model for teshuva. And again, I’m not sure of the linkage, but it also kind of reminds me a little bit about, you know, the Aaron story, where he’s kind of the leader, [and I’m jumping around a little bit, obviously], but he’s sort of the leader of the Sin of the golden calf. But then, of course all the Kohanim come from Aaron, which a sort of an elevated class within the Jewish people. So again, throughout Torah, we have these models of people who are fallible, but ultimately serve as models for teshuva for the Jewish people, because they’re not perfect, but nonetheless, they their legacy lives on. And, you know, that makes them I think, more relatable.
Adam Mintz 11:58
Charles, so you’re more interested in the Judah piece of it. And actually, for you, the most two important words in this story, are “zedkah Mimeni” you’re more righteous than I am. That’s an admission on Judah’s part. It’s actually the first time at the Torah, that we have an admission of wrongdoing. You know, Adam and Eve when they eat from the fruit, they don’t admit to doing wrong, but Judah admits to doing wrong. And that’s the first example of what you call teshuvah, of repentance. And that’s why this story is so important. So that’s good. And maybe Charles, just to connect your point and my point, maybe the idea is that because Judah’s, the first one to repent, therefore he is the one who’s worthy to have the Messiah come from his seed. And that’s why the Messiah comes from Peretz. How about that?
Geoffrey Stern 12:54
I think that’s great. So I think that they’re all Midrashim that focus on the fact… that Judah started to apologize and to do teshuva, as Charles said, and he even then started to talk about what he did to Joseph, in terms of selling him and then Reuven in the Midrash pipes into so this becomes almost a Teshuva-Fest on the side of the men. But I want to focus on another word, which is mimeni. And I want to focus a little bit on Tamara Rashi says, as follows Mimeni from me, is she with child, or rabbis of blessed memory explained this to mean that a Bat Kol came forth and said the word Mimeni from me, and by my agency have these things happened, because she proved herself a modest woman, while in her father’s house, I have ordained that kings shall be descended from her. And I have already ordained that I will raise up kings in Israel from the tribe of Judah. So I think that what we’re all kind of agreeing upon, is that, number one, you can’t ignore the fact that this is the genesis, if you will excuse the pun, of the Davidic line, of the redemption of the Jewish people. And by saying Peretz that makes it very clear, and that there were at least three parties that we have identified so far. We’ve talked in terms of Peretz himself, even as an infant, where he did the peritza he did what was necessary he took the act into his own hands. Then we have the father who is Judah, who even though he fails, he recognizes his failure, his sin, and He does teshuva and now I would like to start focusing a little bit on Tamar, the Mimeni that she is more righteous than I am. And I think as we come to the end of Genesis, and we segue into Exodus, which is the story of the birth of the Jewish people, I think we would be remiss if we didn’t use this as an opportunity to look backwards at all of the narratives and stories that we’ve read. And maybe now as you say, Rabbi, it’s the first time that a patriarch has asked for forgiveness, I would argue, it’s also the first time that a patriarch has recognized his better half his wife. Has recognized the actions, the ability of the female to mold the forward motion of history. And I think if we take this moment for a second, and grab it, and we start looking back through all of the stories that we’ve read, we will see them in an entirely new light. And in fact, there’s two books that that come to mind. One is a popular book called The harlot by the Side of the Road, by Jonathan Kirsch. And obviously, the title comes exactly from the story of Tamar. And he details throughout the the Bible, all the stories that we might not hear in Hebrew school. Were women play critical, critical roles, and the others. The book is the book of J by Harold Bloom, Now Harold Bloom is a literary critic, he doesn’t claim to be a biblical scholar. And of course, he looks at it to the world, the world of scholarship that believes that the total was written from different documents and put together I think we can ignore that for a second. But what he sees is throughout genesis a female voice, and he sees this as the pinnacle of a theme that we might have been missing till now. So for instance, if we go back, and we look at Genesis 27, when Rebecca said to her son, Jacob, “I overheard your father speaking to your brother Esau of saying, Bring me some game.” Remember that story, where Rebecca goes ahead and convinces Jacob to cover himself in fleece, and to fleece his father, so to speak, and to steal the birthright. What I had never recognized till now was how she ends it. “Jacob says, If my father touches me, I shall appear to him as a trickster, and bring upon myself a curse, not a blessing. But his mother said to him, your curse my son, be upon me, just do as I say, and go fetch them for me.” So he and now we have two stories we are Tamar, I don’t know if you pick this up. But at the end of the story, she has the twins, and Judah leaves her alone. She’s done her job in terms of changing Jewish history. And now she is not thanked, she is not praised the way Judah is set to the side, here to with Rebecca. And I think we’re going to find a theme that these women who go ahead and change the destiny of our people, and our narratives ultimately say, and if I suffer, I suffer. Do you think that there’s any any merit to this theme? Am I bringing up any thoughts that resonate with anybody here?
Adam Mintz 19:02
Mendy What do you think?
I think here is, there’s a Hasidic twist on, on every single story, Torah or everything in the Torah. And the story here with the Yehudah and Tamar, what everyone said, it’s like, I’m sure everyone knows what a chulent is here in the audience. So it’s like a mixture, because basically, if he did the wrong thing, or the right thing, obviously, he went to the side of the road to meet this lady here. But the deep explanation is that he knew that from him and through Tamar, that’s where Meshiach that’s where King David is going to come. And he, he it wasn’t like a mistake, something obligation that he had to do, just like Peretz, he had to jump in and do the wrong thing. Sometimes you have to be assertive, or sometimes you got to go ahead to to get to the goal. And sometimes you go to good, bad and ugly in order to get to reach our goal. So this is basically what happened. And also similarly speaking in our last scandal with Yosef and Potiphar. Also, it apparently it looked like something bad was going on. But that was the ultimate way how the Jewish people ended up in Egypt because that was the route they had to take in order to get to Israel eventually. I hope that makes sense.
Geoffrey Stern 20:36
It makes a lot of sense. I mean, picking up on the Hasidic or even the Kabbalistic element here. There is a strange verse in Leviticus, that it actually associates with what happened because Judah did a number of things wrong. Not only was she a harlot, but she was his daughter in law. And Leviticus says, If a man marries his sister, the daughter of either his father or his mother, so that they see her nakedness and she sees his nakedness. It is a disgrace. But the Hebrew doesn’t say it is a disgrace. It says “hesed, hu”, and the the interpretation is this amazing phrase that says “Olam al Hesed Yibaneh”, that the world is built on this hesed. And the example given is another story of women, saving the day, so to speak, and that is Lot’s two daughters, if you remember, and this is a review of all of Genesis, thanks for being part of the journey. If you remember after Sodom is destroyed, lote runs to the hills with his wife and two daughters, his wife turns around and turns into a pillow of salt, and the daughters and he go up into a cave and look like most provincials, they thought the whole world was Sodom, there is no world outside of Sodom. And so the daughters decide that the world will end unless they procreate with their father. So they get him drunk. And the child of that one of the sisters unions is called Moab of which means literally, from my father. And of course, those of you who know the other lineage of King David, it comes from Ruth, the Moabite. So here too, you have this story of women who take charge of the situation, who maybe take charge, even to the degree of breaking a few rules, but the rules need to be broken in order to achieve the ends. And of course, that can be a very dangerous concept. But looking back through the story of Genesis, I think we will see more and more of it now that our eyes are opened up and kind of be enamored by the critical role that women play. And I’m wondering what everyone makes of that. Let’s focus for a second upon the role of women in the narrative that begins in the Garden of Eden and ends up with Yehuda Tamar.
So I wouldn’t say about the woman’s psrt, I will say it’s the feminine part. That’s what it is. We need to have the masculine and feminine to tell the world was created from the beginning. So it doesn’t become personal anyways, but this is the real truth.
Adam Mintz 23:37
That’s good. And he I think, aGeoffrey, what’s interesting is when you think about the woman’s role, or as Mendy says the feminine role. So of course you think back to the Garden of Eden and he got it got in trouble. But when you think about the, the mothers and the fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Leah, and Rachel. What’s interesting is that Sarah, Geoffrey has a very major role. She has a major role with Hagar. She has a major role with her son protecting her son, she has a major role. Rebecca, obviously has a major role. She’s the one who helps Jacob steal the blessings. But when we get to Rachel and Leah, while they have initially unimportant role, they seem to kind of fall away. Now Rachel dies. Leah, though, is just not heard from after that. Jacob all of a sudden assumes the more dominant personality in the family. And actually beginning of this week as Paracha it’s his mistakes as a father that get the family in trouble and lead to the sale of Joseph. You want to ask Geoffrey, Where was Leah? Where was his wife? I know that Joseph’s mother wasn’t around anymore. But what about his other wife? Why doesn’t she stand up and say Jacob, you can favor one son over the other. That’s just not how we do things around here. That’s not going to inclusion. So it’s interesting you talk about the feminine piece or the woman’s piece. Tamar is really the last important woman in the story. I mean, it’s not totally true, because you go to the wife of Potifar. But she’s importan because of how Joseph relates to her, I don’t think that she’s important in terms of the idea of legacy, right? It’s not our legacy. So I wonder, Geoffrey, what you make of that, that not only is Tamar, an important woman, but she’s the last important woman in the book of Genesis.
Geoffrey Stern 26:00
Well, I think first of all, you’re absolutely right in identifying the difference between the women that I’ve just mentioned, and a character in the story like Potipar, the women that we’ve been talking about that start with Eve, and with Tamar, are women that have changed the course of biblical history, so to speak, have changed the narrative, they’ve made decisions, whether it was Sarah, who said to Abraham, send out your son Ishmael. And and in that case, Abraham never admits to Sarah, that she’s right. It takes God to say listen to your wife. But getting back to your point of Rachel and leah, and why they don’t play a more important role. I don’t really have an answer to that. I mean, I think that we’re really moving forward. And these two stories, the story of Joseph, which is the continuation of the three patriarchs in terms of not picking, the oldest son of having a favorite son, and going into exile is one narrative. And this Yehudah and Tamar, where it’s really, you can say almost a different kind of direction, and arc of history, where it is the sin and the admonition or the understanding that a sin was made. And the woman taking history into her hands, that moves us into into a future of redemption with David. So it is kind of fascinating, but I don’t I don’t pretend to say I have an answer why Leah and Rachel don’t play a more important part. I mean, I think Rachel got neutered a little bit, because, she lied to her father, stole the idols, and that’s why she’s buried, and she becomes another type of icon. For those who live forever in exile. But Leah, you right, she disappears from the story.
Adam Mintz 28:28
I mean, Rachel dies. So I think she gets neutered a little bit and then she dies. So she’s not a fit figure. I don’t know the answer to this, because I think this is thing that, you know, that is a question, what happens to Leah? Geoffrey, I think as we get come to 930 I think what we’ve seen in this story is something very interesting. And it really is food for thought. And that is that each one of the characters in this story is extremely important. Judas important, you get out that Tamar is very important. Clearly the sons are important, because that’s the legacy that from which Messiah will come. And then you have the question of all the people who are not in the story. That’s Rachel and Leah, and what their role is going forward. And then even better, Geoffrey, in the next chapter, we talk about the white but Potipar like we said, you can compare Tamar who changes the course of Jewish history with the wife of Potipar, who’s just someone in the story, but doesn’t change Jewish history. So I think when we think about this story, we think about the pasha the characters here are really really, literally pregnant with meaning and interpretation. And I want to thank everybody for joining us tonight on Thanksgiving. Happy Thanksgiving. Shabbat Shalom. Happy Hanuka, Hanuka begins on Sunday night, and we look forward next Thursday night to continuing the story of Joseph. I will be participating from Dubai and Geoffrey from home. And we will be continuing in the story of Joseph and his brothers. So Happy Thanksgiving Shabbat Shalom, everybody.
Geoffrey Stern 30:21
Shabbat Shalom to you, Rabbi. I’ve been requested that we keep the line open in case anybody wants to have to jump in and discuss anything further. I will say that the big takeaway for me this week, and I read this book by Harold Bloom, who literally says, if you read the, the book of Genesis, and you think in terms of Sivim Panim l’Torah that there were 70 different faces to Torah. Well, certainly one of those faces would let us consider that the whole book of Genesis was written from the perspective of a woman. And I think, to me the punch line after going backwards from Tamar to Sarah, to Rebecca, to all that, and then I end up back at the Garden of Eden in Genesis. And if you notice, and this I noticed, for the first time, after the sin of the eating of the apple, and true to form, just like Tamar ended up being punished. And just like Rebecca said, If anyone gets punished, it’s me. Eve gets punished. But after that, it says, “The man named his wife Eve, because she was Mother of all the living.” And it just kind of brought home to me that from the perspective of looking at all of these stories, from a woman’s point of view, who maybe has been marginalized and has to work in the background, and maybe we can enlarge the picture. It doesn’t have to be a woman, it can be an other, it can be somewhat outside of what today is very fashionable to call the patriarchy. But it really changes all of the stories. So I am thankful for that. I’m thankful for all of you, studying Torah every week. And now if anyone wants to come up, raise your hand and discuss any of this further. We’ll leave the mic open. Michael, welcome to the to the Bema
Michael Stern 32:46
Thank you, Happy Thanksgiving. I think it’s important for me, I love that we have this extra time, just to say how I feel when I leave this discussion. And today, I feel so much better, because I feel that there was so much dysfunction, and so many agendas and men and women and mothers and fathers and children all doing things. I call them mistaken ways. And then to hear that, oh my gosh, the Messiah messianic lineage comes from a lineage of mistaken power plays, agendas manipulations, because I have had my share of living life in that kind of way. And I could feel guilt and shame but actually starting today, I feel compassion. And I know that there’s so many paths mistaken paths, and that’s the feeling I go away with, with an uplifted feeling that. Wow, there’s hope. So thank you.
Okay. So first of all, Potipar, when we touched on her, her daughter ended up being Joseph’s wife. And she was the mother of Ephraim and Menashe. That’s she’s not insignificant. She’s very significant in the story. And back to Adam and Eve, as we were talking just very recently now. The choice was, the world should stay spiritual. Or if you touch the tree, because if you really see the the text it’s very confusing. He’s the way God said, don’t eat from it, but if you eat from it, so he was like implying that you would eat from it or you’re not,…. it’s complicated, which I don’t want to get into the whole discussion, but the short of it is, Eve. “Hava”, she realized that the world, which is a very high level, because the woman has extra understanding the “Bina Yesera” there a certain way of thinking the woman has more powerful than the man. And she realized that in order for the world to get to the destiny that it needed to go, it had to go through all this troubles and corruption or whatever you want to call it, a different kind of scandals. And that’s the whole way of of the life, the feminine is like the up and down the wavy part, you know, man is a strong part. But it needed to go through this, all these mistakes and all these problems… because if you don’t toil for something, if you don’t work hard for something, then it’s not significant at all. So the world we need to go through all these craziness. And hopefully, this will end and we will come to our destiny very soon.
Geoffrey Stern 36:09
Thank you so much, Mandy, I just want to pick up on what you were saying, Michael, about this sense that there’s so many crooked paths that lead to redemption, and you can call it the Messiah, you can call it salvation. But that clearly is the story here. And the phrase that i mentioned before, Olam al hesed Yibaneh that the world is built on hesed, we Jews don’t normally translate the word hesed as Grace. Because somehow whether when we split word, we had a divorce with Christianity. They took the grace word, and we got the Old Testament God of justice. But my rabbi Shai Held is right now writing a book. And he’s reclaiming hesed. And I think this sense of grace that Christianity took where you can be forgiven, no matter what your sins are, is something that Jesus took from. The New Testament took from the Old Testament, and this chapter, this sensual, explicit and a one could say, adhorent chapter is evidence number one, that out of the depths of problem and sin can come salvation, and I think that’s what you were saying. And it’s an extremely, extremely important lesson, and one that we have to reclaim, I think, because it clearly is in our texts, and we have to be thankful for it and to use it as a way to pull ourselves up and to know that every one of us can achieve complete redemption and salvation. And again, it’s all in Humash in our Parsha in our Torah.
Michael Stern 38:15
Geoffrey, I’m I really appreciate that. And I have a question about redemption because it seems to me that redemption is that some outer force God redeems, forgives redeems us, lets us still have a you know, clean slate. But for me, the how do you tie that into self redemption? Do we come as individuals? And is that part of it? Can you tie self redemption where one forgive oneself for the mistaken ways?
Geoffrey Stern 38:54
Again, I think that in the divorce with Christianity, we got national redemption and they took personal redemption, but personal redemption is so much part of Judaism, you know, we talk about Yetziat Mitzrayim, leaving Mitrayim as a country, and becoming a nation. And then we call Mim hameytzar karaati Yah that I call God from the narrow place and that’s the personal redemption. So I think that Judaism has always believed very strongly about the personal redemption. And the most wonderful story that I’ve ever heard, is, I think Maimonides says, when we prepare for the holidays, and we’re all being judged not as a nation, but as a world and the scales are teetering on either side. Each one of us has to feel that our personal redemption our personal teshuva can move the scale in one direction or the other. So he brilliantly ties personal redemption to the larger redemption of the world. But I totally think that it all starts with me and with you and with each one of us.
Michael Stern 40:13
very very appreciated.
Geoffrey Stern 40:17
Okay, so Shabbat Shalom and Hodu Lashem Kitov to you all.
Listen to last week’s podcast: Arguing with God and Man