parashas Vayeishev 5782
Judah was the first to leave the derech (path), and the first to return: as is written, “Judah went down from his brothers,” depicting his spiritual descent when he left the company of his brethren; consequently, he went into a business partnership with an Adulamite. Being within those circles of influence that pertain to the commonalities of one’s profession with others of similar interest, he thereby became enamored of the daughter of a prominent merchant. The result being that he married her, who in all likelihood was a Canaanite. Note that Abraham had not permitted Eliezer to take a wife for his son Isaac, from amongst the Canaanites.
Yet, this did not turn out well for Judah. His first son was evil and died. His second son refused to honor his Levirate marriage to his deceased brother’s wife. H’Shem did not approve; so, Judah’s second son also died. Out of superstition, Judah delayed giving his third son to Tamar, the woman in question, after both her husbands died. Yet, justice prevailed for the sake of Tamar’s reputation, who took matters into her own hand.
According to the Zohar, that she had a prophetic vision, concerning Moshiach (Messiah). She envisioned that he would descend from her offspring; for that higher reason, she disguised herself as a harlot and enticed Judah. Incidentally, Judah’s wife had already passed away; this should, at least, be noted in regard to his cohorting with a harlot, who he did not realize was his daughter-in-law, Tamar. Regardless, his conduct may still be seen as morally reprehensible by some. Yet, G-d can bring about light out of darkness. “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?” (Job 14:4, JPS 1917 Tanach).
Judah’s repents, when he admits in front of many that the staff, cord, and signet that Tamar presented was his own, previously given to Tamar, who he thought was a harlot, as a pledge of payment due, namely, a goat from his flock. Judah’s acknowledgment of sin, ostensibly concerns his not giving his third son to Tamar. “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” (Genesis 38:26, JPS 1917 Tanach).
Yet, when we look at this overall narrative in closer detail, the nature of Judah’s straying off course may be brought into the light. It is implied from the first verse of the passage, that he had a spiritual descent, beginning when “Judah went down from his brethren, and turned in to a certain Adullamite, whose name was Hirah” (Genesis 38:1). He went down in esteem in the eyes of his brothers for his role in selling Joseph, and he turned away from his priorities as a son of Jacob, namely the spiritual heritage of the patriarchs. Only after his repentance of the end result of his misgivings occurred, was he restored.