Friday, May 28, 2010

Judah, Son of Jacob

When Judah, the fourth son of Leah and Jacob, was born, Leah said, “This time let me gratefully praise God” (based on the Hebrew infinitive, l’hodot, “to praise”).

Judah first demonstrated leadership when he suggested that his brothers sell Joseph to a caravan of Ishmaelites (rather than leave him in a pit to die). But the cover-up story that his brothers then told Jacob (that Joseph was dead) so upset Judah that the Torah says, “And it was in that time, and Judah went away from his brothers...” (Genesis 38:1)

Judah married a Canaanite woman and had three sons: Er, Onan and Shaylah. When his first 2 sons unexpectedly died (having successively wed Tamar), Judah promised Tamar that she would wed Shaylah when he came of age. Later, when Tamar realized that Shaylah would never be given to her, she dressed like a harlot and seduced Judah. He gave her his staff, cord and signet as collateral for payment. Tamar became pregnant, and when Judah found out, he demanded that she be burned for harlotry. When she displayed his collateral (proving the paternity), Judah publicly admitted his guilt. He then married Tamar and she gave birth to twins, Peretz and Zerach. By acknowledging his responsibility, Judah finally became a true leader.

Years later, when the brothers needed to return to Egypt for food, it was Judah who convinced Jacob to allow Benjamin to go as Joseph had demanded. Judah offered Jacob his solemn pledge that he would bring Benjamin home safely. And when Benjamin was framed with the crime of stealing the royal goblet, Judah stepped forward and offered himself up as a bondsman instead of Benjamin.

Before his death, Jacob gave each of his sons a blessing reflecting their personalities and their futures. To Judah, Jacob said: “Judah, your brothers shall praise you ... The scepter shall not depart from Judah...and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples...” While much of Judah’s blessing (not included due to length) is understood by the sages to be an allusion to the time of the Messiah, Jacob clearly conferred the role of leadership upon Judah and his descendants (the Davidic dynasty).

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