April 22, 2021 |

Kings from Empathy

Tamar marries Yehudah's two sons in succession. In succession, both sons die.

Yehudah promises to marry Tamar to his much younger son, when that son grows older. But Yehudah also fears that Tamar has caused his other sons' death (which is not what happened). And so Yehudah does not marry Tamar to his youngest son.

Instead, Yehudah leaves Tamar a widow in his household.

Tamar tricks Yehudah. She dresses as a harlot. She covers her face. So Yehudah does not know, when he hires her and makes her pregnant, that she is Tamar.

For payment, Tamar takes collateral: Yehudah's chord, and his staff, and his ring.

Much later, Yehudah condemns Tamar for being pregnant through harlotry (not knowing that she carries his child). And Tamar shows him his chord, and his staff, and his ring, saying: The man to whom these are, I am with child.

Then Yehudah relents of everything, saying: She is more righteous than I.

Then Tamar gives birth to twins. One of the twins is Peretz. Peretz is the ancestor to the line of David, king of Israel.

One son is replaced with the next. And one husband is replaced with the next. And a daughter-in-law is swapped for a harlot with no face.

Everything is exchangeable in Yehudah's world. Everything is a commodity.

A world of pure economics is a world of cruel power.

Tamar needs a supply of husbands; Yehudah owns the supply. So Yehudah can keep Tamar husbandless, if he chooses.

Tamar does not take money for her act. She takes a chord, and a staff, and a ring. And she says of these objects: The man to whom these are, I am with child.

Nothing is a commodity for Tamar. For her, everything is connected to someone. For her, everything implies empathy. Everything implies responsibility.

A chord and a staff and a ring do not mean payment: they mean a specific man, who is Yehudah, who is a father.

In saying: She is more righteous than I, Yehudah accepts Tamar's view. Empathy enters Israel.

With this empathy, Peretz--the ancestor of the line of the kings of Israel--can be born.



Abe Mezrich

Joined: October 11, 2007

Abe Mezrich is a new-York based writer and lecturer, and the author of a weekly dvar Torah. Contact him at amezrich@gmail.com.

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