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Torah Sparks

November 30, 2002 - 5763

Annual Cycle: Genesis 37:1 - 40:23 (Hertz, p. 141; Etz Hayim, p. 226)
Triennial Year II: Genesis 38:1 - 38:30 (Hertz, p. 145; Etz Hayim, p. 233)
Maftir: Numbers 7:1 - 7:17 (Hanukkah- 1st Day) (Hertz, p. 596; Etz Hayim, p. 805)
Haftarah - Zechariah 2:14 - 4:7 (Hertz, p. 987; Etz Hayim, p. 1269

Prepared by Rabbi Lee Buckman
Head of School, Jewish Academy of Metropolitan Detroit

Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations
Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director

Torah Portion Summary

(37:1-11) The Joseph story begins. Jacob favored Joseph and gave him a "coat of many colors." Joseph's dreams indicate that his brothers will serve him some day. Not surprisingly, Joseph's brothers hate and envy him.

(37:12-36) Joseph's brothers plot to kill him. Then, at Reuben's urging, they change their plan to sell him into slavery. Joseph is taken to Egypt. Jacob's sons deceive him into believing that a wild animal killed Joseph.

(38:1-30) Events in Judah's life after the selling of Joseph, particularly the story of Tamar.

(39:1-6) Joseph's experiences in Egypt at Potiphar's house.

(39:7-19) Potiphar's wife tries to seduce Joseph. He refuses, so she falsely accuses him of trying to rape her.

(39:20-23) Joseph is imprisoned, but once again rises to a position of authority.

(40:1-23) Pharaoh's cupbearer and baker are imprisoned. Each has a dream which Joseph interprets. Joseph's interpretations come true, but the cupbearer who is saved forgets his promise to help Joseph.

Torah Text Being Considered

"A long time afterward, Shua's daughter, the wife of Judah, died. When his period of mourning was over, Judah went up to Timnah to his sheep shearers, together with his friend Hirah the Adullamite.

When Judah saw her (Tamar on the road to Timnah), he took her for a harlot; 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.

About three months later, Judah was told, your daughter-in-law Tamar has played the harlot; in fact, she is with child by harlotry. "Bring her out" said Judah, "and 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 recognized them, and said, "She is more in the right than I, inasmuch as I did not give her to my son Shelah." And he was not intimate with her again." (Genesis 38:12,15,24-26)


  1. Because he dealt justly with Tamar, Judah's offspring became the hereditary rulers of Israel, (the king being a judge too). When the case of Tamar came before Judah, he acquitted her, finding a plea on her behalf. What happened there? Isaac and Jacob and his brothers sat there trying to protect him, but Judah recognized the place where the mideed was done. Isaac and Jacob, trying to defend him, pleaded that though the signet and the cord were Judah's, he might have lost them. Judah, however, definitely recognized the place, the general circumstances and admitted his share in what had happened and said, "The thing is correct; she is more righteous than I." (Shemot Rabbah 30:19)
  2. Joseph who sanctified the heavenly Name in private (when he resisted Poptiphar's wife) merited that one letter should be added to his name from the Name of the Holy Blessed One, as it is written, He appointed it in Joseph for a testimony (Psalms 81:6) where his name is spelled Yehosef with the letter "hey"). Judah, however, who sanctified the heavenly Name in public merited that the whole of his name should be called after the Name of the Holy Blessed One. The four letters of the Tetragammaton occur in Judah's name - Yehudah. (Talmud: Sota 10b)

For discussion:

Commenting on the source in the talmudic tractate, Sota, Aviva Zornberg points out in her book "The Beginnings of Desire", "There are two different kinds of heroism. Joseph emphatically rejects his master's wife, so that if she had not revealed the affair nothing need ever have been known of it; for this he is rewarded with one letter of God's Name.

Judah, however, sins, both in withholding his youngest son from Tamar and in sleeping with her, and when the results of his act have become visible, a public fact, he justifies her behavior and publicly confesses. This transformation of Judah's character explains his newly found willingness to step in to rescue his younger brother from Egyptian captivity.

The Book of Genesis begins with characters that do not take responsibility for their actions. Adam blames Eve; Cain asks "Am I my brother's keeper?" (Gen. 4:9).

As we approach the end of Genesis, we see positive development - a biblical character owning up publicly to his misdeeds. King David, royal descendant of Judah, follows Judah's lead later on. When confronted by Nathan the Prophet for committing adultery, King David admits his transgression and says "I stand guilty before the Lord" (II Samuel 12:13).

Sometimes one wonders why prominent people in public life who are accused of serious sexual indiscretion or some other major malfeasance tend often to deny wrongdoing at first. It almost seems inevitable that the public glare and further investigation will reveal the truth. Then why is there a tendency to deny the accusation? (Think Nixon, Clinton, clergy, etc.)

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