Doubled Up: Vayeshev 2017

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: Is it easy for you to adjust when your best-laid plans change at the last moment? Do you like to have a back-up plan in case of the unforeseen, or do you prefer to improvise when the moment calls for it?

The story of Tamar and Judah is filled with plans and assumptions that alter in unexpected ways, even when their twin sons are born:

The Pitch: “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 Perez. Afterward his brother came out, on whose hand was the crimson thread; he was named Zerah.” – Genesis 38:27-30

Swing #1: “Like Jacob – himself a younger twin who inherits the birthright – Judah’s and Tamar’s twin son Perez, who emerges second from Tamar’s womb, becomes heir to the family line – as the ancestor of Boaz, who is the great-grandfather of David. And as in Jacob’s story, here too it is the women who set the stage for the family drama: the midwife identifies the older twin by tying a crimson thread on his hand as he emerges first from the womb; Tamar herself names the other twin Perez …” – Ellen Frankel, The Five Books of Miriam

Swing #2: “The whole inset of Genesis 38 then concludes with four verses devoted to Tamar’s giving birth to twin boys, her aspiration to become the mother male offspring realized twofold. Confirming the pattern of the whole story and of the larger cycle of tales, the twin who is about to be second-born somehow ‘bursts forth’ (parotz) first in the end, and he is Peretz, progenitor of Jesse from whom comes the house of David.” – Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative

Swing #3: “Zerah: Possibly connoting ‘red of dawn’ – connecting with the scarlet thread of Verse 28 (and possibly paralleling Esav, who was also known as Edom, the ‘Red One’).” – Everett Fox, The Five Books of Moses

Late-Inning Questions: Why do our commentators think the abrupt change in the birth order of Tamar’s sons is significant? Why are so many birth stories seen as harbingers of future fortune? Have the stories of your birth, or the birth of your children or other loved ones, taught you something about that person’s character?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: Join us for our Night of Giving on the first night of Hanukkah, Tuesday, December 12th, at 6pm. We’ll be gathering at Publix stores in West Ashley, Mt. Pleasant, and Summerville to light Hanukkah candles and then purchase items to donate to the Kosher Food Pantry.

The Big Inning at the End: Many people light hanukkiot (Hanukkah menorahs) with designs that have little to do with the holiday itself; sports-themed hanukkiot — with shapes of baseball bats and baseballs, for example — are especially popular. Does using these kinds of items take away from the meaning of the holiday, or is Hanukkah light-hearted enough that we should allow this kind of creativity?

Shabbat Shalom!