Two Forms of Teshuva Part Five
Continued from an unedited transcript: What was the teshuvah of Yehudah? Yehudah was married, he had three sons and he married off his oldest son to a woman called Tamar, one of the great women in Tanach. And his first son was not such a good guy and his son died, because of his sins, so Reuven fulfilling the commandment of yibum had his second son marry Tamar. The second son also had his own theories about marriage and children and he spilt his seed and he too was punished by death. And now, there are still no children. Yehudah understands there’s still the mitzvah of yibum, a levirate marriage, so really what he should do is marry Tamar to his third youngest child, but he is nervous because two of his sons have died – couldn’t possibly be my children’s fault. My sons are perfect and good, just like my kids, and so he says to Tamar, well, you know what, my son is young and he’s not mature enough for a relationship. Why don’t you go home to your father’s house and wait till my son grows up and then you know then we’ll talk about it. And his intention was to get rid of Tamar. He never wanted to take the risk of having his last child marry Tamar.
Years passed, Yehudah’s wife passes away. He sits shivah, he gets back to work and Tamar, the daughter-in-law hears that Yehudah is traveling. So she dresses herself up, she sits with a tent, you know, at the cross roads of the highway. She leads Yehudah to believe that she is a prostitute and there was nothing wrong with it, although it’s inappropriate, but he decides that he wants to use her services. He didn’t bring you know, his ATM with him, he had no cash. So Tamar says, well you know, you need to pay me. He says, well listen, I’ll give you my ring and my staff as a guarantee and when I get back I’ll send you payment, I’ll send you the money, you know, the original credit card. So Tamar accepts the offer. She has relations with Yehudah.
Yehudah goes back on his way and he does actually look for her to send the sheep that he needs to pay her for her services but he can’t find her. And Tamar conceived twins. Yehudah hears that Tamar is pregnant. He doesn’t know that Tamar was the woman with whom he had relations. He hears Tamar is pregnant, he’s filled with righteous rage. She’s not allowed to have relations with anyone, she’s waiting to marry my son. Big tzadik, right. He was never intending to have his son marry her, but he’s filled with righteous rage. What an opportunity, now I can get rid of this troublemaker. And he summons a Beis Din. And who is in this Beis Din? His father Ya’akov, his grandfather Yitzchak Avinu, his brothers, the other tribes, except for Yosef, for obvious reasons, and Yehudah summons this court and he says to Tamar, did you have relations with another man when you were supposed to be waiting for my son? And Tamar says, yes.
And so Yehudah, the righteous, this Sage, the wise leader, the great Rabbi, leads the court and he determines that Tamar is liable for the death penalty. She can not deny she had relations, she is pregnant. Remember, this is before we knew about immaculate conception. So he didn’t believe it was possible. And so, what is the punishment for such a woman? She will be burnt to death.
And Tamar doesn’t say a word. Not one word. And the brothers, Ya’akov Avinu, Yitzchak Avinu are there and they agree with the halachic decision of Yehudah that Tamar should be burnt to death.
Tamar very discreetly goes to Yehudah, she hands him his ring, and she hands Yehudah the ring he thought he was giving to a prostitute and she says, listen Yehudah, the owner of this ring he is the father of these twins, and she says it discreetly, no one knows and they’re taking Tamar to be burnt to death.
Everyone is there. His brothers, his father, Yitzchak Avinu is there, Yehudah has a chance to get rid of this troublemaker and not say a word to anyone and he can’t do it. And he says no, she is righteous, I sinned and he publicly acknowledges. Can you imagine?
He acknowledges in front of his brothers, his father, his grandfather, I am the one who slept with her. I thought she was a prostitute. I slept with her. Boy is that an unpleasant experience. He had one second after Tamar discreetly approached him and told him the real story. He had one second in which to choose what to do. Get rid of this troublemaker or admit what he did wrong, and he can’t do it. He goes against his very being to lie and to get rid of a problem without acknowledging that it was him, and so in one second, without any embarrassment, without any hesitation, he stands up in front of his brothers, his father, his grandfather, and he says, she is righteous, I was wrong. I sinned against her.
The Malachim, the celestial angels see such a person, whom in front of his brothers, Ya’akov Avinu, Yitzchak Avinu, has to admit what he did, but he’s being, his core being does not allow him to lie and to pretend and despite the potential humiliation he says, she is right, I am wrong. The angels say, Chanun – G-d is so gracious, Hamarbeh lisloach – He is abundant in forgiveness. This act He will forgive, the chet he will forget. Look at him, in his being he cannot allow this travesty to take place and he fixes it. His teshuvah is much different from the teshuvah of Reuven.