By Rabbi Y. Dov Krakowski
This week’s Sedra opens with the words “וישב יעקב” – and Yaakov dwelled etc. Rashi tells us that Yaakov, after undergoing through all sorts of hardships (running away from Eisav, living with Lavan, meeting up with Eisav, and losing Rachel Imeinu) sought to finally settle down and to live in peace and tranquility (שלוה. = serenity, tranquility). Rashi explains that Hashem however, doesn’t necessarily grant Tzadikim to live in Shalva in this world as they are already assured of a Future Life (Olam Haboh) beyond belief. Rashi thus explains that it was for this reason that the whole story of the sale of Yosef took place – to highlight that seeming paradox.
While the word שלוה, as indicated, broadly connotes peace and tranquility, its more precise meaning is ‘harmony’. This quest for harmony was thus a most befitting one for Yaakov Avinu as this was also what he lacked most. There wasn’t any harmony for Yaakov Avinu with his brother Eisav Harasha, nor was there any harmony for Yaakov with his father-in-law Lavan. Yaakov Avinu had married two sisters and two concubines and they too were always competing, causing a further lack in harmony. These various family feuds and rifts caused Yaakov tremendous anguish. This anguish was something that impeded Yaakov Avinu’s ability to focus on Talmud Torah.
We read in the Kina on Tisha BeAv as well as the Piyut on Yom-Kipur of the עשרה הרוגי מלכות. Chazal have explained (as stated in these passages) that the עשרה הרוגי מלכות were a form of atonement for the sin of the sale of Yosef. Aside from any of the punishments meted out to the Shivtei Kah there is one particular punishment that stands out, that ultimately imposed upon Yehuda. Yehuda had convinced the rest of the brothers not to kill Yosef, but rather to sell him off as a slave. Since they didn’t actually kill Yosef but nevertheless wanted to permanently remove his presence from their family’s midst, the brothers had to convince Yaakov that Yosef had been irretrievably lost. They therefore took Yosef’s striped coat (given to him by his father), dipped it in blood, and showed it to Yaakov as evidence that Yosef had been killed. As the brothers showed their father the ‘evidence’ they asked him: ” הכר נא” – “please identify…” The Torah tells us that after Yaakov identified the coat and understood that Yosef had been trampled, he refused to be consoled, he couldn’t be comforted. The Torah tells us that all his sons and daughters tried all they could to do so, but to no avail.
It was following the events surrounding the sale of Yosef that Yehuda left his brothers. The Torah tells us that he married, had children, and then married off his eldest son. The latter died without having had children. Yehuda then gave the widow in marriage to his second son (Yibum), in essence having the second son assume the first son’s marriage for the purpose of assuring the continuity of the eldest’s lineage. The second son suffered the same fate as his older brother. Yehuda then asked his daughter-in-law, Tamar, to wait for his third son, Shelah, to reach marriageable age so that he in turn could perform Yibum. When Tamar saw that Shelah had matured without Yehuda fulfilling his promise, she took matters into her own hands. She disguised herself and lured Yehuda into being intimate with her. Yehuda, not having the money to pay this unknown woman for her services, left with her as security his staff and stamp-and-seal set. As it turned out, Tamar became pregnant from the encounter, and the news then reached Yehuda that his daughter-in-law had acted immorally and was expecting. Yehuda ordered that she be put to death, whereupon Tamar sent Yehuda the staff, stamp, and seals, and said: הכר נא””- “please identify to whom these objects belong because it was from the owner of these items that I conceived.” Chazal explain that since Yehuda caused pain to Yaakov through the הכר נא of Yosef, Yehuda ultimately received extremely harsh rebuke in the same words הכר נא – “please identify”.
What was different about Yehuda, why did Yehuda get his own private rebuke for Mechiras Yosef? Didn’t all the brothers take part in Mechiras Yosef?
Yehuda was in a way was the main instigator for lashing out at Yosef. Yosef had shared with his brothers his dreams that etched out very clearly that he (Yosef) would receive the Melucha. The Melucha had been something that was destined for Yehuda. Had Yehuda said “my Kavod isn’t worth my foregoing the Melucha”, or “my Kavod and my Melucha aren’t worth us causing Yaakov Avinu so much anguish,” the brothers in all likelihood would not have acted as they did. We see clearly from the story that Yehuda had enough clout to convince the brothers not to kill Yosef but to sell him.
Family strife and causing anguish to a parent isn’t worth all the Kavod in the world. No matter how right Yehuda or the brothers might have been in their decision to persecute Yosef – there was no excuse for the suffering they caused their father, nor for the strife they provoked within the family.
Yehuda was thus punished separately for his father’s anguish.
Families must always come first, and parents must always come before all.
A very warm Good Shabbos, Rabbi Y. Dov Krakowski