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Vayeishev

Genesis 39:1-40:23 (Plaut p 252; Hertz p 147. )
Haftarah Amos 2:6-3:8. (Plaut p 263; Hertz p 152)

The parashah tells the stories of how Jacob’s other sons sold Joseph into captivity in Egypt, of how Judah wronged his daughter-in-law Tamar and discovered his transgression, and how Joseph served Potiphar and was imprisoned when falsely accused of assaulting Potiphar’s wife.

In our parashah God, Judah and Tamar all see things from their own perspective, and they see things differently. Having left his family ‘Judah saw there a daughter of a certain Canaanite, whose name was Shuah; and he took her’ (Gen 38:2). Judah’s relationship with Shuah began with him seeing her. Together they had three sons: Er, Onan and Shelah. Er was married to Tamar, but as the story continues: ‘Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of Adonai; and Adonai slew him’. Tamar then married Onan, so that Er’s name would be maintained, but Onan spilt his seed as he did not want to continue his brother’s name. And once again we read that Onan ‘was wicked in the
sight of Adonai, and Adonai also slew him’.

Judah did not want to risk his final son, and so he sent Tamar away, saying that when Shelah was grown up she could marry him. As time went by, Tamar realised that this was unlikely to happen, and so she dressed provocatively to seduce Judah, ‘for she saw that Shelah was grown, and she was not given to him for his wife. When Judah saw her, he thought her to be a harlot’. Rather than pay her, Tamar (with her identity hidden) took a tribute from Judah, which she would keep until he sent payment. He sent his friend Hirah to pay her; and he went and asked the men ‘where is the harlot, who was at Einayim by the way side? And they said, There was no harlot in this place’. While there is more to the story of Judah and Tamar, one of the striking details is that it happens at a place called einayim, the Hebrew word for eyes; as if to further emphasise for us the importance of sight.

The story is a reminder to open our eyes to make sure we are fully aware of the world around us. But it is also a reminder that we all see things differently and it is sometimes important to try and see something through the eyes of another. Tamar and Judah saw things differently and the misunderstanding, confusion and deception all sprang from this. The challenge for us is to truly open our einayim, our eyes. —Rabbi Adrian M Schell

[Source: Burkeman: Two Minutes of Torah]