The Power of Acknowledgement

Moshe Kempinski

Jacob is over 100 years old as he settles in the land of Canaan with his growing family. The words” VaYeshev Yaacov -Jacob Settled” are important. Rashi points outף

” When Jacob sought to dwell in tranquility, the troubles of Joseph sprang upon him. ” .

We understand that those troubles arrived because the children of Jacob and their descendants were to experience trials and events that would fashion them into the vessel they needed to become. In the midst of that fashioning the people would not only find their destiny and their calling but their leadership would be formed and raised up as well.

The Midrash Rabba writes “The sons of Jacob were engaged in selling Joseph, Jacob was taken up with his sackcloth and fasting, and Judah was busy taking a wife, while the Holy One, blessed be He, was creating the light of Messiach. (Peretz, born of Judah and Tamar, is the ancestor of King David and the Messiah.)

Jacob attempts to settle with his large family but the inner sibling rivalry and jealousies grow and spin out of control. Some of the brothers decide to eliminate Joseph their younger brother who is seemingly favored by Jacob. Reuven the oldest brother convinces them to throw Joseph into a pit until a decision could be made regarding his ultimate fate. While Reuven is away Judah attempts to circumvent the rising anger and hate filled plans of some of his brothers and declares to them the following

“What is the gain if we slay our brother and cover up his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, but our hand shall not be upon him, for he is our brother, our flesh.” And his brothers hearkened.” ( Genesis 37:26-27)

After that sale they then proceed to deceive their father.

“And they sent the fine woolen coat, and they brought [it] to their father, and they said, “We have found this; now recognize whether it is your son’s coat or not.”He recognized it, and he said, “[It is] my son’s coat; a wild beast has devoured him; Joseph has surely been torn up.” And Jacob rent his garments, and he put sackcloth on his loins, and he mourned for his son many days.”( ibid 32-34)

We are not told how these events immediately impacted most of the brothers but we see that Judah is devastated by his part in the plot and its effect on his father.

Now it came about at that time that Judah descended from his brothers, and he turned away until [he came] to an Adullamite man, named Hirah. ( Genesis 38:1-2)

It is there that he takes as a wife the daughter of Shua and sires three sons, Er Onan and Shelach. The two older sons Er and Onan bring about divine anger and they die before having children of their own.

At this point Judah turns to the widow of Er and bids her to wait for Shelach to grow older;

“Then Judah said to his daughter in law Tamar, ’Remain as a widow in your father’s house until my son Shelah grows up,’ for he said, ’Lest he too die, like his brothers.’ So Tamar went, and she remained in her father’s house.” (ibid 11)

While Tamar complied with her father-in-law’s wishes , Judah forgets about his commitment and leaves Tamar to pine in the house.

The purpose and importance of the levirate law is shunted aside.

After Judah’s wife dies and he ends his mourning period,Tamar devises a scheme wherein she would becomes pregnant through Judah without him knowing. Yet the “knowing” was sure to come and with that will came its implications.

“Now it came about after nearly three months, that it was told to Judah, saying, “Your daughter in law Tamar has played the harlot, and behold, she is pregnant from harlotry.” So Judah said, “Bring her out, and let her be burned.” (ibid 24)

It is at this point that Tamar creates the situation in which Judah refines his spiritual strength and righteousness.

“When she was brought forth, she sent to her father-in-law, saying: ‘By the man, whose these are, am I with child’; and she said: ‘Discern, I pray thee, whose are these, the signet, and the cords, and the staff.’ “ (ibid 25)

She did not declare whose signet ring and staff it was. She leaves the question hanging in the air. Into that vacuum Judah steps. She does not declare who is the owner of signet and the staff. It is Yehuda that must accept and acknowledge his own responsibility.

“Then Judah recognized [them], and he said, ’She is more righteous than I , because I did not give her to my son Shelah “ (ibid 26)

Judah seizes the moment and steps into the vacuum. He is the ultimate Baal Teshuvah or Owner of Repentance.

The Sfat Emet explains that the name “Yehuda” is related to the word “hoda’a,” which means ‘to concede’ or ‘to acknowledge.’ That is the connection to other layers of meaning ensconced in the word “Hoda’ah” , that is, “to be thankful”l or “to Praise”. One cannot be truly thankful or offer sincere praise unless one is ready to concede failure or acknowledge what is missing.

That is the basis of Yehuda’s strength, the ability to acknowledge failure and to acknowledge the source of real strength. Yehuda becomes his destiny when he understands that within his name is ensconced the name of G-d.

It is that quality that he bequeathed to his descendants. It is that quality that would be critical in creating the Royal line of David and finally bring about the messianic age.

When King Saul fails and does not heed to G-d’s instructions as presented to him by Samuel, he would not acknowledge his failings. Instead he blames others around him. “ And Saul said unto Samuel: ‘Yea, I have hearkened to the voice of HaShem, and have gone the way which Hashem sent me, and have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and have utterly destroyed the Amalekites. But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the chief of the devoted things, to sacrifice unto HaShem thy G-d in Gilgal.’ (Shmuel 15:20-21) As a result he loses the kingdom.

Yet David had the strength to acknowledge a failing

“And David said to Nathan: ‘I have sinned against HaShem.’ And Nathan said to David: HaShem also has put away your sin; you shall not die. (II Samuel 12:13)

The power of hoda’ah ensconced within the name of Judah changes one from a meek and complacent individual into the lion of courage. This inevitably fulfills the blessing and insight described by Jacob on his death bed.

“Judah is a lion’s whelp; from the prey, my son, thou art gone up. He stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as a lioness; who shall rouse him up?” (Genesis 49:9)

The challenges and difficulties that the people and the State of Israel face seem to continually resurface. Those challenges are meant to reform and prepare us. This in no way absolves the haters and the murderers from their culpability. Yet there are times that those waves of hatred and terror bubble up from the murky depths because we continue to respond in the apologetic and subservient manner we have grown accustomed to. In other times they surface because we try to “solve” the problem in arrogant and puffed up fashions.

The leadership and people of Israel must learn to acknowledge their missing pieces and concede their limitations in order for their journey towards destiny to be pushed forward. We cannot resort to old theories and badly managed peace processes. We need to acknowledge the source of our strength and stand firm on our ideals. In so doing we will achieve our ultimate purpose.

“Judah is a lion’s whelp; from the prey, my son, thou art gone up. He stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as a lioness; who shall rouse him up?” (Genesis 49:9)

LeRefuat Yehudit bat Golda Yocheved

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