Parshas Vayeishev: Royalty and Dignity

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By Rabbi Naftoly Bier

In תהלים קי”ד, Psalms chapter 114:2 it states, “היתה יהודה לקדשו ישראל ממשלותיו, Yehuda became His (Hashem’s) sanctuary (the family of royalty) Yisroel (the Jewish people) His dominions.”

The גמרא סוטה לז, Talmud Sotah 37a, explains that when the Jewish people were trapped between the ים סוף, the Reed Sea on one side and the Egyptian army (9,000,000) on the other, נחשון בן עמינדב jumped in the sea, having faith that Hashem would cause an opening for all to travel. “הים ראה וינס, the sea saw and fled.” Due to his unadulterated conviction, he and his descendants were chosen to be the royalty of our people.

What is puzzling is the first quoted verse; the word “היתה, became” is written in the female tense, though Nachshon was a male.

הרב יעקב מליסא, in his commentary מעשה נסים on the Haggadah of Pesach, explains in the following manner. Klal Yisroel, the Jewish people were saved due to the merit of the unbridled אמונה, faith, that Nachshon had. He sanctified Hashem’s “name” (Being) by entering the water until the waters were to enter into his nostrils. For this he was rewarded with the monarchy. But from where did he have the courage to put his life in danger? From his ancestress, Tamar, who sanctified Hashem’s name by not revealing who impregnated her.

Tamar had been sentenced to death due to what seemed to be a terrible act of immorality – she was the daughter of Shem, the son of Noach (Rashi) or because Yehuda, Judah was a revered, respected leader of many and therefore her act was one of great disgrace (Ramban).

But she was in a quandary. If she reveals it’s Yehuda who is the father of the children she is pregnant with, he will immediately lose his standing and esteem and become the laughingstock of all. The derision, disparagement and scorn he would experience would emotionally devastate and damage him for eternity, akin to murder. On the other hand, she and her two embryos would die if she didn’t confront Yehuda.

Her valiant decision not to confront him directly was due to her profound perception and comprehension of the nobility and dignity of every human; due to their being created by Hashem. How could she commit a heinous act, one that would embarrass a person for life? In this manner, she sanctified Hashem’s name, for only a person who duly appreciated that every human is a lofty, ennobled product of the Almighty, would have the capacity to forfeit their own life to protect the dignity of another.

In פסוק כ”ו, verse 26, it needs; “She is right, it is from me (the embryos)..” Rashi quotes Chazal, that a Heavenly Voice stated, “It is I (Hashem) that decreed that this whole incident take place, since she (Tamar) carried herself in her father-in-law’s home with the loftiest level of protecting her dignity (צניעות), she would be the progenitor of the royal family – the Davidic dynasty all the way til Moshiach ben David.

While initially the reason that the מעשה נסים gives seems to be different than the one Rashi quotes from Chazal, one can argue that they both have the same essential core.

To truly “sanctify Hashem’s name”; to truly focus constantly on the concept that Hashem is center-stage and we are always “in front of him”; to emphatically demonstrate that we “live in His shadow”, is only possible if initially one internalizes that one is privileged, fortunate, and blessed to be an indispensable participant in His universe.

In today’s world the almost total lack of human nobility and dignity is a direct result of the lack of inculcating the idea that the Almighty created us and we are His treasure! Tamar, whose every moment was suffused with this consciousness, found it impossible to incapacitate or hamstring another person’s vibrancy.

The idea that צניעות is a relentless appreciation of one’s inner nobility is the fundamental foundation of all is the catalyst that enabled for the חשמונאים, Macabees, the royal priestly family to rebel against the domination of the Greek government that ruthlessly declared edict after edict to demoralize the Jewish people.

Klal Yisroel had reached a point of almost complete hopelessness; many had Hellenized, observing specific mitzvahs were punishable by death and the בית המקדש, the Holy Temple, had been ransacked and defiled. To add to the misery and degradation, the Greeks enacted an edict that every woman who married would have to spend the first evening of their marriage with the local Greek governor. This unimaginable abuse and defilement could only demoralize the Jewish people. It reached a point that we became alarmingly unsensitized due to the avalanche of decrees, mitigating almost all sense of self-worth and pride.

The daughter of כהן גדול, High Priest (who was the exemplar of spiritual dignity) at her wedding celebration began to disrobe herself. Her stunned brothers immediately decided to punish her. She implored them to refocus their emotional reaction to her deplorable behavior, upon all the Jewish women who were being oppressed. She understood that the precious idea of nobility is intuitive to all; if it can be uncovered it is a powerful force of human behavior.

May we merit to revelation of Hashem to us all, once again fully recognizing the גדולת האדם, the nobility of a צלם אלוקים.

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