Posts tagged " Judah "

Yo Ho Ho – a Pirate’s Life for Me

October 20th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 4 comments

In the early 1600s, Rabbi Samuel Palache, president of Neveh Shalom Synagogue in Amsterdam, was also a pirate.  With authorization from Dutch and British authorities, he preyed on Spanish ships. A hundred years earlier Spain had cruelly expelled his family, along with all other Spanish Jews.

I relate to the roving rabbi. For half the year, he lived aboard his boat, equipped with a kosher chef, in the balmy waters of the Caribbean.  Some of our most memorable family times have been aboard a boat, admittedly not in the Caribbean but off the coast of British Columbia. We don’t engage in piracy and our kosher chef is my wife. Still, my feelings about boat and ocean seem to confirm our family tradition that we descend from the tribe of Zevulun.

Zevulun will live on the seashore and boats will be his haven…
(Genesis 49:13)

Yet, I am known as a Jew rather than as a Zevulunite.  Jacob had twelve sons but the people of Israel are not called Reuveinim—Reubenites or Shimonim—Simonites. We are named only as descendants of Yehuda—Judah, Yehudim.  In Germany we were called Juden, descendants of Jude. In English that became shortened to Jew.

Why did Judah become the namesake of all the Children of Israel?  Like everyone in Scripture, and like all of us, he was not perfect.  He made mistakes.  However, Yehuda learned from his mistakes.

He shirked responsibility towards his brother, Joseph.  When the brothers wanted to kill Joseph, he did not use his persuasive powers to advocate complete mercy.  Instead of rescuing Joseph, he said to the brothers:

What profit is there in killing our brother…come let’s sell him…
(Genesis 37:26)

He was also insensitive to his father.  Ancient Jewish wisdom informs us that Judah showed Joseph’s bloody coat to Jacob and said:

Please recognize this, is it your son’s coat or not?’
(Genesis 37:32)

Then, the tables were turned.  After an amorous encounter with a woman he didn’t know was his daughter-in-law, Judah is incensed to discover that Tamar is pregnant.  She is about to be punished when she proclaims:

please recognize this signet ring, jewelry, and stick…I am pregnant by their owner.’
(Genesis 38:26)

In Hebrew, that phrase ‘please recognize’  is “Haker Na” and it appears only twice in all of Scripture.  These two unique instances appear here, within 30 verses of one another.

Judah acknowledged that he is the father of Tamar’s offspring, one of whom later becomes an ancestor of King David.  Ancient Jewish wisdom tells us that Judah understood that because he caused his father pain with those words “please recognize—haker na,” that identical rare phrase was soon thereafter used to cause him the pain of public embarrassment. 

We see that Judah learned his lesson when Joseph, as viceroy of Egypt, threatened to imprison Benjamin and Judah stepped forward and courageously insisted that he must return his brother home to his father. (Genesis 44:18)

Frequently, God kindly sends us unmistakable signs that the ordeal we are undergoing is the result of some earlier mistake we made.  Only by being open to that quiet, heavenly message can we grow and learn from our mistakes.  Linking current tribulations to our own past mistakes is good not only for individuals but also for nations.

Most Spaniards of the 17th century didn’t realize that their ordeal of a collapsing culture and economy was caused by the cruelty their country had inflicted on its Jewish population.  Some nations get it while others don’t. 

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Mugging or Mayberry

December 9th, 2015 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

As the rabbi of a fledgling synagogue in Venice, CA, one of my first goals was to build a school. Recognizing that a stable community needs a place to celebrate and pass along its values, Susan and I spent the summer after our marriage recruiting students for an enterprise that, as of yet, had no teachers and recruiting teachers for an enterprise that, as of yet, had no students.

One father’s reaction disturbed us greatly. He conceded that the local public school his six-year-old was slated to attend wasn’t safe. Nonetheless, he told us that he was committed to sending his son there. “I know he will get mugged for his lunch money and he may get roughed up a bit but I want him to live in the real world.” (more…)

We Interrupt This Life

May 11th, 2010 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

When you
were a child, the unwanted food on your plate probably didn’t become more
appealing when your mother reminded you that children in Africa
were starving. Similarly, knowing that the current downturn does not compare
with The Depression doesn’t necessarily make our own lives less stressful. And
when we live with constant tension we are more likely to make serious mistakes.
Even great Biblical leaders faltered.


The first
ten chapters of the second book of Samuel are almost entirely packed with accounts
of King David’s wars.  Challenges and
attacks follow upon trials and tribulations. 
If he wasn’t fighting the house of Saul he was fighting the Philistines.


All of a
sudden, chapter 11 reveals an entirely new scene.  King David appears to be smitten by Batsheva,
the wife of one of his officers.  What
follows leads the prophet Nathan to severely castigate the king, and while God
accepts David’s repentance, the baby born to David and Batsheva dies.  However, in chapter 12 they have another
baby, Solomon, who later becomes the most successful king of Israel and the
builder of the temple. After this excursion into David’s personal life the
narrative returns to his frightful struggles to build a kingdom. 


One other
well-known instance of a lengthy narrative being interrupted by what appears to
be a totally extraneous story involves Joseph. Genesis 37 relates the jealousy
his brothers felt for Joseph, leading to their selling him.


Genesis 39
picks up the story of Joseph being purchased as a slave by Potiphar in Egypt.  But what happens in the intervening chapter


Chapter 38
details what appears to be a somewhat unseemly relationship between Joseph’s
brother, Judah and someone he thought was prostitute but who is actually his
former daughter-in-law, Tamar.  Genesis
38 concludes with the birth of Judah and Tamar’s twin boys, Peretz and Zerach.


These two
strange interruptions of a narrative are linked because Peretz, the result of
the story in Genesis 38, is the tenth generation forebear of King David (See
the end of chapter 4 in Ruth).


These two
stories, David with Batsheva and Judah with Tamar seem shockingly
improper.  While ancient Jewish wisdom
emphasizes that they are not as bad as they seem to be on the surface, there
was certainly misconduct. In the midst of difficult times, Judah and David
behave badly. However, both men acknowledge their weakness and are sincerely
repentant. Through working on rebuilding themselves they become even greater
human beings.


Jewish wisdom explains that rising above their flawed moments propels these men
to greatness. Having overcome dark moments, Scripture gives us a glimpse into
the purpose of their lives. Both these events directly led to the construction
of the Temple in Jerusalem at the hand of Solomon. We can stay
on God’s roadmap even if we can’t see it while running out of gasoline in the
middle of a traffic jam.


we all find ourselves in the midst of turbulent events that swirl around the
foundations of our lives.  That is not an
excuse for sinning, but neither is sinning an excuse for giving up. Precisely
at times like these we need reminders that there is a roadmap. If we detour we can
get back on the path and even the wrong road can trampoline us to a higher

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