A Canaanite woman with edgy tactics named Tamar teaches the Jewish people one of its most important lessons in today’s chapter. It’s the message of areyvut, a concept for which I don’t know a precise one-word parallel in English. The root ‘arev‘ is introduced for the first time in the Torah by Tamar in a seemingly innocuous way. When, disguised as a harlot, she demands an ‘eiravon‘ from Yehuda, he thinks that she is asking for a loan guarantee, an object of significant enough value to ensure Yehuda will prefer to repay the money rather than to forfeit it. From this perspective, the guarantee is a failure. Upon encountering the first difficulty with locating his debtor, Yehuda readily gives up on the objects of symbolic value he had given Tamar.
But, in reality, Tamar has something much deeper in mind. She is concerned not with commodities, but with commitments. Her payment was not the first commitment Yehuda had shirked. Just as Yehuda’s cost-benefit analysis brought him to give up on paying the harlot, it had brought him to leave Tamar as a “chained woman” rather than endanger his son. Tamar demands that Yehuda abandon the cold calculations of an objective decision-maker, and become intimately, personally involved. The items of personal identification she asks for are a symbol of this, but her impregnation by Yehuda is the literal, physical representation of her point. The word ‘Areiv’ carries a meaning of ‘to mix’. To be an arev is to be mixed up in the issue as more than a stake-holder. It is to make it your own.
But deep, personal identification can’t be forced. Tamar must allow Yehuda to make that leap himself. When he does, he acquires the key to resolve the painful story of Yosef which unfolds in the coming chapters. Indeed, he acquires the very key to redemption.
This is (hopefully) a daily series of short reflections in English on the daily chapter of Tanach in the (wonderful, wonderful) 929 Project. The initiative, and the ideas and opinions expressed here, are my own. If you haven’t heard of 929, you can learn more at 929.org.il