The Eternal Lesson of Tamar

A delegation from a town near Radin arrived at the home of the Chofetz Chaim asking for his help regarding an important spiritual matter, and they beseeched him to come and personally resolve it. Though the Chofetz Chaim was already elderly and weak, with great mesirus nefesh he would habitually undertake arduous journeys on behalf of Klal Yisrael.

Since this town was only a short distance from Radin, it was assumed that the Chofetz Chaim would travel to this town immediately. To the delegation’s surprise, the Chofetz Chaim seemingly ignored the matter. Months passed and he appeared to have entirely forgotten about the spiritual crisis in the nearby town.

One morning, the Chofetz Chaim was returning from davening Shacharis, escorted by his faithful talmid, Harav Elchanan Wasserman, Hy”d, when he suddenly turned to one of Radin’s wagon drivers and informed him that he wished to make a journey at once. Even before eating breakfast, the Chofetz Chaim climbed into a wagon and set out. Three days later, the Chofetz Chaim returned to Radin, and Rav Elchanan respectfully asked his rebbi where he had traveled to, and why. The Chofetz Chaim revealed that he had traveled to the nearby town.

“I did not forget about the problems of those townspeople. The reason I did not travel there [initially] was that the Rav in that town is someone I did not wish to visit.” [Presumably the local rabbi either did not conduct himself in an appropriate manner, or perhaps had inaccurate views on hashkafah.]

“However,” the Chofetz Chaim continued, “if I came to his town without paying a visit to the Rav, it would cause him to be embarrassed in front of his community. Therefore, despite the great importance of the issue, I decided not to travel to the town at all. Three days ago, on the way home from davening, I happened to hear that Rav had left for his summer vacation. Once I knew that the Rav was not at home, I could no longer delay my journey even by an hour; so I asked the first wagon driver I saw to take me there. Baruch Hashem, I was successful in rectifying the matter.”

***

While we have no inkling of the greatness of Yehudah or Tamar, there is much that we can learn from their example.

This week, Chazal teach us that from Tamar we learn that “it is preferable for a person to throw himself into a fiery furnace rather than let his friend’s face turn pale [from shame] in public.”

Tamar had some of the most powerful and persuasive reasons imaginable to take a different course, after all, it was a matter of pikuach nefesh, and the very future of Am Yisrael was at stake. But this great tzaddekes, was prepared to allow herself to be killed, and that her twin sons, one of which would be the ancestor of Dovid Hamelech and Moshiach, would never be born — all so as not to embarrass Yehudah.

As the story of the Chofetz Chaim teaches us, it isn’t merely when it comes to the mundane that this rule applies. While each situation must be evaluated by its specific circumstances, there are times when it seems that one has a spiritual obligation to take a certain step, and yet in reality the opposite approach is what is appropriate.

There are numerous other lessons that we must learn from this parashah.

The saintly Tanna, Rabi Yonason ben Uziel, teaches us in Parashas Vayechi why all Jews, including those who stem from other Shevatim, are known as Yehudim. (The English term Jew also originates from a translation of the word Yehudah.)

It isn’t because Yehudah was the king of the other Shevatim, and, along with Tamar, the forebear of Malchus Beis Dovid.

It is because after hearing of the words of Tamar, and what she was alluding to he declared, “She is right.”

Many individuals find it extremely difficult to acknowledge that they erred, and will go to great lengths to try to extricate themselves from such situations, even to the degree of denying reality.

Yet the very fact that we are known as Yidden should remind us that, in addition to being a key to having successful interpersonal relationships, it is fundamental part of avodas Hashem to be able to say the words, “You are right and I was wrong.”

May we merit to inculcate in our day to day lives these two lessons of Yehudah and Tamar.