DO YOU RECOGNISE YOURSELF?
A key phrase in this week’s portion, is used in two startlingly contrasting contexts.
When Joseph’s brothers want to communicate to Jacob that Joseph is lost, they kill a goat, dip Joseph’s coat in the blood, send it to their father with the words, Haker na – “do you recognise this item?”
When Tamar, Judah’s daughter-in-law, has been accused of adultery and is about to be executed, instead of publicly revealing Judah as the man who made her pregnant, she takes out the pledges that Judah had sent her and sends them to Judah with the words, Haker na – “do you recognise these items?”
In the first instance, Joseph’s brothers are seeking to evade responsibility. They didn’t have the courage to face Jacob and explain what they did. They hide behind a cloak of deception, claiming, disingenuously, that they had found Joseph’s coat. When Jacob exclaims in distress, that a wild beast must have attacked Joseph, their lack of response speaks volumes about their dereliction of responsibility.
By contrast, when confronted with the pledges, Judah exclaims, “she is more righteous than me!” He accepts responsibility for what he did. Without flinching, he admits that Tamar is right, and he is wrong.
The first Haker na – “do you recognise,” represents the low point in the moral life of the brothers. They had abandoned Joseph in selling him as a slave. Their hypocritical attempt to comfort Jacob for his loss shows that they had abandoned their him to his grief.
Judah’s admission represents a turning point. He had the opportunity and the authority to stage a cover-up. He could have remained silent, avoiding public humiliation. Instead, he unhesitatingly admits his guilt. He acknowledges that he is accountable and takes full responsibility for his actions.
A mere twenty-nine verses separate these two usages of Haker na – “do you recognise this?”
Twenty-nine is gematria (the numerical value of the letters) of the phrase, ve’ei zeh “and which one?…”
There are many occasions in life when we are at a crossroads. Haker na – How will we be recognised? Will we evade responsibility? Will we pretend, and allow others to assume falsehoods? Or will we, like Judah, have the courage to admit our mistakes and take on board the consequences of our actions?
The Talmud (Sotah 7b) states that Judah’s admission was the first step on the road to greatness that lead to monarchy of the House of Judah, and ultimately, leads to the Messiah. We become great by rising to responsibility for what we do.