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Two Minutes of Torah: Vayeishev - Open your eyes

I often wonder if the way that I see colors is the same way that other people view them. Recently I was flying to Israel, on a journey which had essentially taken place in darkness for the overwhelming majority of the ten hours. As we came closer to Israel the light began to break in front of us, and the colors of the sunrise were truly spectacular. I admired the merging and interplay of the reds, oranges and yellow against the blue sky. The people next to me were equally struck by the sight of the sunrise. We all admired it, but I wondered if it looked different through their eyes; we can all see things, but our perspective is always unique, we are only ever able to see the world through our own eyes.

The way that people see is emphasized in the peculiar short story of Judah and Tamar. Having sold Joseph into slavery, and lied to their father about his death, we read that Judah separated himself from his brothers. Having left his family 'Judah saw there a daughter of a certain Canaanite, whose name was Shuah; and he took her' (Genesis 38:2). Judah's relationship with Shuah began with him seeing her.

But in this episode Judah is not the only one who sees. Together they had three sons: Er, Onan and Shelah. Er was married to Tamar, but as the story continues: 'Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of Adonai; and Adonai slew him' (Genesis 38:7). As you may know Tamar then married Onan, so that Er's name would be maintained, but Onan spilt his seed as he did not want to continue his brother's name. And once again we read that Onan 'was wicked in the sight of Adonai, and Adonai also slew him' (Genesis 38:10).

Judah did not want to risk his final son, and so he sent Tamar away, saying that when Shelah was grown up she could marry him. As time went by, Tamar realized that this was unlikely to happen, and so she dressed provocatively to seduce Judah, 'for she saw that Shelah was grown, and she was not given to him for his wife. When Judah saw her, he thought her to be a harlot' (Genesis 38:14-15). Rather than pay her, Tamar (with her identity hidden) took a tribute from Judah, which she would keep until he sent payment.

He sent his friend Hirah to pay her; and he went and asked the men 'where is the harlot, who was at Einayim by the way side? And they said, There was no harlot in this place' (Genesis 38:21). While there is more to the story of Judah and Tamar, one of the striking details is that it happens at a place called einayim, the Hebrew word for eyes; as if to further emphasize for us the importance of sight.

In the story God, Judah and Tamar all see things from their own perspective, and they see things differently. The story is a reminder to open our eyes to make sure we are fully aware of the world around us. But it is also a reminder that we all see things differently and it is sometimes important to try and see something through the eyes of another. Tamar and Judah saw things differently and the misunderstanding, confusion and deception all sprang from this. The challenge for us is to truly open our einayim, our eyes.

And if you want to listen to this Two Minutes of Torah: [audio]

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Rabbi Danny
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  1. And one of the merits of Judah is that eventually he was able to see it as Tamar did.