In Parashat Vayeshev we are exposed to the condition of moral frailty. At the opening of the parasha we find the children of Ya’akov struggling to get along. An unfortunate chapter in the forming of Yisrael that ultimately led to the most grotesque distortion of what brotherhood should be, culminating in the sale of Yosef into slavery. That indecorous episode is immediately followed by Yehuda’s sordid misdeeds with his daughter in law Tamar; Tamar, realizing that Yehuda does not intend to honor his word and allow her to marry his youngest child, Shelah, tricks Yehudah into impregnating her. It is this second episode that I would like to focus on.
It is fascinating that throughout the narrative we repeatedly encounter Yehuda’s friend Chirah. The chapter opens by informing us “About that time Judah left his brothers and camped near a certain Adullamite whose name was Chirah”. It is Chirah who accompanies Yehudah to visit his sheepshearers after the death of Yehuda’s wife. And it is Chirah who is sent by Yehuda to pay the woman her fee “a kid from his stock.” The repeated mention of Chirah’s name begs the question; why is Chirah so significant to the story?
In the collection of Chassidic writings entitled שיח שרפי קודש (אות רלה) there is a beautiful teaching regarding Yehudah and Chirah’s friendship from Rav Simcha Bunim of Peshischa that may shed light on our question.
Walter Winchell said “A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out”. The fact that Yehuda sent forth Chirah is testimony to the deep-seated bond that existed between them. It seems logical to conclude that Chirah was fully aware of Yehuda’s misdeeds. Despite the shame that is associated with his actions Yehuda felt able to share with Chirah his failings, and Chirah, for his part, was able to accept Yehuda for who he is and remain at his side. Perhaps without Chirah’s acceptance, Yehuda would not have had the courage to admit his misdeeds. Chirah’s friendship was not only critical for Yehuda on a personal level to be able to move forward, but for Klal Yisrael on a global level to plant the seeds of Mashiach. It was as a result of Yehuda’s willingness to face the truth that Tamar’s life was saved and consequently, generations down the line, David Hamelech is able to be born.
If we, as representatives of the religious community, would be able to engender a sense of understanding and tolerance when confronted by religious misdeeds it may help bring about a hastened return to widespread full observance and accelerate the ultimate Geula.