Judah's character

People in the Torah series.

Moshe Kempinski,

Judaism אריה, LION
אריה, LION
צילום: PR

Yehuda( Judah)  “.like a lion, who will rouse him

Yehuda (Judah) the fourth son is destined to become the primary tribe and the roots of that destiny begin with failure. Furthermore the word Yehudi or Jew has been a term describing all the people of Israel regardless of their tribal origin since the destruction of the first temple( Books of Nehemiah, Esther and Chronicles).

Yet the source of that name originates with Yehuda ( Judah) one of the twelve sons of Jacob. Why of the sons did Yehuda merit this and also be promised eternal rulership.…and I will stablish the throne of his kingdom for ever.(2 Samuel 7:13)

What is it about Yehuda that would bring about such great promise and hope?

The brothers of Joseph contrive to kill their brother Joseph because of what they perceived as Joseph's arrogance and disdain for the rest of the family,

"And he told [it] to his father and to his brothers, and his father rebuked him and said to him, "What is this dream that you have dreamed? Will we come I, your mother, and your brothers to prostrate ourselves to you to the ground?"(Genesis 37:10) .

The first born Reuven attempts to thwart their plans through a ruse;

And Reuben said to them, "Do not shed blood! Cast him into this pit, which is in the desert, but do not lay a hand upon him," in order to save him from their hands, to return him to his father."(ibid:22)


Yehuda, on the other hand , devises a plan , the sale of Joseph. That plan may save Joseph in the near future, yet  more importantly for Yehuda , the plan  would   ensure that he, Yehuda, would not be risking his stature or himself.

 And Yehuda said to his brothers, “What is the gain if we slay our brother and cover up his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, but our hand shall not be upon him, for he is our brother, our flesh. And his brothers hearkened.” (Genesis 37:26-27)

Yaacov ( Jacob) is broken by the tragic news and cannot be consoled. As a result of the crippling pall of sadness ,mourning and guilt that overwhelmed this  family we read the following;

Now it came about at that time that Yehuda  was demoted by his brothers, and he turned away until [he came] to an Adullamite man, named Hirah. ( ibid 38:1)                   


On the words "Now it came about at that time" Rashi explains that the brothers demoted him from his high position when they saw their father’s distress. They said, “You told us to sell him. Had you said to return him, we would have obeyed you.” (Tanchuma ,Vayeshev 8)

As a result the following words "and he turned away ( VaYet)" describe a broken , disillusioned man . We see Yehuda turning away from his family and wandering off into the fields of the Canaanites. It is there that he marries and has two children Er and Onan. The text tells us that both sons then die prematurely leaving Tamar ,Er's wife, as a widow.

"Then Judah said to his daughter in law Tamar, "Remain as a widow in your father's house until my son Shelah grows up," for he said, "Lest he too die, like his brothers." So Tamar went, and she remained in her father's house.".


 Yet Judah forgets her or perhaps does not want his youngest son to marry her.

It is then that a dramatic set of events unfold. Tamar is impregnated by Yehuda without him being aware that the  woman he had relations with was actually  his daughter in law.

Yehuda subsequently finds out that his daughter in law, Tamar, is now pregnant he declares that by the laws of the land she must be executed.

It is at this critical juncture that Yehuda is given an opportunity to become what he must become.

Tamar does not declare who is the owner of signet and the staff;

"She was taken out, and she sent to her father in law, saying, "From the man to whom these belong I am pregnant," and she said, "Please recognize whose signet ring, cloak, and staff are these?" ( ibid 38:25)           

By so doing Tamar affords Yehuda the opportunity to step into his destiny .


And Yehuda recognized them, and declares: "She is more righteous than I; forasmuch as I gave her not to Shelah my son.“ (ibid 26)

The ability to acknowledge failure or mistakes is in fact one of the most powerful but very rarely found tools of spirituality. It is that awareness of "acknowledgement" that enables one to make room in his or her psyche and ego  for deepening truth. It also empowers and enables one to reveal and acknowledge the source of all real strength in one's life.

  We read earlier of Yehuda’s birth;

And she conceived again and bore a son, and she said, "This time, I will thank the Lord! Therefore, she named him Yehuda," (Genesis 29:35)


The word Hodaya- thankfulness ensconced in the name of Yehuida is actually based on the Hebrew for acknowledgement( LeHodot). To truly “thank”  is to be sincerely aware of our limitations and our dependence on another. It is that strength of character that Yehuda bequeaths to his descendant David.

King Saul on the other hand did not truly understand the power of acknowledgement. He would not acknowledge his failings and thereby loses the kingdom;

And Saul said unto Samuel: 'Yea, I have hearkened to the voice of HaShem, and have gone the way which the LORD sent me, and have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and have utterly destroyed the Amalekites.  But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the chief of the devoted things, to sacrifice unto HaShem  thy God in Gilgal.' ( Shmuel 15: 20-21) .

Yet David did acknowledge his failures and with that established his eternal monarchy.

 And David said to Nathan: 'I have sinned against Hashem.'  And Nathan said to David: Hashem  also has put away your sin; you shall not die.  ( Shmuel II 12:13)

It is at that moment of humble acknowledgement that changed Yehuda from a meek and complacent individual into the lion of courage described in Yaakov’s last blessing to Yehuda and his descendants.

A cub and a grown lion is Judah. From the prey, my son, you withdrew. He crouched, rested like a lion, and like a lion, who will rouse him? (Genesis 49:9).

That is the spiritual power of Yehuda and his legacy. That is the secret to Jewish survival throughout the generations.

Acknowledging the source of our strength and perseverance.

LeRefuat Yehudit Bat Golda Yocheved and Yehudit bat Chaya Esther