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B'resheet/Genesis 38:25 Recognise, please, whose are these signet, cords and staff.
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These words are spoken by Tamar, a widow who has become pregnant while living in her father's house, to her father-in-law Judah who is the father of the children she is carrying and has just condemned her to death for harlotry. As Nahum Sarna writes, "The dramatic denouement comes as Tamar, who has sustained her remarkable self-control until the very last moment, confronts Judah with the at once overwhelming and unimpeachable evidence." While the narrator artfully links this story, the one in the preceding chapter about Yosef being kidnapped by his brothers and sold into slavery and the one in the next chapter about Yosef's refusal to accomodate the sexual demands of his master's wife, by a combination of goats and garments, the first word in our verse has a longer reach and currency in the biblical text.
is the Hif'il ms imperative form of the root , here joined to and softened by the particle . Although sometimes translated simply as 'now', is often used - as here - to convey the meaning 'please' or "I pray you". Basing his comment on the earlier sages,Rashi explains that, "the word expresses nothing but request: 'Please recognise your Creator and do not destroy three souls.'" In what is probably the earliest commentary, Rabbi Yochanan points to the previous chapter to suggest that, "The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Judah: 'You said to your father, Discern I pray you; as you live, Tamar will say to you, Discern I pray you'" (B'resheet Rabbah 85:12).
The sgaes in the Talmud go a little further: "Rabbi Hama ben Hanina said: With the word 'discern' [Judah] made an announcement to his father, and with the word 'discern' an announcement was made to him. With the word 'discern' he made an announcement -- Discern now whether it be your son's coat or not; and with the word 'discern' an announcement was made to him -- Discern, I pray thee, whose are these. The word is nothing else than an expression of request. She said to him, 'I beg of thee, discern the face of your Creator and hide not your eyes from me'" (b. Sotah 10b). TheBaal HaTurim explains that the idea of Judah acknowledging HaShem is based on the words of our text itself: "The final letters of the first four words - resh, alef, yod, tav - when re-arranged spell the word , 'you shall fear'. Tamar was telling Judah, 'You shall fear G-d and acknowledge your deeds.'"
According to David Clines, the root is a synonym for at least two verbs, with quite divergent meanings. His list of meanings for the first verb is "recognise, acknowledge, discern, pay attention to"; while for the second, "act as a stranger, disguise oneself."1 We have seen 'recognise' and 'discern' being used, but can easily imagine Tamar addressing Judah a little less respectfully - given her condition - in words such as: "Pay attention now: whose are these?" A margin note in theMasoretic Text notes that the phrase appears only twice in the Tanach, here and in the previous chapter, B'resheet 37:32. The Tur comments that "with the same expression that Judah tricked his father, retribution was extracted from him." Richard Elliot Friedman explains that, "Tamar lays down the evidence and uses the same word that Yosef's brothers used when they laid down the evidence of Yosef's demise in front of Jacob. Like father, like son: Judah might feel a chill down his back when he hears the word and knows that he was a guilty party on both occasions."
However, is used more widely in the B'resheet narratives. We find it in the passage where Ya'akov deceives his father Yitz'khak to steal Esau's blessing: "He did not recognise him" (B'resheet 27:23). Perhaps Yitz'khak wasn't paying attention; the voice wasn't right and the hands didn't feel right, but Ya'akov went ahead anyway. He either didn't or wasn't able to discern what was going on. Later on, when he has been raised to the position of Grand Vizier, Yosef will receive his brothers in Egypt: "When Yosef saw his brothers, he recognised them; but he acted like a stranger towards them" (42:7). Here both verb synonyms are used in the same verse. Then the very next verse says that, "though Yosef recognised his brothers, they did not recognise him" (v. 8). Perhaps they weren't paying enough attention to the man before them; they only saw what they expected to see.
We find the same thing happening in the gospel narratives: people who don't see what or who is right in front of them. Mary, for example, went to Yeshua's tomb on the first day of the week, but instead of seeing the dead body she expected, sees two angels. They ask her why she is crying and she replies that Yeshua is gone and she doesn't know where He is. "After she said these things, she turned around. And she sees Yeshua standing there. Yet she didn't know that it was Yeshua" (John 20:14, TLV). Why not? Probably mainly because she didn't expect to see Him alive again. Even when He speaks to her, she thinks He is the gardner. At least part of the problem is that she is so wrapped up in her grief and the universally acknowledged fact that death is a one-way process, that she isn't really paying attention. Two of the disciples heading out of Jerusalem that evening have the same problem. Deep in debate about what went wrong and why, they are totally absorbed. "While they were talking and discussing, Yeshua Himself approached and began travelling with them. But their eyes were kept from recognising Him" (Luke 24:15-16, TLV). He taught the scriptures to them for an hour or more as they walked and still they could see. Only over the supper they persuaded Him to stay for, when He made the blessing over the matzah (it was still during the week of unleavened bread) that "their eyes were opened and they recognised Him" (v. 31, TLV). They weren't paying attention and Yeshua alive wasn't what they expected to see.
A few weeks later, Peter and several of the other disciples were fishing on the see of Galilee. After a night spent catching nothing, they see a figure some way off on the shore. John puts it this way: "At dawn, Yeshua stood on the beach, but the disciples didn't know that it was Yeshua" (John 21:4, TLV). Even though He asks them if they had caught anything - which surely ought to have rung a few bells - they can't recognise Him. In fact, they probably didn't really care who it was! It takes Yeshua's instructions to throw the net over the side once more and an enormous catch that they can't get into boat before they catch on. Even then, it is John who gets it first and has to tell Peter that "It's the Lord" (v. 7, TLV)! Had Peter forgotten the huge catch that was breaking their nets in his earliest days of knowing Yeshua? No, of course not, that was the day "they left everything and followed Him" (Luke 5:11, TLV). But Peter wasn't really paying attention to some strange man shouting at them from the shore. He was worried about a wasted night and, now, so many fish that the boats are almost capsizing. He couldn't recognise Yeshua even in the face of a miracle.
Rav Sha'ul writes to one of his congregations, urging them, "So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober" (1 Thessalonians 5:6, ESV). We must pay attention and be able to recognise the times and the people among which we live. Peter agrees: "Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Yeshua the Messiah" (1 Peter 1:13, ESV). We must be looking in the right direction, focused clearly on Yeshua's return and being ready for Him to come. As Yeshua Himself said, "whether it will be evening, midnight, cockcrow or morning - you don't want him to come suddenly and find you sleeping!" (Mark 13:36, CJB). And we must be expecting Him: "So stay alert, because you don't know on what day your Lord will come" (Matthew 24:42, CJB).
In another letter, Sha'ul wrote - as if only yesterday - words that should sound a clarion call in our hearts and minds: "Besides all this, you know at what point of history we stand; so it is high time for you to rouse yourselves from sleep; for the final deliverance is nearer than when we first came to trust. The night is almost over, the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and arm ourselves with the weapons of light" (Romans 13:11-12, CJB). Although nearly two thousand years of history have passed since that time, we have to recognise - pay attention to - the time in history at which we now stand. Yeshua chided the Pharisees, "You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times" (Matthew 16:3, ESV), because they did not recognise Him and the times in which He appeared and ministered. Let us not get caught in the same trap: watching the weather forecast every day on TV, computer and smart 'phone, yet failing to recognise the time of His return. May it be soon and in our days!
1. - David J. A. Clines (ed.) The Concise Dictionary of Classical Hebrew, (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2009), page 274.
Further Study: Matthew 14:34-36; Acts 4:13; 1 Corinthians 4:5
Application: Do you think you would recognise Yeshua if He turned up in your neighbourhood or place of work? Would you be paying enough attention to what is going on around you to spot the tell-tale signs? Make sure you get an up-to-date briefing today on what to look out for and what to do when He comes!
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© Jonathan Allen, 2020
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