Vayeshev: Tamar’s courage

truth to power.jpg

Great stories require great plots and great characters.  The entire Joseph story begins in Vayeshev, and is absolutely the greatest of stories: intrigue, plot twists, plotting and scheming, and righteous voices getting heard, taking control of their lives.  Then again, these days, it’s just like reading the headlines.

Right in the middle of the domestic exposition between Jacob’s sons comes Tamar and Judah.  Judah is one of Jacob’s sons, too, which provides the narrative link between these scenes.  Tamar is Judah’s daughter in law….twice.  That is, she was married to Er, who was unpleasing to God, so he died.  Then, as was the practice, Judah arranged for his second son Onan to marry Tamar.  Onan didn’t want to fulfill this obligation, which God didn’t like either, so he died, too.  Rather than give Tamar his last son, Judah told her to go home and wait.  She did, she waited for a long time.  Finally, when it became clear Judah wasn’t going to arrange that marriage any time soon, she took some bold steps.

She threw off the clothes of a widow, put on a veil, and took up on the road where she knew Judah would see her.  Judah, a recent widower himself, took her as a prostitute and left her.  Before he left, though, she demanded his staff and cord (like taking his wallet and ID).  Months later, pregnant and called to account by her father-in-law, she announced the father of her children (twins) owned the staff and cord.  Publicly called out, Judah took responsibility for his actions.

Women like Tamar had very little power, status, or ownership.  She didn’t even own her own body; it was promised to son after son.  But she was clever and took matters into her own hands.  Today, there are a lot of people who are trying to tell us what we can and cannot do with our bodies, our lives, our health.  We are not as powerless as Tamar.  And we don’t have to resort to deception, necessarily, but we do have to be bold and act with intention and courage.  We have to be as brave as Tamar was, and hold people accountable – the very people who try to send us away to “wait”.  Tamar spoke up at the point when her very life was at risk.  Judah was about to execute her for her “acting as a whore” and she found the courage to speak, as we say, truth to power.

I’m not waiting.  I’m not going to sit by and let someone else decide.  It is long past time for us all to speak truth – real truth – to power, and make sure they hear us.

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