Shabbat-Table Talks: Vayesheb

To read last year's Table Talk on Vayesheb5761 click here.


By: Rabbi Ralph Tawil <>


Value: Giving rebuke graciously without embarrassing, hurting or insulting. In relationship, there are times when we must give rebuke. This occurs when our friend or relative has done something that is wrong or that bothers us. Giving some thought about the best way to do this can spare grief; it is also more effective.


Background: The story of Yehuda and Tamar is a complex one. It contains elements that can lead to lively discussions. Let us focus on the value above. This occurs at the end of the story. Ask your children if they have learned the story of Yehuda and Tamar. If they have, let them tell the story. If not, tell the most important parts of the story.

Ya’aqob’s son Yehuda had three sons. The oldest, Er, married a woman named Tamar. But he died without having any children. When that sad thing happens, the living brother must marry the wife of the dead brother, in order to have children for him. The second brother, Onan did not like the idea that his son would belong to his dead brother. He made sure that Tamar would not get pregnant. He also died without having any children.


Yehuda was afraid to let his third son, Shela, marry Tamar. He was afraid that he would also die. Tamar was stuck. She could not marry anyone else, and she did not have children. She decided on a desperate plan. When Yehuda’s wife died, Tamar disguised herself so that Yehuda would not recognize her. Yehuda did not recognize her and he slept with her. Tamar asked Yehuda to give her his seal, cord and staff--things that identified Yehuda.


Three months later, everyone knew that Tamar was pregnant—but they did not know who the father was. When a woman did something like that, get pregnant when she was not allowed to, the punishment was very serious. Let’s read the pesuqim that describe what happened next.


Text: Beresheet 38:24-26

About three months later, Yehuda was told, “Your daughter-in-law Tamar has played the harlot (for younger children say—has done a very bad thing); in fact she has gotten pregnant by harlotry (because of what she did).” “Bring her out,” said Yehuda, and let her be burned.” As she was being brought out, she sent this message to her father-in-law, “I am pregnant by the man to whom these belong.” And she added, “Examine these: whose seal and cord and staff are these?” Yehuda recognized them, and said, “She is more in the right than I, since I did not give her to my son Shela.” And he was not intimate with her again.


Analysis: Notice how Tamar informed Yehuda that he was the father of her baby. She did not say it openly. Rather, she showed him the proof of the things in a way that would make him agree. She also waited until she was being brought out to be burned. Even under such tension, she did not reproach Yehuda in a way that was embarrassing. She merely allowed him to draw the conclusion from the evidence. She also trusted that he would be honest enough to admit his mistake. Her life was staked on these decisions! She thought about this plan to the last detail. She was interested in making Yehuda live up to his obligations to his dead sons. Tamar eventually brought him to this realization by her actions. Tamar was not burned. She gave birth to twins, one of who is the ancestor of King David (and of the Mashiah). Her brave actions merited such a reward.


Discussion: Tamar was very careful when she told Yehuda that he was wrong. She did not do it in a way that would embarrass him. She let him understand his mistake, and he was able to admit it.


What are some ways that we can tell someone when they have done something wrong to us or hurt our feelings?


One thing to do is to describe what happened as objectively as possible. Then describe how that affected you. For example, if your brother said something that made you feel bad. Instead of saying something to make him feel bad and getting into a big fight, remind of what he said to you and then describe how you felt about that. “Joey, when you said I was little, it hurt my feelings.” “Sammy, you said that I messed up the room. I don’t think that I was the only one to do it.”


Instead of reacting to the hurt by hurting back, try to bring the person to an understanding of what happened and how it affected you.


Of course, the best way to teach this practice is that the parents use it amongst themselves. On occasion, our spouses do things that get us upset. Instead of attaching a demeaning label or hurtful comment, describe how that behavior affects you. For example, say: “When we are going out together and have an appointment to meet another couple I feel very pressured to be punctual. I get nervous because I feel it is respectful to be punctual. This can often affect my attitude the whole evening. I am sure that you do not want me to feel this way.”


By the way, this idea can be applied to the way parents speak to their children. Instead of being critical or insulting about a child’s messy room, for example, one might simply state the facts. “Dirty clothes go in the hamper.” “Books belong on the shelves.” “I see shoes in the den.” You could even use one word reminders—“toys.” This method conveys the information without being critical. It avoids all the emotions that come with an insult or a perceived slight or put-down. It gets the hearer to deal with the situation and not with the relationship.


We must be aware of the whole situation when we give rebuke. Is the person receiving the rebuke going to be embarrassed by getting the rebuke in the presence of other people (guests, sibling, friends etc.).


Thinking about ways to give rebuke that are not embarrassing or hurtful not only makes the rebuke more effective, but it displays an attitude of respect and dignity towards people—even if they are your children.


To read last year's Table Talk on Vayesheb5761 click here.


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