Thanksgiving And Judah

We are coming close to the Thanksgiving Day – and since a great many of my readers are from the United States, first and foremost, I would like to wish everybody Happy Thanksgiving! I think it is a wonderful celebration, it used to be my favorite holiday when I lived in America, and even though I now live in Israel, it is still a very special day for me. And I wanted to take a moment to say a huge Thank you!
I truly appreciate all the wonderful readers and followers of this blog, and I am very thankful to you and for you!

Because of Thanksgiving, I would like to take a break from our main theme – Hidden Messiah – and to talk about Judah today.  Yes, Judah from the book of Genesis, Jacob’s son, Joseph’s brother. You might ask, why Judah, what does Judah have to do with Thanksgiving?  This is exactly the question that this article is going to address.

We all know that King David was a descendant of Judah: The Book of Samuel makes it very clear that God bestows His anointing, for all time, on a monarchic line arising from the Tribe of Judah in the person of King David.  Therefore, Jesus, who is designated ‘Son of David’, is also a descendant of Judah, as it is written: Our Lord arose from Judah, of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood.[1] Have you ever wondered why? Why it was Judah – whose weaknesses, even sins, are revealed so clearly in the book of Genesis, both in the story of Joseph and the story of Tamar – who was honored with this extraordinary privilege? Moreover, if we know that Judah’s tribe was destined to have this very unique honor – to bring forth King David and also Jesus – how do we connect the dots between this glorious destiny and Judah’s questionable behavior in the book of Genesis? And, once again, what does this all have to do with Thanksgiving?

Let’s start from the beginning – from Judah’s birth. When Leah gave birth to her fourth son, she declared: “This time I will praise the Lord”. Therefore she named him Judah.[2]  In English, of course, we don’t see a connection:  I believe this is one of the greatest losses we experience when reading our Bible in translations only – the meaning of the Hebrew names is completely lost in translation. Translations and adaptations don’t simply change the original meaning, but render the names meaningless. Unless we take time to go back into the Hebrew, the Biblical names of people and places in translation will continue to have no connection at all with the original reference points and ideas buried within the text itself.  The   connecting words: “therefore”, or “because”, or “so” seem meaningless in these cases – like in Gen. 3:20: And Adam: called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living; or in Gen. 25:26: Afterward his brother came out, and his hand took hold of Esau’s heel; so his name was called Jacob.  However, when we read these Scriptures in Hebrew, the connections are very evident – and this becomes absolutely clear in the naming of Judah: the verb lehodot (להודות) means “to thank “ or “to praise”,  and the Hebrew name for Judah, Yehudah (יהודה),  is the noun form of the root Y-D-H (ידה), “to thank” or “to praise”.

Therefore Judah’s Hebrew name, Yehudah (יהודה), can be translated literally as “thanksgiving” – and this is the main reason for us to talk about Judah in connection with Thanksgiving . This is also the first, and very important, lesson of the name Judah: we need to thank the Lord in order to become part of His plan and His story, and in order to bring His blessing upon our descendants.

However, there is something more that we can learn from this name. The verb lehodot has yet another meaning: to admit, to confess. For example, there is a special prayer of Confession read before and during Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), and the Hebrew name of this prayer, Vidui, comes from the same root. This ‘confession’ aspect provides an important additional insight into the character of Judah, and in order to understand it’s meaning more deeply, let’s turn to the story of Judah and Tamar.

Immediately following the sale of Joseph by his brothers in Genesis 37, we read the story of Judah and Tamar in Genesis 38. In a sense, this story breaks the flow of the Joseph narrative:  instead of continuing to tell us about Joseph’s going down to Egypt, the Torah interrupts itself with the story of Judah. We read about Judah separating from his brothers (and wonder why), his marriage, the death of his sons, Tamar’s seduction, and the climax of the story – Judah’s confession.

Let’s read these verses together:

 

 KJV Genesis 38:25 When she was brought forth, she sent to her father in law, saying, By the man, whose these are, am I with child: and she said, Discern, I pray thee, whose are these, the signet, and bracelets, and staff.

Showing Judah’s personal items to him, Tamar said:הַכֶּר־נָא  (haker na) “please examine”. Ironically, these are the exact words Judah and the brothers spoke to their father, Jacob –הַכֶּר־נָא  “please examine” (Gen. 37:32) – while showing him Joseph’s torn clothes. Then, Judah was a deceiver, now he is the one deceived. Judah’s deception revisits him in his very own words.  It is remarkable that, in the entire Torah, this expression appears only in these two chapters: Genesis 37 and 38. In the first case, Judah was a deceiver, but now he is the one deceived, and at this very moment, when Judah is presented with his personal items, his heart is pierced by this recognition. Not only by the recognition of his things, but much more deeply, by the recognition of his guilt. At this moment, Judah had a change of heart:

Gen. 38:26 And Judah acknowledged them, and said, She hath been more righteous than I; because that I gave her not to Shelah my son. 

We read a beautiful description of this transformation in Midrash: “Then Judah rose up and said: … I make it known that with what measure a man metes it shall measured unto him, be it for good or for evil, but happy the man that acknowledgeth  his sins. Because I took the coat of Joseph, and colored it with the blood of a kid, and then laid it at the feet of my father, saying: Know now whether it be thy son’s coat or not, therefore must I now confess, before the court, unto whom belongeth this signet, this mantle, and this staff”.

Of course, Midrash just fills in the gaps that the Scripture leaves out. Yet, there is a point not to be missed: Judah is the very first Biblical figure who is ready to acknowledge his sin.  Instead of saying: ‘she is the one to blame’, like Adam, Judah says: ‘I am the one to blame.’ She is more righteous than I. Judah is the first person in the book of Genesis – and therefore the entire Bible – who confesses his sin, takes responsibility for it, and changes his behavior: he repents.

Now, I think we can understand why it was Judah’s tribe that was chosen by God for such a glorious destiny. Judah’s confession provides an important insight, not only into character of Judah, but also into the character of God: clearly, thanksgiving and repentance are so important for Him, that He establishes the kingly line of Israel from the tribe of Judah.

WISHING YOU AND YOUR LOVED ONES A WONDERFUL THANKSGIVING DAY! MAY YOUR HEARTS BE FILLED WITH THANKS AND YOUR HOME BE FILLED WITH JOY!

 

[1] Heb. 7:14

[2] Gen. 29:35

About the author

Julia BlumJulia is a teacher and an author of several books on biblical topics. She teaches two biblical courses at the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, “Discovering the Hebrew Bible” and “Jewish Background of the New Testament”, and writes Hebrew insights for these courses.

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Join the conversation (36 comments)

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  1. Kumbwaeli

    Thanks so much Julia; that is what God’s mind being unsearchable and His Grace means to me. Thanks once again for this faith building inspiration

  2. Dorothy Healy

    Thank you Julia for this insightful blog, reminding us that thankfulness and repentance before God and our fellow man are so vitally important to our faith – indeed, without them, we cannot enter the Kingdom of God.

    This story of Judah seems so out of place in the Joseph narrative, but of course nothing is out of place in the Torah. Judah’s role in the ongoing story of Joseph and his brothers make this a vitally important key to the unfolding saga. Profound indeed when we think that the offspring of this union, Pharez and Zerah, are mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus.

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you, Dorothy! You are right – nothing is out of place in the Torah: we have to read the story of Judah and Tamar against the backdrop of and within the story of the sale of Joseph. Only then, we can fully understand his “tshuvah”, repentance ; only then we will see that the story of “Joseph and his brothers” becomes, in fact, the story of “Judah and his brothers”. Judah’s role is extremely important – both in the story of Joseph and in the story of Israel. And in the story of God’s plan!

  3. Angeline

    Julia, thank you so much. I have always wondered why the story of Joseph is interrupted by a story, which to me, appeared so unrelated with the selling of Joseph. Yet, now I see how Judah’s strong and honest character is brought out. Judah has a conscience too. He had seen how his father suffered the loss of Joseph so he was prepared to be enslaved in place of Benjamin rather than see his father die of heartbreak just like he could not stand seeing Tamar suffer. Judah was truly a great character. Thank you again Julia, you are such a blessing.

    1. Julia Blum

      Yes, Angeline, you are so right: Judah was truly a great character – and like it was with Peter in NT, his character was formed out of his repentance. We can see it clearly if we read the story of Judah against the backdrop of and within the story of Joseph. Thank you for your wonderful comment!

  4. Donald Stansell

    One must slowly go over this article and pray for guidance. It is absolutely beautiful. I did so enjoy reading the material. God give all of you power and grace to continue with the great messages of the past, but everso relative to today.

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you, Donald! I am truly touched and blessed by your words!

  5. Lynelle Osburn

    Thank you Julia. With your insight the words, “she is more righteous than I” take on enormous power. I can hear them said reflectively, not orated or shouted. It brings to mind for me all of Jesus’ encounters with women and the Syrophonecian woman in particular. The interplay of confession and praise, humility and celebration is repeated in our scriptures and in our lives. I thank you for this article. My thanksgiving celebrations (even though I’m in Australia we celebrate with American and Syrian friends) will be more sensitive, poignant and joyful! Thank you.

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you Lynelle, you said it so beautifully: “The interplay of confession and praise, humility and celebration is repeated in our scriptures and in our lives”. Beautiful words and profound comment!

      1. jane z mazzola

        To Lynelle (in Australia) & you, Julia, & others all over: Happy belated Thanksgiving! May every day be one of thanksgiving.

        For those of you in Israel, suffering the horrible fires, my heart goes out to you. The flames, smoke, destruction, & loss is devastating: emotionally, physically, & financially. May the Lord give you strength & hope to begin anew, & may we all worldwide help you in this process, small or large, to overcome & rebuild.

        This is a wonderful post, Julia, so enlightening, & beautiful play on words/meanings. I posted it to my FB & twitter pages. I thought it interesting to note, also, that you have lived in the U.S. at some time.

        A current book I’m reading is THE GRATITUDE DIARIES: How a Year Looking on the Bright Side Can Transform Your Life, by Janice Kaplan. 2015, ISBN 978-1-101-98414-7. Easy read, now in paperback, may be on-line download. She is a woman in US who has success in all areas, but enjoys more or less, a daily “pity party” or gripe session! She was encouraged to write @ gratitude, which she undertakes in her systematic journalistic manner, & finds a transformation which then she recommends to friends & of course, readers. My point is that Judah, in his humility, confession, ownership of responsibility, & ultimate, thankfulness/gratitude is a lesson for us all. This woman has discovered that also: I (& maybe others) take SO much for granted & especially forget God’s faithfulness & mercy every moment of every day. May I remember those lessons of Judah, David, & others. Blessed Shalom to all, Jane M.

  6. Judy Wubng

    (1) I tried to renew my subscription but was unable to do so because the form would not take my telephone number.
    (2) When Christians take potshots at Jews, I tell them that they are attacking Jesus (Yehoshua, more accurately, Joshua), since he was a Jew.

    1. Julia Blum

      Regarding you first question, Judy: the form on the blog is asking for your email, not your phone number, Try again with your email address.

  7. Richard Smithson

    Wonderful article. Wish I had the extra funds to take some of your courses.

    1. Julia Blum

      I also wish you had, Richard, – you would enjoy them greatly! This article about Judah is only one example of the things we are digging out in our Discovering Hebrew Bible course. If you start considering it seriously, email me: maybe we would be able to help you and to make it more affordable. Blessings!

  8. Nancy

    Thank you, Julia for your wonderful lessons. May you truly be blessed on this Thanksgiving. You are truly a blessing to those who are eager to learn.

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you Nancy! Happy Thanksgiving to you and your loved ones!

  9. Debra Littleboy

    Julia, I was so moved with gratitude for this blog that I wanted to add my comments. However I now find that I cannot find the words to adequately express myself.

    So, I will simply state that something deep within me ‘got this’ and for that I am profoundly thankful.

    Blessings x

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you Debra, I’ve been really touched by your comment!

  10. Angelika Walter

    Thank you, Julia, for your kind words. I´m also very thankful to have the opportunity to learn with you. I benefit greatly from your teaching and your kindness. Good question. why Judah? Interestingly, my pastor spoke about Judah last week, how we see in Judah a man in whose life God has done so much, a changed Judah, without whom the Josef- story could not have ended with the reconciliation of the brothers. I will give it to him, he will certainly enjoy it. I am familiar with the meaning of the name Judah “to praise”, but the meaning “to confess” is completely new to me. I am astonished to hear that Judah was the very first person in the bible who acknowledges his sin and took responsibility. Now it becomes clear to me why God chose Judah to bring forth our Messiah!
    Another question: yesterday I wanted to comment on your post “lock no.3”, but it had disappeared. Why? I hope I /we have not hurt you by not responding immediately? I remember you wrote “”Jews, encircled by the Christian writers and theologians: all equally convinced of their own righteousness and her sinfulness, one after
    another and in complete contradiction to the words and spirit of the Teacher, they begin to stone her. For centuries and centuries, these stones have been flying at Israel, hurled by those who preached love and
    mercy.” Yes, you are right, it is shocking and painful to realize, that we Christians have done the very sin we have accused the jewish people. I am deeply sorry and I want to take responsibility as far as it is possible for me!

    1. Julia Blum

      Dear Angelika, thank you for your kind words. Of course, you haven’t hurt me, we just decided to put this Thanksgiving post this week, and the post that you mentioned and read, Lock Number three, will be published again next week. I look forward to reading your comments on that post!

    2. Julia Blum

      As for Judah being the first one to acknowledge his sin, of course we can mention also Abraham and Isaac in all the “sister-wife” episodes (Genesis 12, 20,26): in each of these cases, when a king demanded an answer, they admitted their lies. However, I think there is still a great difference: in all three cases, the kings knew already the men were lying, so they didn’t have a choice, they had to admit, and they did it under external pressure. Judah acknowledged his sin and his guilt without any external pressure: Tamar didn’t betray him, and even if she would, I suppose nobody would listen to her: a woman, a widow, an adulterer, her social status was incomparable more low than Judah’s. Judah could have been quiet, nobody would convince him – but his heart convinced him, and this is an extremely significant moment in the Scripture.

    3. eric sachs

      Wow, that was nice. Pardon my insolence, but you could really enlighten a lot of people by surpassing the conventional interpretation of the Gospels. Judah, Judas, how hard is it to see? Judas, as well, was the only one of the disciples to repent. I tell you what, I don’t pray much, but I’m praying that you get this. Don’t worry, I won’t harp on you.