Daf Yomi Yevamos 2
Our patriarch Jacob’s son, Judah, had three sons: Er, Onan and Shaila. Er married a beautiful woman called Tamar, but like many men till today, he sought to avoid the ‘hassles’ of having children. And so the L-rd took him back. Judah instructed his second son Onan to perform the mitzvah of yibum – the levirate marriage. He would marry Tamar and preserve his brother’s name. But he too fell prey to his earthly desires and would not commit to fatherhood. The L-rd took him too.
Not wanting to see his youngest son, Shaila, meet the same fate, Judah suggested to Tamar to return to her father’s home until Shaila would be mature enough to make the right decision. After many years of waiting, however, Tamar realized that Shaila would not be given to her as a husband. In an effort to continue her husband’s family’s seed through her offspring, she masqueraded as a harlot and cohabited with Judah himself. Having no payment readily available, he left her with his staff and signet as collateral. Upon searching for the harlot later to make good on his debt, however, she was nowhere to be found.
Three months later, Judah is informed that his daughter-in-law, Tamar, is pregnant with child. Infuriated at her failure to wait for Shaila, he orders that she be executed. In a courageous move, Tamar reveals his collateral items and declares the father of her child the owner, without disclosing Judah’s identity, leaving him the option to remain silent.
Judah does not remain silent. He confesses his sin and bears his soul to all. Tamar’s life is spared and twins are born, Zerach and Peretz, from who descends King David and eventually will come the Messiah!
The third order of the Mishnah is called Nashim and deals with laws of marriage and divorce. The first tractate is Yevamos, which discusses the laws of the levirate marriage. When a man dies childless, his brother is obligated to marry the widow and maintain the family name.
The Tosfos Yeshanim ask: Why do we begin Order Nashim with Tractate Yevamos? Shouldn’t we first learn about marriage and divorce and subsequently we could discuss the infrequent subset of the laws of the levirate marriage? They answer: The levirate marriage is the first marriage mitzvah we find in the Torah, as the verse states concerning Tamar, “Come to your brother’s wife and perform the levirate marriage with her.”
The story of Tamar’s levirate marriage is not just the first mitzvah of marriage in the Torah; it is a pivotal moment in the history of the Jewish people. It is the conception of the Davidic dynasty; it is the genesis of the Messiah. But the story of Tamar and Judah is not without its pain, regret and human failings. It is a story of hope amidst the greatest downfall.
Do you ever feel that there is no hope? Have you hit rock bottom in an area of your life? Perhaps it’s in the realm of relationships. Maybe you’ve been through divorce. Maybe you feel forsaken by your loved ones.
Perhaps it’s in the arena of your livelihood. Maybe you’re struggling to keep your finances together – to make that mortgage payment, to keep the lights on, to keep your kids looking and learning their best.
For the Almighty there is no such thing as hopelessness! Judah’s shame was unbearable. Judah’s pain was self-inflicted! And yet from his despair, G-d brought the greatest blessing. And so Order Nashim begins with Tractate Yevamos – a message of hope for the future amidst the anguish of life.