Daf Yomi Nedarim 91
Yehuda was crestfallen. His two older sons had suffered premature deaths and he was not ready to give his youngest son in levirate marriage to Tamar. But Tamar’s biological clock was ticking and she was not prepared to wait any longer. Disguising herself as a harlot, she waited by the crossroads and seduced Yehuda. Three months later, she was discovered pregnant. After Yehuda admitted his guilt, the Torah tells us that they ‘knew’ one another no more.
How could Tamar commit this immoral act? Our Sages explain that prior to the giving of the Torah, the levirate marriage could be performed by any next-of-kin, not necessarily the brother. And so, Yehuda was eligible to perform the levirate marriage upon the death of his sons. But if that’s the case, why did Yehuda desist from his relationship with Tamar upon her revelation?
A licentious fellow once visited a certain lady. But just then her husband returned home and so the visitor hid in the curtains. There was some salad on the counter that a snake had been nibbling at. Just as the husband was about to pinch a little before dinner, the hidden man shouted, “Don’t eat it. It may contain venom!”
Rava ruled that the married couple could remain together, for if indeed an illicit act had taken place, the hidden man would have been pleased to see the husband eat the salad and die, as Ezekiel declares, “For they acted promiscuously with bloodied hands.”
The Gemara exclaims: This ruling is obvious!
The Gemara answers: I might have thought that they did in fact sin. Why then would he have spared his life? So that they could maintain their illicit relationship, for “Sweet are forbidden waters and pleasant is the bread of secrecy.”
Yehuda could have remained with Tamar. But every time he would be intimate with her, he would be hit with pangs of guilt for his original misbehaviour. Forbidden waters may be sweet, but living with your ‘bread of secrecy’ afterwards can be a killer.
Life is full of moral challenges. We are here in this world to choose good over bad, life over death. But we are endowed with the complete and utter ability to make that choice freely. Nobody is perfect and we all knowingly make the wrong choices at least some of the time.
But next time you’re faced with a decision and you feel yourself teetering towards the bad choice, ask yourself, ‘How will I feel tomorrow? Can I live with the morning-after guilt? Is this fleeting pleasure really worth the emotional pain I am going to experience when I regret what I have done?’
Forbidden waters may be sweet but they leave a bitter aftertaste. And that aftertaste never really dissipates. Some things in life you just can’t take back. And if you would just project yourself to a different you – the you that will exist tomorrow – you will find a person that wonders what got over you to act that way.