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The Strength to Surrender

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"You are a lion's cub, Judah; you return from the prey, my son. Like a lion he crouches and lies down, like a lioness-who dares to rouse him?" Genesis 49:9

This Torah portion for this week is Vayechi, which means "and he lived," from Genesis 47:28-50:26, and the Haftorah is from 1 Kings 2:1-12.

Sometimes the greatest display of strength is not the ability to overpower another person; it's the capacity to surrender.

Several weeks ago, we read a Torah portion that told us the story of Judah and Tamar. Tamar had been married to Judah's first son. After that son died, Judah gave Tamar his second son. When that son died, too, Judah privately blamed Tamar. So while he promised his third son to Tamar, he never really intended for him to marry her. Tamar waited and lived in her father-in-law's home, waiting for the third son to become her next husband. But that day never came. Eventually Tamar connected the dots. She understood that she was to remain a childless widow forever unless she took matters into her own hands.

Tamar heard that her father-in-law, Judah, was going to travel. She dressed up as a prostitute with a veil covering everything but her eyes and positioned herself at an intersection that Judah was sure to cross. Sure enough, Judah caught sight of Tamar, who he mistook for a stranger. He had no money to pay her, and so he left his staff and signet ring as collateral. Later, when he tried to send the mysterious woman the money he owed, she was not to be found.

In the next scene, Judah heard that Tamar had become pregnant, even though she was not married. Outraged at Tamar's immoral behavior, he ordered Tamar to be burned. As they were taking her out to meet her punishment, she held up the staff and the ring, saying that they belonged to the father of her unborn child.

Judah could have ignored her. Had Tamar revealed that Judah was the owner of the items, he could have denied it. But instead Judah did something incredible - he admitted that he was wrong. "She is more righteous than I" (Genesis 38:26). Judah surrendered in strength.

This amazing strength is echoed in this week's Torah portion when Jacob blessed Judah and his progeny, saying, "Like a lion he crouches and lies down." Judah was like a lion strong enough to stoop down - admitting we are wrong takes a lion's amount of strength.

Years later, King David, a direct descendant of Judah, would act with similar grace. When confronted by the prophet Nathan about sinning with Bathsheba, David didn't defend or deflect. Even though he was the king of the nation, he was strong enough to surrender. He simply confessed, "I have sinned" (2 Samuel 12:13).

Friends, this week let's remember the incredible strength in humility. Let's say "I'm sorry" more often. It's not a sign of weakness. In the Jewish tradition, it's the hallmark of royalty.

With prayers for shalom, peace,

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President


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