In this week's Torah portion, we read of the baffling chapter wherein Yehuda
consorts with his daughter-in-law, Tamar, a union from which the seed of
David emerges. Yehuda's behavior, so inconsistent with his towering
spiritual level, defies a simplistic reading. The entire saga was Divinely
orchestrated, our sages tell us.
One thing that struck me in the narrative was the unique relationship Yehuda
maintained with his friend Chira, the Adulamite. Yehuda, whose leadership
role among his brothers was suspended after the sale of Yosef, had developed
a close relationship with Chira whom he trusted in a very special way. The
Torah uses the Hebrew term "rei'aihu hoAdulami", meaning "his friend, the
The word "rei'aihu" denotes the closest friendship possible, which is
implied by the verse that tells us that Yehuda entrusts Chira with an
exceptionally sensitive mission-to seek out Tamar in order to pay her the
promised restitution for their tryst. Strangely, this very term denoting
close friendship is extremely similar to the word "rah," which means evil.
Is there a message for us in the uncanny similarity between these two words?
A possible explanation occurred to me during our son's sheva brochos as I
contemplated the wording of one of the blessings; we bless the choson and
kallah with the four ascending levels of intimacy that marriage fosters;
ahava, achva, shalom and rei'us. The first level is ahava - love -- which
advances to achva, brotherhood, an even closer bond. A higher level is
shalom, which denotes complete and inseparable unity, which in turn is
followed by the very highest level of connection, rei'us.
What could possibly be higher than shalom? What special quality can there
possibly be in rei'us-a dynamic that seems to be connected in some way to
"rah" - evil-that can transcend even the sublime state of shalom?
Rav Hirsch and others note that "rah" is actually connected to "parua,"
openness, containing the same root as the word "paroh." Paroh, Egypt's ruler
who enslaved the Jewish people, opened himself up to every evil influence
possible. Being totally open to the wrong philosophy and behavior has the
potential to lead us into the abyss of sin. On the other hand, total
openness and transparency in a friendship is actually the highest possible
level of closeness. If we examine most, if not all, of our relationships we
will find that it is rare that we can be completely open with another. Even
when genuine closeness exists, we seek to protect ourselves to some degree.
We aren't willing to divulge all our foibles and secrets.
Yet, the truest form of friendship is predicated on unconditional love,
total transparency and openness. There is a complete acceptance and an
inextricable bond with the other. This is precisely the connection that
Yehuda had with Chira, a friendship that the Torah describes as "re'aihu
hoAdulami." It was to Chira that Yehuda entrusted payment to the woman with
whom he had consorted-someone like Chira could be trusted with this most
private, intimate matter. Rei'us therefore seems to be defined in terms of a
bond of trust so strong that one doesn't hesitate to expose his deepest,
truest self. One can conclude from the wording of the blessing in the sheva
brochos, that this rare state of closeness and trust, must be the highest
level attainable in marriage.