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 Adulamite.”
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.
Wishing you a wonderful Shabbos.
Rabbi Naftali Reich Text Copyright © 2012 by Rabbi Naftali Reich and Torah.org.
Rabbi Reich is on the faculty of the Ohr Somayach Tanenbaum Education Center.