Weekly Torah Commentary – Vayeshev December 4, 2015


Among the many events in this week’s busy Torah reading is the story of Judah’s daughter-in-law, Tamar, giving birth to twins. The amount of detail we are given about this birth is unusual and curious as we are told little to nothing about the births of other important biblical personages.  In addition, these details seem even more ‘unnecessary’ since we hear almost nothing more about these two boys later on.

As Tamar is giving birth, the hand of one twin emerges, and the midwife ties a string around it so she will know which child was born first. This baby then draws back his hand and his brother, Peretz, is born before him. Only then does Tamar give birth to the baby with the string on his hand, who is named Zerach.

The key to understanding lies in the names of the twins, Peretz and Zerach.

The name, Peretz, comes from the Hebrew word paratz which means ‘to break through’ – as through a barrier.  Zerach, from zorey’ach, means ‘shining’.

Birth for all of us is about ‘breaking through’ to independent life apart from our mother’s womb.  Birth is the stepping stone to individuality.  And, as a child of God, our ultimate destiny is to be a ‘shining’ reflection of the God who created us, a living tabernacle of His presence in the earth.

As we grow into maturity, each of us faces the choice, not once but many times over, to break through (paratz) any intellectual or emotional barriers that separate us from a vibrant relationship with God. This is Peretz. When we make the right choice, and seek after the God of glory, He shines (zorey’ach) His holy light upon us, as indicated by the name Zerach (literally, “shining”).

The story of this birth is replete with so much detail because it does not refer only to Peretz and Zerach; rather, it speaks to us of the potential inherent in the birth of every human being.  The Torah is teaching us that we all have the potential to ‘reach out’ and attain a relationship with God as we grow and mature.  And, we all have the opportunity to become a ‘shining’ light of His love and gracele as we walk in His ways and obey His Word.  The names of these twins convey in two words the purpose and destiny of mankind.  Amazing, isn’t it?

In Tune with Torah this week = There’s a difference between a thermometer and a thermostat.  The thermometer tells you what the temperature is; the thermostat sets the temperature.  Which one are you?

By your life and example, do you ‘set the spiritual temperature’ in your home and place of work?   Are you a thermostat for the Lord? Or a thermometer that simply reflects the preset atmosphere around you?

Shabbat Shalom

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