Parshas Vayeshev: Admitting a Wrong
Yehuda does an amazing thing by admitting the wrong he committed with Tamar. To have the ability to admit a wrong must come from somewhere. Perhaps his external strength was a reflection of his internal strength. We see many children who have a difficult time admitting to stealing the proverbial cookie from the cookie jar. Unfortunately, we also see adults who have trouble admitting when they have committed a wrongdoing or erred in their judgment.
I have written extensively about guilt and admissions of guilt and want to use this forum to expound on what we are seeing in the Parsha. I would like to suggest that we use the “what’s in a name” approach when attempting to figure out where Yehuda got the strength to admit his wrongdoing. In his name, we see the word הודאה; which can mean to either give thanks or to confess—as in וידוי. Giving thanks and confessing, both require a high level of self-esteem according to Rabbi Abraham Twerski ZTL. Yehuda’s mother, Leah, had every reason to have low self-esteem as we mentioned last week when she named her first three children, names that reflect a ‘woe is to me’ attitude. In other words, it would seem that Leah had very low self-esteem. However, when she got to Yehuda, she comes around and says הפעם אודה את ה’. She says ‘Thanks’. She comes to the realization that she indeed, has a sense of worth. When you feel a sense of worth you become more honest with yourself. So honest, that admitting your mistakes comes easier. This is where Yehuda must have gotten his self-esteem and ability to admit his wrongdoing.
I would like to take this concept a bit further. Admitting a wrong takes self-esteem but it also takes lots of grit. Yehuda did not just admit this wrong in private and say Hashem, I have sinned. He publicly pronounces his wrongdoing (1).
Yehuda tells the truth. Telling the truth and admitting a wrong is Hashem’s seal of approval. As the Gemara states “The seal of Hashem is Emes (2).”
One lesson from the story of Yehuda and Tamar is that we should own up to our mistakes-quickly. The longer it takes for us to own up to a mistake the harder it becomes to admit that we have made one. I am not sure where I heard this quote, but I use it often and that it “your best teacher is your last mistake.” When I see people admitting a wrong immediately after committing the wrong, I have more confidence that the person will come out stronger. This bares itself in therapy, very infrequently. When it does, there is usually a positive outcome.
Another lesson is one which might be somewhat controversial and that is the idea of admitting your mistakes publicly. There is a Passuk in Mishlei (3) that tells us… מכסה פשעיו לא יצליח, ומודה ועזב ירחם-A Person who covers up his faults will not succeed; But a person who confesses and gives them up will find mercy.
The Gemara (4) tells us that you should not admit your mistakes in public but yet we see that Yehuda did. The Gemara goes on to tell us about a seeming contradiction in which we are either told it is proper to publicly admit mistakes or it is improper to do so. The Gemara resolves the contradiction by saying that if the sin was publicized, it is appropriate to confess about it in a public forum. Otherwise, keep it between you and Hashem. In Yehuda’s case, it was certainly made public and Yehuda because of his great strength of character was able to admit/confess publicly and immediately. This takes great courage and grit.
By nature, we as Jews should have the power to confess and give thanks. This is part of our DNA that began from our ancestors. In fact, when Avraham encouraged Sarah to confess that she did in fact laugh (upon hearing the news that she would have a child), that was another example of how we should act as Jews. Be thankful for good things that happen and also have the courage to immediately admit to our wrongdoings.
As we approach Chanukah and tell over the story about another strong Yehuda, Yehuda the Maccabee, let us all demonstrate the true courage of a Jew.
- Bereishis 28:38
- Shabbos 55a
- Mishlei 28:13
- Yoma 86b