Parshat Vayeshev by Ari Hart
What is a fact? Something objective and impartial? A key to truth?
Today, where every possible response our community’s pressing moral issues: poverty, climate change, violence, etc. have facts to justify themselves, we can become paralyzed. Which side do I believe? If both sides have facts, how can I possibly act?
Let’s answer our first question. What is a fact? The word “fact” is derived from the Latin, factum, which means a humanly recorded action. Subjective. Partial. Human. Let’s use this to understand facts, and gain some insight from this week’s parasha on our questions.
Twice in VaYashev, someone is asked to: ‘??? ??.’ Idiomatically translated, this means “face the facts.” First, Yosef’s brothers, led by Yehuda, bring their father a torn, colorful, bloodied coat. They say:
??? ?? – ?????? ??? ??? ??
Please face the facts – is this your son’s coat or not?
The coat convinces Ya’akov his beloved son is dead. Yehuda and the brothers force their father to face a fact. Why? To commit violence and escape culpability.
The second instance in this week’s parasha is the story of Tamar. Threatened by the end of her family after the deaths of her husband his brother, Tamar develops a plan to continue the family through Yehuda, her father in law. She disguises herself as a prostitute and has intercourse with him, asking for his signet and staff as a pledge for payment. 9 months later, she bears his children. But he doesn’t know, and when she first informs him that he is the father, he dismisses her. Then, she brings the facts
??? ?? –??? ????? ???????? ????? ?????
Face the facts she says – whose signet and staff are these?
The Midrash Rabba notes the parallel language: “just as Yehuda said hekar na (to his father Yaakov), so was he told hekar na by Tamar.”
Both facts were constructed and manipulated situations towards desired ends. There is a key difference though. Yehuda’s fact protected power and perpetrated violence. Tamar’s fact protected the weak and sustained family.
One could say, the difference is much simpler. Yehuda’s story was a lie, Tamar’s was true. However, both sides used deception. The rabbinic tradition understands that, in this world, there is no “Truth.” Ya’akov, the master of deception, is given the attribute of truth by the rabbis. The Zohar refers to this world as the alma d’shikra – the world of lies. Truth belongs to God. But facts belong to us.
In the end Yehuda concedes, saying:
???? ????? ????? ‘???? ????
And Yehuda faced the facts and said “she is more just than I.”
Let us learn from Tamar, using facts to create a self and a world that is more just and more sustainable it was before. Let God worry about the truth.