The Rest of Her Life
A Midrash by S.J.Schwaidelson
Tamar stood at the foot of Judah's pallet. She had waited patiently for him to open his eyes and speak to her. Her life, it seemed in that moment, had a chain of moments during which she waited for Judah to speak to her. Time was growing short, and unless he made some comment, said something, anything, there would be a struggle but not amongst the children.
No, the boys were fine with how things turned out. Shelah was always the sweetest child, Tamar remembered; it was his father who would not let him come to me, and he told her many times he felt guilty about that. He treated his twin brothers with the utmost regard and kindness. He played with them, he taught them, he loved them as more than brothers...they were more like his own sons than those of Judah who was too old to appreciate their natural exuberance. If only they...those ever-present gossips...could keep their tongues glued to the roof of their collective mouth.
Even in old age and infirmity, Judah was a handsome man. Bedding him had been no hardship. If Tamar had one regret, it was that he would not take her as his wife. Yes, she gave him two more sons, but her position as daughter-in-law was not a position he could lie with night after night. He always treated her with the utmost respect and kindness, but he never touched her again. When her body hungered, it was always for him, and she would remain forever hungry.
Squatting down beside him, Tamar brushed a grey curl from his forehead. His brow was cooler than she expected considering how ill he had been these last weeks, but it was still warm to the touch. She let her hand linger on his cheek.
"Tamar," he breathed.
Her stomach knotted just as it always did when he said her name. She picked up the cup near the pallet. "Here. Drink some watered wine." She put her other hand beneath his head and raised it.
He let her bring the cup to his lips and he took a small sip, then let his head fall against her hand. His eyes opened, but only for a moment. "You're still beautiful."
She shook her head and laughed gently. "Not that anyone would notice. How do you feel?"
Ready to join my father." He opened his eyes again. "You are here with a purpose," he said with unexpected clarity.
"Yes. We need you."
He sighed. "I cannot die until I do this, can I?
"No, you cannot."
"Where are the boys?"
"Outside. Shelah is teaching them to use a slingshot."
Judah rolled his eyes. "As long as they don't use it on each other."
Tamar smiled. "They're fine, Judah. They're good boys." She started to rise, but stopped when Judah's hand clamped on her arm.
"Did I do the right thing, Tamar?"
"Yes. I think so. For the boys, anyway."
"Not for you?"
She shook her head. "No, not for me, but I...I..."
"You did what you had to do."
"That's not what I meant. It's water under the bridge. Spilled milk. Chaff in the wind. It doesn't matter now." She heard hardness in her own voice, which took her by surprise. "You walked a fine line. You did what you had to do."
Judah looked at her, his hand still around her arm. "I did a terrible thing to my brother. I compounded it by lying to my father. I lost the knowledge of right and wrong."
"And you redeemed yourself in Yosef's court. You stood up for Benjamin and redeemed yourself in Yosef's eyes. He told you that. He told us that. "
"It wasn't enough." He released Tamar's arm. "Go. Get the boys."
Shelah came into the tent, a twin grasped firmly in each hand. "They're not very clean, and they don't smell very good, but they look an awful lot like you, Abba. They claim they're my brothers." His grin lit up the darkness of the tent. He had grown as tall and almost as handsome as his father, but he had an easier way about him, and laughed far more than his father ever had. "Do you want them...or shall I throw them into the local offal pit?" The twins laughed and tried to elbow their older brother.
Judah smiled. "No, Shelah, don't throw them in the offal pit. It would offend the offal."
"Well, Abba, if you insist, I'll release them." Shelah gave them a good shake, then said softly, "Go kiss Abba.” He let Perez kiss their father's cheek first, then Zerah, before he knelt down beside the pallet. He dreaded this moment as much as he knew this moment would come. "We are here, Abba." When Judah struggled to sit up, Shelah helped him and set the cushions behind him.
"My sins are diminished by the strength of my sons," said Judah. "I will bless you all, for your are all worthy of blessing." He motioned to Perez and when he knelt down, Judah put his hand on Perez's curly head. "You are my son, and the son of my firstborn, Er, may G-d be merciful to him. You are already as tall as he was, but you are wiser even in your youth. Your inheritance is that of the first born. You will stand for our family when the time comes, but you shall not stand alone. Never alone. You will share this with your brothers who will stand by you. If we have learned nothing else in this family, we have learned that brothers must _always_ stand together. " He touched the signet that still hung around his neck. "Your mother, in her wisdom that far outshone mine, will give this to you with her own hand. Promise me you will listen to your brothers and do nothing to send them from you."
"I promise," said Perez. He kissed his father again, and stepped back. Zerah took his place at their father's side.
"You, Zerah, are my son and the son of my second born, may G-d be merciful to him. You have redeemed your father with your love of your brothers. Your inheritance is that which would have been your father's, but you have already enriched it with your kindness and devotion to your family. You will be your brother's other eyes and ears, and your keen sensibility will assure the continuation of our clan. Promise me that your will stand with your brothers and do nothing that will divide this family."
"I promise, Abba," Zerah said solemnly as he kissed his father's cheek. He rose and went to stand beside his brothers.
"Shelah, " said Judah softly, "come here."
Shelah knelt beside his father, and took his hand. "I am already blessed, Abba," he said.
Judah smiled at his oldest living child. "Then I will bless you again." He put his hand on Shelah's head. "Your mother was the love of my youth, and no father was prouder of his sons," he began. "But your brothers, may G-d be merciful to them, turned away from their duty as my sons, and turned away from G-d at the same time. I thought, when the each died, that G-d was punishing me for what I did to my brother. But instead, G-d showed me kindness through you, and mercy in the form of Tamar...and then your brothers. But in that kindness, there is a warning: you must do what I did not. You must protect your brothers, both of them, and protect our line. You must teach your children to stand with the children of Perez and the children of Zerah to be one family, one clan, one tribe. Together, you will find favor in G-d's eyes. Together, you will redeem me as G-d redeemed Joseph. Promise me, Shelah, that you will stand as the voice of their conscience. "
"My wealth, Abba, is in the unity of this clan. No inheritance more important. I will defend and protect my brothers and my family. We shall be one, remain as one, and grow as one." He leaned over and kissed his father cheek. "Now, you will listen to me, Abba." He helped Judah to lean forward, then removed the cushion from behind his back. "Rest now. We'll come back later with the news of the day."
When they were gone, Tamar emerged from the shadows of the tent. "Thank you, Judah," she said as she knelt down beside him.
"No, Tamar; my thanks are yours. You gave me back my sons."
"I was glad to do it."
"I should have given you more."
"It was a choice you made. For both of us."
"Are you still angry?"
"Never lie to a dying man. It's bad policy."
Tamar sighed and sat back on her haunches. "No, Judah, I'm not angry. Not anymore. There's no point to it." She saw him smile, and for a moment, she saw the man who took her near the side of the road.