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Parshat Vayeshev – The Scheme of Redemption


Genesis 37:1–40:23

Spirit of King Messiah

“And the earth was null and void, and darkness covered the deep, and the Spirit of G-d hovered above the waters” (Genesis 1:2).

The “Spirit of G-d” mentioned in the verse refers to the spirit of the king messiah. In fact, the numerical value of the phrase רוח א-לקים מרחפת, “the Spirit of G-d hovered” is identical to זו היא רוחו של מלך המשיח, “this is the spirit of the king messiah” (Bereshit Rabba 2:4; Ba’al HaTurim on Genesis 1:2).

From a chronological standpoint, when we are standing at the moment of the creation of the world, the coming of the messiah is to be an event in the far future. Why, then, is the “spirit of the king messiah” present at the beginning of the creation? What purpose does it serve?

Ruach E-lokim represents Redemption.

Another question: Ruach E-lokim (“the Spirit of G-d) represents Redemption; Tohu va’vohu (“null and void”) represents a completely formless, empty world. The first is the ultimate positive; the second is the ultimate negative. How can we understand these elements existing simultaneously?

Lot and his Daughters

In order to answer this question, we must consider an event from several chapters before our parsha. “And the two daughters of Lot became pregnant from their father, and the eldest daughter gave birth to a son and called his name Moav” (Ibid., 19:36-7). Two points must be considered here. The first is that, technically, a Ben Noach is permitted to marry his daughter (Sanhedrin 58b). If Lot had consciously chosen to marry his daughters, no actual sin would have been committed. The second is that Lot, “did not know of [their] coming and going”, as he was inebriated with wine (Genesis 19:33 and 35). His daughters did not ask him to marry them, they committed their acts in stealth and never informed him. If these relations were not sinful, why hide them? The answer is, Lot’s daughters were modest women from the family of Abraham. Such an act, even if technically permitted, had been considered disgusting throughout the generations, and was simply not done (Nachmanides, ibid., verse 32).

Now, generally, when someone or something has a scandalous origin, people engage in what today is called “reputation management”. They give it a new name, or some sort of euphemistic explanation.

But despite the modesty with which these children were conceived, the name Lot’s eldest daughter chooses for her son is completely outrageous. The name מואב either means, simply, “from the father”, or implies, “impregnated by her father” (Ibn Ezra, loc. cit.; Yonatan Ben Uziel, loc. cit.). Eventually an entire nation would bear the name of a child born from incest. The nation of Moab eventually evolves into an unredeemable, licentious and idolatrous society. Finally, because of the Moabites’ plot to destroy the Israelites by enticing them to serve idols, G-d decrees, “no…Moabite shall enter the community of the L-rd, even unto the tenth generation; he shall not enter the community of the L-rd unto eternity.” (Deuteronomy 23:4). They are cancelled, wholesale.

The Sages, however, limit this prohibition to Moabite males, while female Moabites can become part of the Jewish people (Yevamot 76b). And this is very fortunate, because this same nation, with its sordid past, ultimately produces Ruth, the very paradigm of modesty, and a righteous convert. Ruth is also referred to as אמא של המלכות, the “mother of royalty”, for, as we see in the final verses of the Book of Ruth, she is none other than the great-grandmother of King David—the anointed king messiah (Bava Batra 91b).

Now for our next piece of evidence.

Judah and Tamar

The story of Judah and Tamar (Genesis, chapter 38) is saturated with tragedy and loss. Judah drifts away from his brothers, having participated in the sale of Joseph. Through this act, their father Jacob is left to mourn for twenty-two years. Judah marries and has three children. He finds a virtuous woman, Tamar, a descendant of Shem, for Er, his eldest son (Rashi, ibid., 38:24). Er, concerned that pregnancy would make his wife less beautiful (Yevamot 34b), refuses to consummate the marriage in a way that would make conceiving a child possible. He dies childless.

Judah instructs his second son Onan to marry Tamar, in the hopes that they might bring forth a son to be named after Onan’s deceased brother. Onan, resentful that the future offspring would bear his brother’s name, repeats his brother’s behavior. He dies as well.

Tamar, twice-widowed, is sent home to wait in mourning in her father’s house for Judah’s third son to reach maturity. But this is just a ruse; Judah, unaware of his sons’ sinfulness, assumes that being married to Tamar is dangerous and he does not intend to betroth his son Shelah to her. Tamar is essentially condemned to be a spinster. Judah’s wife then dies.

In order to bear children, the otherwise saintly Tamar disguises herself as a prostitute to have Judah, her father-in-law, impregnate her. Judah was conscious, but similar to Lot, “he did not know that this was his daughter-in-law.” (Genesis 38:16). Relations between Judah and Tamar, who were B’nei Noach, would not have been forbidden, but Tamar knew that Judah would not have consented to the match.

Lot’s daughters assumed that the entire human race had been destroyed during the overturning of Sodom, just as it had during the Flood (ibid., 19:31; cf. Rashi), and thought, “G-d will have mercy on us, and we will give birth to a boy and a girl, and the world will be sustained by them” (ibid., cf. Nachmanides). Their intentions were pure. Similarly, Tamar knew that the offspring of Judah would be the spiritual sustainers of the world, and she wanted to be the one to bear his children, and from the descendants of Tamar came the righteous messiah. (S’forno, ibid., 19:16).

Tamar gives birth to twins, Peretz and Zerach (Genesis 38:29). The lineage of Peretz is continued in the Book of Ruth, for Bo’az, her husband, was the seventh-generation grandson of Judah and Tamar.

King David

King David, the anointed king of Israel, is the great-grandson of Bo’az (a descendant of Judah and Tamar) and Ruth (a descendant of Lot and his youngest daughter). Everything has now converged. What we learn from all of this is that redemption from within the darkness is a pattern that has existed from the beginning of creation. Even when all is “null and void”, redemption hovers above the abyss. In our lives personally, and in the world in general, there are dark times, where evil abounds, followed by periods of revealed good, where in retrospect, we can see G-d’s Guiding Hand in all of it.


We know, for example, that the messiah, who has not yet come, will be a descendant of King David. And the birth of King David is the result of a long series of intrigues, plots, subterfuge, and manipulation behind the scenes. Who could have imagined that the messiah would be a descendant of a child born of incest, or a nation of idolators? Yet, in parallel to the darkness is the “Spirit of G-d”, the pure intention, the potential for redemption. No matter how dark it seems, we have to keep in mind that G-d is leading us through the events of history to glorious future, the ultimate redemption. May we see it speedily in our days, amen.

By Rabbi Tani Burton

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