What’s My Motivation?

Think about those smarmy sketches you’ve seen on TV poking fun at actors, who, given direction from the director, ask, “What’s my motivation?” That’s what my post is about today: motivation – specifically, Judah’s.

A couple of days ago I wrote about how Judah (in The Pledge) wanted to avoid a scandal after visiting with a prostitute (who – du du dum – was really his widowed daughter-in-law Tamar trying to entrap him). That’s powerful motivation when it comes lying about your actions to avoid getting caught, but I don’t think this was all that was driving the man.

All stories need conflict and they need development for the character. Otherwise you simply have random events devoid of purpose. There has to be something you’re moving towards; and for Judah, it was redemption. The man who wanted distance from his crazy family eventually returned and earned a place of honor that would last generations. How did he get to that point though? What was the journey or path between Point A and Point B? When you consider that he left his family as a teenager, reunited with them years later (though he kept his distance), was instrumental in the sale of his brother Joseph, betrayed his widowed daughter-in-law and in a span of about 10-15 years buried not only two of his three sons but his wife as well – what motivates a man like that to suddenly recognize the error of his ways and say:

“She is more righteous than I, since I wouldn’t give her my son.” Gen 38:26

Really? She deceived then seduced him in order to get pregnant and satisfy a deep-seeded need for revenge.

Still something happened to the man to bring him to that point and quite frankly I’d been struggling with how to convey what that something was. Then I reread the original text. Yes, Judah was afraid of scandal and I do think he held himself above his countrymen, but I think the fear was more that he had sunk so low in his addiction to sex that he was willing to trade his identity for a ‘quick roll in the hay’.

I am reminded of the film Last Knights: Clive Owen’s character, Raiden, a warrior, is forced to kill his master and upon penalty of death to him, his family and his men, he is forbidden from exacting revenge. So he does gets drunk for the next year, hocking everything of value until all he has left is his sword. And when he finally sells it to buy more alcohol, his enemies give up watching him because “what is a warrior without a sword?”

In Judah’s case, what was a powerful and arrogant businessman without his seal and staff with which to conduct business and control the ‘little people’?

When we come to the scene with Tamar, Judah needed sex, but was unprepared for the cost, so he haggled and negotiated and gave up his identity. This was Judah’s rock bottom. Before this, he was arrogant enough to believe he was fine, he could handle his addiction, he wouldn’t get caught with his pants down and he could continue running away from his family and from God. After Tamar confronts him though, Judah realizes he does indeed have a problem and he goes from a man willing to sacrifice everyone (especially the faithful daughter-in-law who was still willing to give him a grandson) to a man willing to sacrifice himself and his “needs”. Now that’s some serious personal growth and character development…which means I have some rewriting to do.

And People Say The Bible is Boring…

As I was writing Part 27 to The Pledge, I noticed something that changes part of the story. Just after Judah’s friend Hirah (who is the ultimate example of an enabler and the worst friend ever, btw) advises him that he couldn’t find the prostitute Judah slept with, the Hebrew patriarch tells him:

“Let her keep the items for herself; otherwise we will become a laughingstock. After all, I did send this young goat, but you couldn’t find her.” Gen 38:23

I went back to the original text to get a feel for the conversation, but something jumped out that I didn’t notice before: Judah was worried about becoming a laughingstock in his adopted nation. He was afraid of becoming an object of ridicule by the Adullamites. And not just that, he grouped his faithful, enabling friend in that concern (which makes me wonder what else Hirah did for his friend).

I’d always read that passage to mean that he was a man who paid his debts, who, even though the items (staff, cord and seal, all representative of his identity) were important, he knew they were useless to her. But I think the implications are deeper here: here is a man, who grew up worshiping the one, nameless god of the Hebrews, but was now living in the land of the enemy, who worshipped their gods through sex. Perhaps he held himself above them and made it known. But that would be a problem if he had ‘sunk to their level’ and became an addict of the very thing he condemned. And you could argue that we don’t know that for sure, but the writer of Genesis gives us convincing evidence that he did:

He went over to [the prostitute] and said, “Come, let me sleep with you,”… She said, “What will you give me for sleeping with me?” “I will send you a young goat from my flock,” he replied. But she said, “Only if you leave something with me until you send it.” “What should I give you?” he asked. She answered, “Your signet ring, your cord, and the staff in your hand.” So he gave them to her and slept with her, and she got pregnant by him. Gen 38:15-18

Unless you’ve done it before, you don’t look at a prostitute on the side of the road and think, today is a good day to visit one. And going by the ease with which he did it, I would argue that Judah was quite adept at negotiating terms with a prostitute, making this a recurring issue he probably preferred to keep on the DL. Plus, if you go back to earlier verses, you find that the ‘prostitute’ (his widowed daughter-in-law, which brings up more issues that even Sigmund Freud would raise an eyebrow at) knew Judah would stop when he saw her. Hmm…

I think the man had done it so often, visiting prostitutes was second-nature to him. BUT he held himself above his countrymen and was vocal about it (making him a hypocrite), so that when this one ‘prostitute’ went missing with what was in essence his wallet, he was worried about a scandal ensuing.

And a scandal would follow, but it was much worse than Judah feared. Stay tuned. For the time being, I have amended the current post, and will go back and change the story to fit this new development.

And people say the Bible is boring…

The Pledge (con’t)

Last we saw Judah he was living his life without his accursed daughter-in-law, Tamar. Alit was ecstatic, Shelah was happy and Judah was becoming the man he once was…or was he? We’re skipping ahead in the story but it picks up in a turning point in his life, where he will eventually face his demons or be condemned with them.

As always, thanks for stopping by my blog. 

* * *

Alit would have been pleased, Judah thinks, eying the many mourners present at her funeral. Indeed, she was leaving a grand legacy. News had spread quickly and drawn those who wanted to show their respect. She was, after all, the daughter of a prominent Canaanite and the wife of another.

Still, it didn’t stop the gossipers from talking:

She died of a broken heart, he heard some say.

The witch killed her, yet others implied.

Revenge for Shelah being withheld, still others dared.

Judah ignored it all. The truth was Alit had a fever that didn’t break, taking her life in the end. That’s all it was. No superstition, no guilt.

The priest mumbles words that are hardly intelligible, making the mourners wail even louder.

Judah sighs impatiently. He looks around him, before turning back to the dead body of his wife. He didn’t mean to be so edgy; he was just growing weary of these events. How many funerals was he supposed to attend in a lifetime?

The pyre is lit and as with the others, Judah can’t help but watch. Smoke rises, leaving an acrid odor in the air as the flesh of his loving wife is consumed.

Loving…the words burns accusingly in his mind and for a moment, he is reminded of his mother, Leah. Though she still lived, her life was far from what it should have been, never finding the place of honor in her husband’s eyes that she deserved.

Like Alit.

No, Judah tells himself. Alit was not like his imma and he was nothing like his father. There was nothing he needed to justify. He loved Alit in life, staying with her, just as he promised. Maybe he wasn’t in love with her, but he did love her nonetheless. She gave him three sons, after all. Loving her was the least he could do.

Judah clears his throat and moves impatiently from one foot to the other, willing the guilt away. The professional mourners cry out as the fire crackles and spits. Judah rolls his eyes, wishing the funeral to end.

The Pledge (31)

Even when I’m not writing, my brain is, and while I’d like to say The Pledge is complete, this is a truth that is mostly in my head. I’m busier than ever, but it’s a good kind of busy. I have added another writing project to the queue and will be working on that one simultaneously, until then, I am posting another installment of The Pledge that I have managed to move from my head to my computer. Enjoy. 

If you want to read the story from the beginning, you can click here.

* * *

The Pledge

While Alit chats with her friends, Judah prepares to leave. He had caught only snippets of Alit’s conversation, but it is enough to know he doesn’t want to be with them. He notes how her spirit is seemingly lifted in Tamar’s departure. In fact, the whole tone of the household had changed, as if they had returned to normal.

Without a word to his driver, he mounts the wagon and sits back as they head to the fields where his sheep graze. The ride would be a long one, so Judah decides to focus on his affairs.  He had been lax in including Shelah on anything, but he couldn’t do that any longer. As primogenitor and sole heir, Shelah would have to be knowledgeable about the business; and he would have to develop a backbone to match his father’s, otherwise the boy would be taken advantage of. And after all these years of amassing his wealth, Judah was not going to let it dwindle away. Deciding it best to bring the boy with him the following week, Judah reviews his ledgers and makes plans for the shearing of the sheep. There would be a festival and plenty of celebration.

With the business side of things taken care of, Judah relaxes and lets his thoughts linger on the women who would be at the festival, ready to serve his needs. This is enough to take his mind from the present and before he knows it, they have arrived at the fields.

Leaning on his staff, Judah steps down from the carriage and looks around. His servants are tending the livestock, but there are others there too, his brothers watching over his father’s sheep. Jacob had moved his camp to Hebron, where he resided with his father Isaac, who had lost his sight, but was still strong for a centenarian. The lands around Hebron were adequate for grazing, but with the addition of Jacob’s flocks to Isaac’s, it was necessary to find other grounds that could sustain them all. And when his brothers were in the area, it was almost requisite for the brothers to visit. And as of lately, it was a welcome distraction.

“Brother!” Reuben greets him with a hug and a kiss.

Judah reciprocates the gesture and they join the others beneath a nearby tree. It is midday and the sun is hot. Most of the sheep are resting in whatever shade they can find, no different than their shepherds.

“How is our father?” Judah inquires. It had been some time since Judah had seen his brothers last and though there were travelers who could relay news of the house of Isaac, Judah always waited to hear it from the mouth of his brothers.

But none offer any news. Usually the vocal one, Simeon sits in silence, looking down at his hands. Levi stands behind him, looking down at Simeon. The sons of the concubines say nothing, avoiding eye contact as well. Only Reuben responds.

“Even after all these years, he still mourns for his son, Joseph.”

No guilt had ever struck Judah for his part in Joseph’s sale, but today is different. In the past he could remove himself from the situation, but not this time.

“It’s like he waits to die,” Asher adds, the sorrow in his voice unmistakable.

Judah listens, but finds his heart weighing heavier than before.

“Would he mourn our passing like that?” Zebulon wonders out loud.

They all know the answer to that, but none respond, each lost in his own thoughts. Judah, for his part, finds himself thinking about his boys, Er and Onan. The sons of his loins, both dead. Watchful and Strong, both dead; leaving only Shelah. His name meant resignation, to send, send away, let go, but Alit’s people defined it as ‘request’ – it was her resignation that named the boy, after all, his absence, his preferences, this favoritism, despite his pledge, that made this situation what it was. He had become the father he had left behind, allowing Alit to fill her life with the boys and their needs; and Shelah to play the role of savior, while he sat back and watched.

But this is a truth Judah doesn’t like dwell on. He can’t change the past, any more than he can go back and ‘unsell’ Joseph to the Midinites. What was done was done and like him, Jacob would have to learn to live with that. He brought it on himself and for that, Judah would not apologize.

The Pledge (30)

Greetings and welcome back. It’s been slow-going on my end with my schedule and medical conflicts, but I’m finally writing and posting another installment of the story of Judah and Tamar. You can catch up by clicking here. Thanks for stopping by my blog. 

* * *

While Alit chats with her friends, Judah prepares to leave. He had caught only snippets of Alit’s conversation, but it was enough to know he didn’t want to be amongst them.He notes how her spirit is seemingly lifted in Tamar’s departure. In fact, the whole tone of the household had changed, as if they had returned to normal. 

He calls his servant to ready the carriage to carry him to the fields. Without a word to his driver, he mounts the wagon and sits back. The ride would be a long one, allowing Judah time to focus on his affairs.  He had been lax in including Shelah on the business, but he couldn’t do that any longer. As primogenitor and sole heir, Shelah would have to be knowledgeable about the livestock and the trading and he would have to develop a backbone to match his father’s, otherwise the boy would be taken advantage of. And after all these years amassing his wealth, Judah was not going to let it dwindle away. Deciding it best to bring the boy with him the following week, Judah reviews his ledgers and makes plans for the shearing of the sheep. There would be a festival and plenty of celebration.

With the business side of things taken care of, Judah relaxes and lets his thoughts linger on the women who would be at the festival, ready to serve his needs. This is enough to take his mind from the present and before he knows it, he has arrived at the fields.

Leaning on his staff, Judah steps down from the carriage and looks around. His servants are tending the livestock, but there are others there too, his brothers watching over their father’s sheep. Though Judah remained in Adullam, Jacob had moved his camp to Hebron, where he resided with Isaac, who had lost his sight, but was still strong for a centenarian. The lands around Hebron were adequate for grazing, but with the addition of Jacob’s flocks, it was necessary to find other grounds that could sustain them all. And when his brothers were in the area, Judah found their presence a welcome distraction.

“Brother!” Reuben greets him with a hug and a kiss.

Judah reciprocates and they join the others beneath a nearby tree. It is midday and the sun is hot. Most of the sheep are resting in whatever shade they can find, no different than their shepherds.

“How is our father?” Judah inquires. It had been some time since Judah had seen his brothers last and though there were travelers who could relay news of the house of Isaac, Judah waited to hear it from the mouth of his brothers.

But none are offering any news. Usually the vocal one, Simeon sits in silence, looking down at his hands. Levi stands, looking down at Simeon. The sons of the concubines say nothing, avoiding eye contact as well. Only Reuben responds.

“Even after all these years, he still mourns for his son, Joseph.”

No guilt had ever struck Judah for his part in Joseph’s sale, but today is different. In the past he could move on to another topic, remove himself from the situation, but not this time.

“It’s like he waits to die,” Asher adds, the sorrow in his voice unmistakable.

Judah listens, but finds his heart weighing heavier than before.

“Would he mourn our passing like that?” Zebulon wonders out loud.

They all know the answer to that, but none respond, each lost in his own thoughts. Judah, for his part, finds himself thinking about his boys. Er and Onan, both dead. Watchful and Strong, dead; leaving only Shelah. His name means resignation. to send, send away, let go, but Alit’s people defined it as request.

Regional linguistics, Judah thinks; still, it was her resignation that named the boy. Judah knew the truth: he had become the father he had left behind, allowing Alit to fill her life with the boys and their needs; and Shelah to play the role of savior.

But this was a truth Judah doesn’t dwell on. He can’t change the past, any more than he can go back and “unsell” Joseph to the Midinites. Maybe he understood the pain his father was going through, but Jacob was the cause of his own agony, he was the one who favored one son, one wife, over the others. He brought it on himself and for that, Judah would not apologize.

The Pledge (29)

Happy Saturday. Below is the next installment of The Pledge. If you’re just joining us, you can click here to read from the beginning. Thanks for stopping by my blog.

2.

Tamar doesn’t even pretend to listen. After hearing Judah say Shelah was still too young, she knows what will follow: she would go back to her father’s house. She would wear her widow’s garments yet again. Part of her is relieved, not to have to wed again so soon, but this means she will have to endure the looks and snide remarks of the women at the well and the town square until Shelah is old enough to take her.

Punishment for killing her husbands.

But perhaps it would be worth it this time. Shelah was still young, still soft. Everything she imagined Er once was. The union might be forced, but it could still be a happy one. Naively perhaps, but she still wanted that happy life she once envisioned as a younger woman. A husband to serve. Children to fill her bosom. That’s it.

A husband to serve and children to fill her bosom, Tamar reminds herself as her brother pulls up in a wagon. He has an annoyed expression on his face and she knows her father had sent him to get her – probably to avoid the shame of picking up his cursed daughter.

He stops in front of her.

“Killed another one, did you?” His tone is heavy with sarcasm. But he doesn’t look at her. No one does any more.

Tamar doesn’t respond. What could she say if even her brother, her family didn’t side with her?

“Well, come on with you,” he tells her as he steps down to load up her belongings. They weren’t much, but she still needed his help. “Let’s get this done before the hens come out to peck.”

Instinctively, Tamar looked about. The mourners were gone and none of Alit’s gossipping friends were about. But they would be soon, she supposed. Who could pass this moment up, to be the one to say the saw the witch go home?

Tamar rises, before her brother has to speak to her again and throws her bundle in the wagon. She accepts his hand as he helps her up and sits stoically waiting for him to join her.

Well, not really stoically. She looks into the doorway of the house she shared with Er and Onan. Five, six years and not even one member of the family was there to bid her goodbye. Tamar can’t stop the tear as it escapes. Ashamed of herself for showing that kind of weakness, that kind of emotion, though, she quickly wipes it away and reminds herself it will be just a few years before she gets a husband to serve and children to fill her bosom.