This parasha tells the story of Jacob's son Joseph and how he was removed from the land of Canaan and dwelt in Egypt. The narrative follows Joseph from Canaan to Egypt to prison. In addition, this week's reading contains the interesting story of Judah and Tamar, his daughter-in-law, the wife he took for his firstborn son Er.
Judah and Tamar settled on the price of a young goat for services rendered. Since Judah did not have the goat with him, he offered Tamar some collateral. He asked her, “What pledge shall I give you?” She said, “Your seal and your cord, and your staff that is in your hand” (Genesis 38:18).
Judah’s seal, cord, and staff amount to the ancient version of his driver’s license, personal I.D. card, and major credit cards. The seal (chotam, חותם) was a cylindrical signet seal, the ancient equivalent of a signet ring, used to make a signature impression in clay seals for certification purposes. The cord (patil, פתיל) refers to the fringes on the hem of his garment. As explained above, the hem of the garment indicated a person’s status and prestige. Men sometimes used the distinctive embroidery on the hems of their garments to make seal impressions, like a signet. In the days of the Torah, a man might also use his staff (matteh, מטה) as a form of identification. For example, Moses collected the twelve staffs of the twelve tribal leaders, writing each leader’s name upon his staff.
The sages identified a messianic significance for each item:
The Holy Spirit inspired her to ask for Judah’s seal, cord and staff. “Your seal (chotam)” alludes to royalty, as it says [in Jeremiah 22:24], “Though Coniah the son of Jehoiakim king of Judah were a seal (chotam) on My right hand.” “Your cord (patil)” alludes to the Sanhedrin, as it says [in Numbers 15:38], “And that they shall put on the tassel of each corner a cord (patil) of blue.” “And your staff” (matteh) alludes to the Messiah King [as it says in Psalm 110:2], “The LORD will stretch forth Your strong scepter (matteh) from Zion, saying, ‘Rule in the midst of Your enemies.’” (Genesis Rabbah 85:9)
The allusion to the Sanhedrin seems obscure. A Messianic Jewish interpretation might point us to the tassels (tzitzit) of King Messiah. The cord of blue in the tassels represents royalty and priesthood. Those who grasped the tassels of the Master’s garment received miraculous healing, and in the age to come, the nations will take hold of His tassels. The items Judah left with Tamar—his seal, his cord and his staff—serve as messianic harbingers.
Tamar cloaked her identity behind a veil, but in her hands she possessed the proof of Messiah. When the time was right, she triumphantly produced the evidence. Tamar challenges us from across the span of more than three thousand years, “Please examine and see, whose signet ring and cords and staff are these?” (Genesis 38:25). Similarly, the Almighty has concealed the identity of the Messiah beneath a veil, but when the time is right, He will lift the veil and present the evidence of Yeshua’s messiahship to Judah—to the Jewish people.