Investigation and Surmise

In next week’s Torah portion, Jacob is brought the many-colored coat he’d given his favorite son, Joseph. The coat has been dipped in goat’s blood to trick Jacob into believing Joseph was torn by a wild animal, rather than that his own brothers sold him into slavery (Genesis 37:23-36).

“We found this; identify, if you please: Is it your son’s tunic or not?” (verse 32; using Stone/Artscroll translation here and below)

Jacob responds: “My son’s tunic! A savage beast devoured him! Joseph has surely been torn to bits! [tarof toraf yosef]” (verse 33)

Jacob initiates no investigation. Obviously there was no forensic unit in the area to test the blood or ferret out other clues. Still, Jacob doesn’t even ask a question, as far as we know. The sons never even have to lie outright. Jacob simply jumps to a conclusion and then begins to mourn.

Later in the same portion, Joseph’s older brother Judah fails to look carefully at matters pertaining to his daughter-in-law Tamar, and she is nearly put to death by the court before he realizes his mistake(s) (Genesis 38).

Judah, too is asked: “identify, if you please [evidence in the case].” (Gen. 38:25)

Identify, If You Please

There are many lessons to be drawn from these stories as they are. However, it’s also worth considering what might have been:

— How differently might family events have evolved had Jacob asked a question or two? How many years of misery and guilt and mourning and fear or retribution might have been avoided?

— How much differently might events have turned out had Judah not been willing to admit his mistake?

Earlier today, I reported on a failure of the Jewish press to check facts. We are waiting to hear some kind of explanation for the error before jumping to conclusions. In the meantime, however, the episode serves as a warning to check facts and to be aware of our assumptions, and then to check those, too.

In that spirit, the Jacob-Joseph and Judah-Tamar stories can serve to remind us of how important it is to exercise care in what we report. For some related teachings on “guarding the tongue” (and pen and electronic post), see this Chofetz Chaim site.


As part of NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month), a cousin of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), “A Song Every Day” plans thirty daily posts with some connection to the number 30. Today, that connection is the old reporters’ practice of using “-30-” to mark the close of a story.


Published by


Virginia hosts "Conversations Toward Repair" on We Act Radio, manages, blogs on general stuff a and more Jewish topics at and

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s