Perez and Zerah
Tags: darkness, King Messiah, light, Perez, redemption, rising, sun of righteousness, the Breaker, Zerah
Vayeshev – וישב : "And he dwelt"
Torah : Genesis 37:1-40:23
Haftarah : Amos 2:6-3:8
Gospel : Matthew 19-20
Thought for the Week:
That Perez pushed ahead was part of the Divine plan. Zerah desired to emerge first but God declared: "Messiah is destined to descend from Perez; is it right, then, that Zerah should emerge first? Let Zerah return to his mother’s womb, and Perez shall be born first!" (Aggadat Bereshit)
But it came about as he drew back his hand, that behold, his brother came out. Then she said, "What a breach you have made for yourself!" So he was named Perez. Afterward his brother came out who had the scarlet thread on his hand; and he was named Zerah. (Genesis 38:29-30)
According to the Midrash Rabbah, when Tamar’s pregnancy advanced to the point where the child was showing, she "would tap upon her stomach and exclaim, ‘I am big with kings and redeemers.’" (Genesis Rabbah 85:10) At the very least, she was big with twins. The Torah tells us a harrowing birth story. While she was in labor, the first of her two sons extended his hand. The midwife tied a scarlet string around his wrist to identify the firstborn, but he then retracted his hand and apparently retreated back down the birth canal–generally a physiological impossibility. His brother was born ahead of him, apparently a breach child. Tamar named him Perez (Peretz, פרץ), which means "breach."
In Rabbinic literature, Perez, the son of Judah and Tamar, is often closely associated with King Messiah, who is in turn titled the Son of Perez. The birth of Perez and Zerah can be understood metaphorically to represent the first and second coming of Messiah. Perez, whose name also means "breaker," represents Messiah in His first coming. He breaks open the way into the kingdom of heaven. In the Midrash Rabbah, Tamar names him Perez to indicate that King Messiah, "the Breaker," would one day come forth from him:
Tamar meant, "This one is greater than all those who make breaches, for from you will arise [the King Messiah of whom it is written in Micah 2:13], ‘The breaker (poretz, פורץ) goes up before them; [They break out, pass through the gate and go out by it. So their king goes on before them, and the LORD at their head.]’" (Genesis Rabbah 85:14)
Zerah (Zerach, זרח), whose name means "dawning," represents Messiah in His second coming. The great redemption of the messianic age is spoken of in the prophets as the dawning:
Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen (zarach) upon you. For behold, darkness will cover the earth and deep darkness the peoples; but the LORD will rise upon you and His glory will appear upon you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising (zarach). (Isaiah 60:1-3)
But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall. (Malachi 4:2)
Just as Tamar and the midwife expected Zerah to be born first, the people of the Master’s generation anticipated the messianic redemption. Like a thread of scarlet, they did receive a token of the coming redemption, but before the final redemption could dawn, the Messiah needed to accomplish His purposes on the cross and in the grave. When Perez defied Tamar’s expectation by bursting forth ahead of Zerah, she exclaimed, "What a breach you have made for yourself!" (Genesis 38:29) In the same way, Messiah’s first coming defied popular expectation. As He burst forth from the tomb, Israel might be imagined to exclaim, "What a breach you have made for yourself!"
(Special Excerpt from Torah Club Volume Two: Shadows of the Messiah)