Parshas Vayeshev

Breaking news (photo credit: JPOST STAFF)
Breaking news
(photo credit: JPOST STAFF)
Genesis 38:27-30
 וַיְהִ֖י בְּעֵ֣ת לִדְתָּ֑הּ וְהִנֵּ֥ה תְאוֹמִ֖ים בְּבִטְנָֽהּ׃
When the time came for her to give birth, there were twins in her womb!
וַיְהִ֥י בְלִדְתָּ֖הּ וַיִּתֶּן־יָ֑ד וַתִּקַּ֣ח הַמְיַלֶּ֗דֶת וַתִּקְשֹׁ֨ר עַל־יָד֤וֹ שָׁנִי֙ לֵאמֹ֔ר זֶ֖ה יָצָ֥א רִאשֹׁנָֽה׃
While she was in labor, one of them put out his hand, and the midwife tied a crimson thread on that hand, to signify: This one came out first.
וַיְהִ֣י ׀ כְּמֵשִׁ֣יב יָד֗וֹ וְהִנֵּה֙ יָצָ֣א אָחִ֔יו וַתֹּ֕אמֶר מַה־פָּרַ֖צְתָּ עָלֶ֣יךָ פָּ֑רֶץ וַיִּקְרָ֥א שְׁמ֖וֹ פָּֽרֶץ׃
But just then he drew back his hand, and out came his brother; and she said, “What a breach you have made for yourself!” So he was named Perez.
וְאַחַר֙ יָצָ֣א אָחִ֔יו אֲשֶׁ֥ר עַל־יָד֖וֹ הַשָּׁנִ֑י וַיִּקְרָ֥א שְׁמ֖וֹ זָֽרַח׃ (ס)
Afterward his brother came out, on whose hand was the crimson thread; he was named Zerah.
         The verses I chose for today describe the birth of twins, of Perez and Zerah, who were the children born of Tamar and Judah. There is an immediate difference that was identified only a few weeks earlier from Parshas Toldos, with Esau and Jacob.  Bereishis Rabba 63:8 picks up on the differences with the following: “Below where the word twins is written full, with the letter aleph, Peretz and Zerach were both righteous. Here it is written without an aleph, Yaakov was righteous and Esau was wicked. And the first one emerged ruddy…”.  The color red appears thematically in both stories as well. 
This is the first documented instance in Jewish history of a red thread being used as a bracelet. Academics like Elly Temen, Trachtenberg and the folklorist Alan Dundes all speculate as to the origins of the modern practice of Kabbalah bracelets beginning with this verse. Folklorists like Aliza Shenhar and Alan Dundes have written pretty compelling theories that speculate that the practice is one born from conditions of stress. Albeit symbolic, the practice is extremely popular, as we saw in Israel. 
Childbirth is among the most stressful experiences. Mothers and fathers endure so much that is totally out of their own control. Families are forced to reconcile knowledge of all the stress of the experience with a tremendous amount of faith, whether it is with medical professionals or with G-d.  It is for these reasons that the red string finds its way into this scene of the Tanakh. It is also the reason why the string has such an intense meaning for many Jews in both Israel and the Former Soviet Union who live under frequent duress. I would like to suggest we check our own privilege when broaching these subjects and imagine walking in the shoes of other people. Let our faith be with other people so that their beliefs are in good kavanah and are not purely superstition but something more asymptomatic of a life and set of beliefs we either live in or outside of.