Yehudah & Tamar: Why at all?A glimpse at various leadership models.
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I. The (Quick) Yehuda & Tamar Story

The Main Text:
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Background to the Story: Yehudah's Family

(א) וַֽיְהִי֙ בָּעֵ֣ת הַהִ֔וא וַיֵּ֥רֶד יְהוּדָ֖ה מֵאֵ֣ת אֶחָ֑יו וַיֵּ֛ט עַד־אִ֥ישׁ עֲדֻלָּמִ֖י וּשְׁמ֥וֹ חִירָֽה׃ (ב) וַיַּרְא־שָׁ֧ם יְהוּדָ֛ה בַּת־אִ֥ישׁ כְּנַעֲנִ֖י וּשְׁמ֣וֹ שׁ֑וּעַ וַיִּקָּחֶ֖הָ וַיָּבֹ֥א אֵלֶֽיהָ׃ (ג) וַתַּ֖הַר וַתֵּ֣לֶד בֵּ֑ן וַיִּקְרָ֥א אֶת־שְׁמ֖וֹ עֵֽר׃ (ד) וַתַּ֥הַר ע֖וֹד וַתֵּ֣לֶד בֵּ֑ן וַתִּקְרָ֥א אֶת־שְׁמ֖וֹ אוֹנָֽן׃ (ה) וַתֹּ֤סֶף עוֹד֙ וַתֵּ֣לֶד בֵּ֔ן וַתִּקְרָ֥א אֶת־שְׁמ֖וֹ שֵׁלָ֑ה וְהָיָ֥ה בִכְזִ֖יב בְּלִדְתָּ֥הּ אֹתֽוֹ׃

Tamar's Marriage to Yehudah's Children and their Deaths

(ו) וַיִּקַּ֧ח יְהוּדָ֛ה אִשָּׁ֖ה לְעֵ֣ר בְּכוֹר֑וֹ וּשְׁמָ֖הּ תָּמָֽר׃ (ז) וַיְהִ֗י עֵ֚ר בְּכ֣וֹר יְהוּדָ֔ה רַ֖ע בְּעֵינֵ֣י יקוק וַיְמִתֵ֖הוּ יקוק׃ (ח) וַיֹּ֤אמֶר יְהוּדָה֙ לְאוֹנָ֔ן בֹּ֛א אֶל־אֵ֥שֶׁת אָחִ֖יךָ וְיַבֵּ֣ם אֹתָ֑הּ וְהָקֵ֥ם זֶ֖רַע לְאָחִֽיךָ׃ (ט) וַיֵּ֣דַע אוֹנָ֔ן כִּ֛י לֹּ֥א ל֖וֹ יִהְיֶ֣ה הַזָּ֑רַע וְהָיָ֞ה אִם־בָּ֨א אֶל־אֵ֤שֶׁת אָחִיו֙ וְשִׁחֵ֣ת אַ֔רְצָה לְבִלְתִּ֥י נְתָן־זֶ֖רַע לְאָחִֽיו׃ (י) וַיֵּ֛רַע בְּעֵינֵ֥י יקוק אֲשֶׁ֣ר עָשָׂ֑ה וַיָּ֖מֶת גַּם־אֹתֽוֹ׃ (יא) וַיֹּ֣אמֶר יְהוּדָה֩ לְתָמָ֨ר כַּלָּת֜וֹ שְׁבִ֧י אַלְמָנָ֣ה בֵית־אָבִ֗יךְ עַד־יִגְדַּל֙ שֵׁלָ֣ה בְנִ֔י כִּ֣י אָמַ֔ר פֶּן־יָמ֥וּת גַּם־ה֖וּא כְּאֶחָ֑יו וַתֵּ֣לֶךְ תָּמָ֔ר וַתֵּ֖שֶׁב בֵּ֥ית אָבִֽיהָ׃

Yehudah's (Unknowing) Dalliance with Tamar

(יב) וַיִּרְבּוּ֙ הַיָּמִ֔ים וַתָּ֖מָת בַּת־שׁ֣וּעַ אֵֽשֶׁת־יְהוּדָ֑ה וַיִּנָּ֣חֶם יְהוּדָ֗ה וַיַּ֜עַל עַל־גֹּֽזֲזֵ֤י צֹאנוֹ֙ ה֗וּא וְחִירָ֛ה רֵעֵ֥הוּ הָעֲדֻלָּמִ֖י תִּמְנָֽתָה׃ (יג) וַיֻּגַּ֥ד לְתָמָ֖ר לֵאמֹ֑ר הִנֵּ֥ה חָמִ֛יךְ עֹלֶ֥ה תִמְנָ֖תָה לָגֹ֥ז צֹאנֽוֹ׃ (יד) וַתָּסַר֩ בִּגְדֵ֨י אַלְמְנוּתָ֜הּ מֵֽעָלֶ֗יהָ וַתְּכַ֤ס בַּצָּעִיף֙ וַתִּתְעַלָּ֔ף וַתֵּ֙שֶׁב֙ בְּפֶ֣תַח עֵינַ֔יִם אֲשֶׁ֖ר עַל־דֶּ֣רֶךְ תִּמְנָ֑תָה כִּ֤י רָאֲתָה֙ כִּֽי־גָדַ֣ל שֵׁלָ֔ה וְהִ֕וא לֹֽא־נִתְּנָ֥ה ל֖וֹ לְאִשָּֽׁה׃ (טו) וַיִּרְאֶ֣הָ יְהוּדָ֔ה וַֽיַּחְשְׁבֶ֖הָ לְזוֹנָ֑ה כִּ֥י כִסְּתָ֖ה פָּנֶֽיהָ׃ (טז) וַיֵּ֨ט אֵלֶ֜יהָ אֶל־הַדֶּ֗רֶךְ וַיֹּ֙אמֶר֙ הָֽבָה־נָּא֙ אָב֣וֹא אֵלַ֔יִךְ כִּ֚י לֹ֣א יָדַ֔ע כִּ֥י כַלָּת֖וֹ הִ֑וא וַתֹּ֙אמֶר֙ מַה־תִּתֶּן־לִּ֔י כִּ֥י תָב֖וֹא אֵלָֽי׃ (יז) וַיֹּ֕אמֶר אָנֹכִ֛י אֲשַׁלַּ֥ח גְּדִֽי־עִזִּ֖ים מִן־הַצֹּ֑אן וַתֹּ֕אמֶר אִם־תִּתֵּ֥ן עֵרָב֖וֹן עַ֥ד שָׁלְחֶֽךָ׃ (יח) וַיֹּ֗אמֶר מָ֣ה הָֽעֵרָבוֹן֮ אֲשֶׁ֣ר אֶתֶּן־לָּךְ֒ וַתֹּ֗אמֶר חֹתָֽמְךָ֙ וּפְתִילֶ֔ךָ וּמַטְּךָ֖ אֲשֶׁ֣ר בְּיָדֶ֑ךָ וַיִּתֶּן־לָּ֛הּ וַיָּבֹ֥א אֵלֶ֖יהָ וַתַּ֥הַר לֽוֹ׃ (יט) וַתָּ֣קָם וַתֵּ֔לֶךְ וַתָּ֥סַר צְעִיפָ֖הּ מֵעָלֶ֑יהָ וַתִּלְבַּ֖שׁ בִּגְדֵ֥י אַלְמְנוּתָֽהּ׃

Yehuda's Search for the Prostitute

(כ) וַיִּשְׁלַ֨ח יְהוּדָ֜ה אֶת־גְּדִ֣י הָֽעִזִּ֗ים בְּיַד֙ רֵעֵ֣הוּ הָֽעֲדֻלָּמִ֔י לָקַ֥חַת הָעֵרָב֖וֹן מִיַּ֣ד הָאִשָּׁ֑ה וְלֹ֖א מְצָאָֽהּ׃ (כא) וַיִּשְׁאַ֞ל אֶת־אַנְשֵׁ֤י מְקֹמָהּ֙ לֵאמֹ֔ר אַיֵּ֧ה הַקְּדֵשָׁ֛ה הִ֥וא בָעֵינַ֖יִם עַל־הַדָּ֑רֶךְ וַיֹּ֣אמְר֔וּ לֹא־הָיְתָ֥ה בָזֶ֖ה קְדֵשָֽׁה׃ (כב) וַיָּ֙שָׁב֙ אֶל־יְהוּדָ֔ה וַיֹּ֖אמֶר לֹ֣א מְצָאתִ֑יהָ וְגַ֨ם אַנְשֵׁ֤י הַמָּקוֹם֙ אָֽמְר֔וּ לֹא־הָיְתָ֥ה בָזֶ֖ה קְדֵשָֽׁה׃ (כג) וַיֹּ֤אמֶר יְהוּדָה֙ תִּֽקַּֽח־לָ֔הּ פֶּ֖ן נִהְיֶ֣ה לָב֑וּז הִנֵּ֤ה שָׁלַ֙חְתִּי֙ הַגְּדִ֣י הַזֶּ֔ה וְאַתָּ֖ה לֹ֥א מְצָאתָֽהּ׃

Yehudah's Realization

(כד) וַיְהִ֣י ׀ כְּמִשְׁלֹ֣שׁ חֳדָשִׁ֗ים וַיֻּגַּ֨ד לִֽיהוּדָ֤ה לֵֽאמֹר֙ זָֽנְתָה֙ תָּמָ֣ר כַּלָּתֶ֔ךָ וְגַ֛ם הִנֵּ֥ה הָרָ֖ה לִזְנוּנִ֑ים וַיֹּ֣אמֶר יְהוּדָ֔ה הוֹצִיא֖וּהָ וְתִשָּׂרֵֽף׃ (כה) הִ֣וא מוּצֵ֗את וְהִ֨יא שָׁלְחָ֤ה אֶל־חָמִ֙יהָ֙ לֵאמֹ֔ר לְאִישׁ֙ אֲשֶׁר־אֵ֣לֶּה לּ֔וֹ אָנֹכִ֖י הָרָ֑ה וַתֹּ֙אמֶר֙ הַכֶּר־נָ֔א לְמִ֞י הַחֹתֶ֧מֶת וְהַפְּתִילִ֛ים וְהַמַּטֶּ֖ה הָאֵֽלֶּה׃ (כו) וַיַּכֵּ֣ר יְהוּדָ֗ה וַיֹּ֙אמֶר֙ צָֽדְקָ֣ה מִמֶּ֔נִּי כִּֽי־עַל־כֵּ֥ן לֹא־נְתַתִּ֖יהָ לְשֵׁלָ֣ה בְנִ֑י וְלֹֽא־יָסַ֥ף ע֖וֹד לְדַעְתָּֽה׃

The Birth of Peretz and Zerach

(כז) וַיְהִ֖י בְּעֵ֣ת לִדְתָּ֑הּ וְהִנֵּ֥ה תְאוֹמִ֖ים בְּבִטְנָֽהּ׃ (כח) וַיְהִ֥י בְלִדְתָּ֖הּ וַיִּתֶּן־יָ֑ד וַתִּקַּ֣ח הַמְיַלֶּ֗דֶת וַתִּקְשֹׁ֨ר עַל־יָד֤וֹ שָׁנִי֙ לֵאמֹ֔ר זֶ֖ה יָצָ֥א רִאשֹׁנָֽה׃ (כט) וַיְהִ֣י ׀ כְּמֵשִׁ֣יב יָד֗וֹ וְהִנֵּה֙ יָצָ֣א אָחִ֔יו וַתֹּ֕אמֶר מַה־פָּרַ֖צְתָּ עָלֶ֣יךָ פָּ֑רֶץ וַיִּקְרָ֥א שְׁמ֖וֹ פָּֽרֶץ׃ (ל) וְאַחַר֙ יָצָ֣א אָחִ֔יו אֲשֶׁ֥ר עַל־יָד֖וֹ הַשָּׁנִ֑י וַיִּקְרָ֥א שְׁמ֖וֹ זָֽרַח׃ (ס)

(1) About that time Judah left his brothers and camped near a certain Adullamite whose name was Hirah. (2) There Judah saw the daughter of a certain Canaanite whose name was Shua, and he married her and cohabited with her. (3) She conceived and bore a son, and he named him Er. (4) She conceived again and bore a son, and named him Onan. (5) Once again she bore a son, and named him Shelah; he was at Chezib when she bore him. (6) Judah got a wife for Er his first-born; her name was Tamar. (7) But Er, Judah’s first-born, was displeasing to the LORD, and the LORD took his life. (8) Then Judah said to Onan, “Join with your brother’s wife and do your duty by her as a brother-in-law, and provide offspring for your brother.” (9) But Onan, knowing that the seed would not count as his, let it go to waste whenever he joined with his brother’s wife, so as not to provide offspring for his brother. (10) What he did was displeasing to the LORD, and He took his life also. (11) Then Judah said to his daughter-in-law Tamar, “Stay as a widow in your father’s house until my son Shelah grows up”—for he thought, “He too might die like his brothers.” So Tamar went to live in her father’s house. (12) A long time afterward, Shua’s daughter, the wife of Judah, died. When his period of mourning was over, Judah went up to Timnah to his sheepshearers, together with his friend Hirah the Adullamite. (13) And Tamar was told, “Your father-in-law is coming up to Timnah for the sheepshearing.” (14) So she took off her widow’s garb, covered her face with a veil, and, wrapping herself up, sat down at the entrance to Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah; for she saw that Shelah was grown up, yet she had not been given to him as wife. (15) When Judah saw her, he took her for a harlot; for she had covered her face. (16) So he turned aside to her by the road and said, “Here, let me sleep with you”—for he did not know that she was his daughter-in-law. “What,” she asked, “will you pay for sleeping with me?” (17) He replied, “I will send a kid from my flock.” But she said, “You must leave a pledge until you have sent it.” (18) And he said, “What pledge shall I give you?” She replied, “Your seal and cord, and the staff which you carry.” So he gave them to her and slept with her, and she conceived by him. (19) Then she went on her way. She took off her veil and again put on her widow’s garb. (20) Judah sent the kid by his friend the Adullamite, to redeem the pledge from the woman; but he could not find her. (21) He inquired of the people of that town, “Where is the cult prostitute, the one at Enaim, by the road?” But they said, “There has been no prostitute here.” (22) So he returned to Judah and said, “I could not find her; moreover, the townspeople said: There has been no prostitute here.” (23) Judah said, “Let her keep them, lest we become a laughingstock. I did send her this kid, but you did not find her.” (24) About three months later, Judah was told, “Your daughter-in-law Tamar has played the harlot; in fact, she is with child by harlotry.” “Bring her out,” said Judah, “and let her be burned.” (25) As she was being brought out, she sent this message to her father-in-law, “I am with child by the man to whom these belong.” And she added, “Examine these: whose seal and cord and staff are these?” (26) Judah recognized them, and said, “She is more in the right than I, inasmuch as I did not give her to my son Shelah.” And he was not intimate with her again. (27) When the time came for her to give birth, there were twins in her womb! (28) 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. (29) 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. (30) Afterward his brother came out, on whose hand was the crimson thread; he was named Zerah.
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II. List of Questions

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To sum it up, the Yehuda & Tamar story seems very strange for several reasons:

  1. We get a whole backstory that does not seem relevant.
  2. We get introduced to characters that come and go and are not part of the main story.
  3. We do not get this type of information on any of the other brothers.
  4. Yehuda seems not worried about the “prostitution issue” and much more worried about dealing honestly with the prostitute.
  5. Yehuda also seems to indicate that his big failure was in dealing honestly with Tamar vis-à-vis Sheilah – again, not the “prostitution issue.”

Additionally, some “bigger picture” questions include:

  1. Its placement in the Torah is a strange interruption to the Yosef story. To exacerbate this issue, the Yehuda & Tamar story likely took place before the Yosef story.
  2. Is the point of the story to tell us about the royal lineage? If so, it’s strange because we have the royal lineages recorded elsewhere in Tanach.
  3. Is the point of the story to tell us about the power of teshuva? If so, it is strange because Yehuda’s “teshuva” is unclear. Was he doing teshuva for sleeping with (what he thought) was a prostitute? From the text, that does not appear to be the case. Was he doing teshuva for sleeping with his daughter-in-law (albeit without his knowledge)? Again, that does not appear to be the case from the text.
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III. Ya'akov's "Blessings"

The Text of Reuven, Shimon, Levi, and Yehuda's "Blessings".
6 ו

(ג) רְאוּבֵן֙ בְּכֹ֣רִי אַ֔תָּה כֹּחִ֖י וְרֵאשִׁ֣ית אוֹנִ֑י יֶ֥תֶר שְׂאֵ֖ת וְיֶ֥תֶר עָֽז׃ (ד) פַּ֤חַז כַּמַּ֙יִם֙ אַל־תּוֹתַ֔ר כִּ֥י עָלִ֖יתָ מִשְׁכְּבֵ֣י אָבִ֑יךָ אָ֥ז חִלַּ֖לְתָּ יְצוּעִ֥י עָלָֽה׃ (פ)

(ה) שִׁמְע֥וֹן וְלֵוִ֖י אַחִ֑ים כְּלֵ֥י חָמָ֖ס מְכֵרֹתֵיהֶֽם׃ (ו) בְּסֹדָם֙ אַל־תָּבֹ֣א נַפְשִׁ֔י בִּקְהָלָ֖ם אַל־תֵּחַ֣ד כְּבֹדִ֑י כִּ֤י בְאַפָּם֙ הָ֣רְגוּ אִ֔ישׁ וּבִרְצֹנָ֖ם עִקְּרוּ־שֽׁוֹר׃ (ז) אָר֤וּר אַפָּם֙ כִּ֣י עָ֔ז וְעֶבְרָתָ֖ם כִּ֣י קָשָׁ֑תָה אֲחַלְּקֵ֣ם בְּיַעֲקֹ֔ב וַאֲפִיצֵ֖ם בְּיִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃ (ס)

(ח) יְהוּדָ֗ה אַתָּה֙ יוֹד֣וּךָ אַחֶ֔יךָ יָדְךָ֖ בְּעֹ֣רֶף אֹיְבֶ֑יךָ יִשְׁתַּחֲוּ֥וּ לְךָ֖ בְּנֵ֥י אָבִֽיךָ׃ (ט) גּ֤וּר אַרְיֵה֙ יְהוּדָ֔ה מִטֶּ֖רֶף בְּנִ֣י עָלִ֑יתָ כָּרַ֨ע רָבַ֧ץ כְּאַרְיֵ֛ה וּכְלָבִ֖יא מִ֥י יְקִימֶֽנּוּ׃ (י) לֹֽא־יָס֥וּר שֵׁ֙בֶט֙ מִֽיהוּדָ֔ה וּמְחֹקֵ֖ק מִבֵּ֣ין רַגְלָ֑יו עַ֚ד כִּֽי־יָבֹ֣א שילה [שִׁיל֔וֹ] וְל֖וֹ יִקְּהַ֥ת עַמִּֽים׃ (יא) אֹסְרִ֤י לַגֶּ֙פֶן֙ עירה [עִיר֔וֹ] וְלַשֹּׂרֵקָ֖ה בְּנִ֣י אֲתֹנ֑וֹ כִּבֵּ֤ס בַּיַּ֙יִן֙ לְבֻשׁ֔וֹ וּבְדַם־עֲנָבִ֖ים סותה [סוּתֽוֹ׃] (יב) חַכְלִילִ֥י עֵינַ֖יִם מִיָּ֑יִן וּלְבֶן־שִׁנַּ֖יִם מֵחָלָֽב׃ (פ)

(3) Reuben, you are my first-born, My might and first fruit of my vigor, Exceeding in rank And exceeding in honor. (4) Unstable as water, you shall excel no longer; For when you mounted your father’s bed, You brought disgrace—my couch he mounted!

(5) Simeon and Levi are a pair; Their weapons are tools of lawlessness. (6) Let not my person be included in their council, Let not my being be counted in their assembly. For when angry they slay men, And when pleased they maim oxen. (7) Cursed be their anger so fierce, And their wrath so relentless. I will divide them in Jacob, Scatter them in Israel.

(8) You, O Judah, your brothers shall praise; Your hand shall be on the nape of your foes; Your father’s sons shall bow low to you. (9) Judah is a lion’s whelp; On prey, my son, have you grown. He crouches, lies down like a lion, Like the king of beasts—who dare rouse him? (10) The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet; So that tribute shall come to him And the homage of peoples be his. (11) He tethers his ass to a vine, His ass’s foal to a choice vine; He washes his garment in wine, His robe in blood of grapes. (12) His eyes are darker than wine; His teeth are whiter than milk.

7 ז

IV. REUVEN

Reuven's Big Blunder:
8 ח

(כב) וַיְהִ֗י בִּשְׁכֹּ֤ן יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ בָּאָ֣רֶץ הַהִ֔וא וַיֵּ֣לֶךְ רְאוּבֵ֔ן וַיִּשְׁכַּ֕ב֙ אֶת־בִּלְהָ֖ה֙ פִּילֶ֣גֶשׁ אָבִ֑֔יו וַיִּשְׁמַ֖ע יִשְׂרָאֵֽ֑ל (פ) וַיִּֽהְי֥וּ בְנֵֽי־יַעֲקֹ֖ב שְׁנֵ֥ים עָשָֽׂר׃

(22) While Israel stayed in that land, Reuben went and lay with Bilhah, his father’s concubine; and Israel found out. Now the sons of Jacob were twelve in number.

...(Similar to) Avshalom:
9 ט

(כ) וַיֹּ֥אמֶר אַבְשָׁל֖וֹם אֶל־אֲחִיתֹ֑פֶל הָב֥וּ לָכֶ֛ם עֵצָ֖ה מַֽה־נַּעֲשֶֽׂה׃ (כא) וַיֹּ֤אמֶר אֲחִיתֹ֙פֶל֙ אֶל־אַבְשָׁלֹ֔ם בּ֚וֹא אֶל־פִּלַגְשֵׁ֣י אָבִ֔יךָ אֲשֶׁ֥ר הִנִּ֖יחַ לִשְׁמ֣וֹר הַבָּ֑יִת וְשָׁמַ֤ע כָּל־יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ כִּֽי־נִבְאַ֣שְׁתָּ אֶת־אָבִ֔יךָ וְחָ֣זְק֔וּ יְדֵ֖י כָּל־אֲשֶׁ֥ר אִתָּֽךְ׃ (כב) וַיַּטּ֧וּ לְאַבְשָׁל֛וֹם הָאֹ֖הֶל עַל־הַגָּ֑ג וַיָּבֹ֤א אַבְשָׁלוֹם֙ אֶל־פִּֽלַגְשֵׁ֣י אָבִ֔יו לְעֵינֵ֖י כָּל־יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃

(20) Absalom then said to Ahithophel, “What do you advise us to do?” (21) And Ahithophel said to Absalom, “Have intercourse with your father’s concubines, whom he left to mind the palace; and when all Israel hears that you have dared the wrath of your father, all who support you will be encouraged.” (22) So they pitched a tent for Absalom on the roof, and Absalom lay with his father’s concubines with the full knowledge of all Israel.—
...(Similar to) Adoniyahu:
10 י
(כב) וַיַּעַן֩ הַמֶּ֨לֶךְ שְׁלֹמֹ֜ה וַיֹּ֣אמֶר לְאִמּ֗וֹ וְלָמָה֩ אַ֨תְּ שֹׁאֶ֜לֶת אֶת־אֲבִישַׁ֤ג הַשֻּׁנַמִּית֙ לַאֲדֹ֣נִיָּ֔הוּ וְשַֽׁאֲלִי־לוֹ֙ אֶת־הַמְּלוּכָ֔ה כִּ֛י ה֥וּא אָחִ֖י הַגָּד֣וֹל מִמֶּ֑נִּי וְלוֹ֙ וּלְאֶבְיָתָ֣ר הַכֹּהֵ֔ן וּלְיוֹאָ֖ב בֶּן־צְרוּיָֽה׃ (פ)
(22) The king replied to his mother, “Why request Abishag the Shunammite for Adonijah? Request the kingship for him! For he is my older brother, and the priest Abiathar and Joab son of Zeruiah are on his side.”
How are Bilhaa and Zilpah described here??
11 יא

(ב) אֵ֣לֶּה ׀ תֹּלְד֣וֹת יַעֲקֹ֗ב יוֹסֵ֞ף בֶּן־שְׁבַֽע־עֶשְׂרֵ֤ה שָׁנָה֙ הָיָ֨ה רֹעֶ֤ה אֶת־אֶחָיו֙ בַּצֹּ֔אן וְה֣וּא נַ֗עַר אֶת־בְּנֵ֥י בִלְהָ֛ה וְאֶת־בְּנֵ֥י זִלְפָּ֖ה נְשֵׁ֣י אָבִ֑יו וַיָּבֵ֥א יוֹסֵ֛ף אֶת־דִּבָּתָ֥ם רָעָ֖ה אֶל־אֲבִיהֶֽם׃

(2) This, then, is the line of Jacob: At seventeen years of age, Joseph tended the flocks with his brothers, as a helper to the sons of his father’s wives Bilhah and Zilpah. And Joseph brought bad reports of them to their father.

Reuven always acts alone, prematurely, and no one really takes him seriously. Example #1: When they are throwing Yosef into the pit.
12 יב
(כב) וַיֹּ֨אמֶר אֲלֵהֶ֣ם ׀ רְאוּבֵן֮ אַל־תִּשְׁפְּכוּ־דָם֒ הַשְׁלִ֣יכוּ אֹת֗וֹ אֶל־הַבּ֤וֹר הַזֶּה֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר בַּמִּדְבָּ֔ר וְיָ֖ד אַל־תִּשְׁלְחוּ־ב֑וֹ לְמַ֗עַן הַצִּ֤יל אֹתוֹ֙ מִיָּדָ֔ם לַהֲשִׁיב֖וֹ אֶל־אָבִֽיו׃

(22) And Reuben went on, “Shed no blood! Cast him into that pit out in the wilderness, but do not touch him yourselves”—intending to save him from them and restore him to his father.

Example #2: When the brothers are trying to convince Ya'akov to bring Binyamin to Egypt.
13 יג
(לז) וַיֹּ֤אמֶר רְאוּבֵן֙ אֶל־אָבִ֣יו לֵאמֹ֔ר אֶת־שְׁנֵ֤י בָנַי֙ תָּמִ֔ית אִם־לֹ֥א אֲבִיאֶ֖נּוּ אֵלֶ֑יךָ תְּנָ֤ה אֹתוֹ֙ עַל־יָדִ֔י וַאֲנִ֖י אֲשִׁיבֶ֥נּוּ אֵלֶֽיךָ׃ (לח) וַיֹּ֕אמֶר לֹֽא־יֵרֵ֥ד בְּנִ֖י עִמָּכֶ֑ם כִּֽי־אָחִ֨יו מֵ֜ת וְה֧וּא לְבַדּ֣וֹ נִשְׁאָ֗ר וּקְרָאָ֤הוּ אָסוֹן֙ בַּדֶּ֙רֶךְ֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר תֵּֽלְכוּ־בָ֔הּ וְהוֹרַדְתֶּ֧ם אֶת־שֵׂיבָתִ֛י בְּיָג֖וֹן שְׁאֽוֹלָה׃

(37) Then Reuben said to his father, “You may kill my two sons if I do not bring him back to you. Put him in my care, and I will return him to you.” (38) But he said, “My son must not go down with you, for his brother is dead and he alone is left. If he meets with disaster on the journey you are taking, you will send my white head down to Sheol in grief.”

14 יד

V. Shimon and Levi

What is Avraham's mission?
15 טו

(ב) וְאֶֽעֶשְׂךָ֙ לְג֣וֹי גָּד֔וֹל וַאֲבָ֣רֶכְךָ֔ וַאֲגַדְּלָ֖ה שְׁמֶ֑ךָ וֶהְיֵ֖ה בְּרָכָֽה׃ (ג) וַאֲבָֽרֲכָה֙ מְבָ֣רְכֶ֔יךָ וּמְקַלֶּלְךָ֖ אָאֹ֑ר וְנִבְרְכ֣וּ בְךָ֔ כֹּ֖ל מִשְׁפְּחֹ֥ת הָאֲדָמָֽה׃

(2) I will make of you a great nation, And I will bless you; I will make your name great, And you shall be a blessing. (3) I will bless those who bless you And curse him that curses you; And all the families of the earth Shall bless themselves by you.”
He's cuts a brit with Mamrei, Eshkol, and Aner...
16 טז
(יג) וַיָּבֹא֙ הַפָּלִ֔יט וַיַּגֵּ֖ד לְאַבְרָ֣ם הָעִבְרִ֑י וְהוּא֩ שֹׁכֵ֨ן בְּאֵֽלֹנֵ֜י מַמְרֵ֣א הָאֱמֹרִ֗י אֲחִ֤י אֶשְׁכֹּל֙ וַאֲחִ֣י עָנֵ֔ר וְהֵ֖ם בַּעֲלֵ֥י בְרִית־אַבְרָֽם׃

(13) A fugitive brought the news to Abram the Hebrew, who was dwelling at the terebinths of Mamre the Amorite, kinsman of Eshkol and Aner, these being Abram’s allies.

...and upholds it!
17 יז
(כד) בִּלְעָדַ֗י רַ֚ק אֲשֶׁ֣ר אָֽכְל֣וּ הַנְּעָרִ֔ים וְחֵ֙לֶק֙ הָֽאֲנָשִׁ֔ים אֲשֶׁ֥ר הָלְכ֖וּ אִתִּ֑י עָנֵר֙ אֶשְׁכֹּ֣ל וּמַמְרֵ֔א הֵ֖ם יִקְח֥וּ חֶלְקָֽם׃ (ס)

(24) For me, nothing but what my servants have used up; as for the share of the men who went with me—Aner, Eshkol, and Mamre—let them take their share.”

Avraham is hobnobbing with Canaanite Kings!
18 יח

(יח) וּמַלְכִּי־צֶ֙דֶק֙ מֶ֣לֶךְ שָׁלֵ֔ם הוֹצִ֖יא לֶ֣חֶם וָיָ֑יִן וְה֥וּא כֹהֵ֖ן לְאֵ֥ל עֶלְיֽוֹן׃ (יט) וַֽיְבָרְכֵ֖הוּ וַיֹּאמַ֑ר בָּר֤וּךְ אַבְרָם֙ לְאֵ֣ל עֶלְי֔וֹן קֹנֵ֖ה שָׁמַ֥יִם וָאָֽרֶץ׃

(18) And King Melchizedek of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was a priest of God Most High. (19) He blessed him, saying, “Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth.

Avraham is hobnobbing with Philistine Kings!
19 יט

(כב) וַֽיְהִי֙ בָּעֵ֣ת הַהִ֔וא וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֲבִימֶ֗לֶךְ וּפִיכֹל֙ שַׂר־צְבָא֔וֹ אֶל־אַבְרָהָ֖ם לֵאמֹ֑ר אֱלֹקִ֣ים עִמְּךָ֔ בְּכֹ֥ל אֲשֶׁר־אַתָּ֖ה עֹשֶֽׂה׃ (כג) וְעַתָּ֗ה הִשָּׁ֨בְעָה לִּ֤י בֵֽאלֹקִים֙ הֵ֔נָּה אִם־תִּשְׁקֹ֣ר לִ֔י וּלְנִינִ֖י וּלְנֶכְדִּ֑י כַּחֶ֜סֶד אֲשֶׁר־עָשִׂ֤יתִי עִמְּךָ֙ תַּעֲשֶׂ֣ה עִמָּדִ֔י וְעִם־הָאָ֖רֶץ אֲשֶׁר־גַּ֥רְתָּה בָּֽהּ׃ (כד) וַיֹּ֙אמֶר֙ אַבְרָהָ֔ם אָנֹכִ֖י אִשָּׁבֵֽעַ׃

(22) At that time Abimelech and Phicol, chief of his troops, said to Abraham, “God is with you in everything that you do. (23) Therefore swear to me here by God that you will not deal falsely with me or with my kith and kin, but will deal with me and with the land in which you have sojourned as loyally as I have dealt with you.” (24) And Abraham said, “I swear it.”
Avraham is a known entity throughout the land and among the population.
20 כ

(ו) שְׁמָעֵ֣נוּ ׀ אֲדֹנִ֗י נְשִׂ֨יא אֱלֹקִ֤ים אַתָּה֙ בְּתוֹכֵ֔נוּ בְּמִבְחַ֣ר קְבָרֵ֔ינוּ קְבֹ֖ר אֶת־מֵתֶ֑ךָ אִ֣ישׁ מִמֶּ֔נּוּ אֶת־קִבְר֛וֹ לֹֽא־יִכְלֶ֥ה מִמְּךָ֖ מִקְּבֹ֥ר מֵתֶֽךָ׃

(6) “Hear us, my lord: you are the elect of God among us. Bury your dead in the choicest of our burial places; none of us will withhold his burial place from you for burying your dead.”
Yitzchak is not like Avraham. Perhaps this is why he gives Ya'akov the blessing of Avraham. I.e. Do not be like me - be like Avraham (see S'forno, below).
21 כא
(ד) וְיִֽתֶּן־לְךָ֙ אֶת־בִּרְכַּ֣ת אַבְרָהָ֔ם לְךָ֖ וּלְזַרְעֲךָ֣ אִתָּ֑ךְ לְרִשְׁתְּךָ֙ אֶת־אֶ֣רֶץ מְגֻרֶ֔יךָ אֲשֶׁר־נָתַ֥ן אֱלֹקִ֖ים לְאַבְרָהָֽם׃
(4) May He grant the blessing of Abraham to you and your offspring, that you may possess the land where you are sojourning, which God assigned to Abraham.”
22 כב
(א) ויתן לך את ברכת אברהם כאמרו והיה ברכה וזה בלמדו דעת את העם ובזה תהיה ברכת האל ית' לך ולזרעך אתך לרשתך. כי כשיהיה גם הזרע מורה צדק יהיה ראוי לירש ויהיה בזה קדוש יקוק לא הפכו. כענין ישראל אשר בך אתפאר כי בזה ישמח יקוק במעשיו: (ב) ארץ מגוריך ארץ כנען שאתה דר בה עכשיו:

(1) ויתן לך את ברכת אברהם, when He had said (12,2) “become a source of blessing!” This involves his teaching people about monotheism, the acceptance of which would result in tangible blessings for those people from G’d. This in turn would make the people regard Avraham as responsible for the blessings they receive. לך ולזרעך אתך לרשתך, if the children would also be following in the footsteps of their parents acting as spiritual instructors to the people around them, their claim to this land would be reinforced. This would become an irreversible sanctification of the name of the Lord. Isaiah 49,3 described this as G’d saying: ישראל אשר בך אתפאר, “Israel in whom I am glorified.” This is also an example of what David had in mind when he said in Psalms 104,31 “G’d delights in His handiwork.” (2) ארץ מגוריך, the land of Canaan in which you dwell at the present time.

Ya'akov: Following in Avraham's footsteps. "Brothers" can mean different things: It can be real brothers - but who are Ya'akov's real brothers? It can be a colloquial term for Ya'akov's sons - but they are referred to many times in this very story as "Bnei." It's likely referring to treaty partners - people whom Ya'akov brought along with him that are his partners.
23 כג

(מו) וַיֹּ֨אמֶר יַעֲקֹ֤ב לְאֶחָיו֙ לִקְט֣וּ אֲבָנִ֔ים וַיִּקְח֥וּ אֲבָנִ֖ים וַיַּֽעֲשׂוּ־גָ֑ל וַיֹּ֥אכְלוּ שָׁ֖ם עַל־הַגָּֽל׃

(46) And Jacob said to his kinsmen, “Gather stones.” So they took stones and made a mound; and they partook of a meal there by the mound.
Perhaps the Radak alludes to this here:
24 כד

(א) לאחיו, לאנשיו ואע"פ שיעקב אמר לאחיו לבן גם כן עם אנשיו לקטו אבנים ועשו כולם גל אבנים ואכלו שם ביחד, יעקב עם אשר עמו, ולבן עם אשר עמו, אכלו יחד על הגל. או יהיה פירש לאחיו גם על אנשי לבן, כי כולם היו בכלל אחיו אחר שהיה שלום ביניהם.

(1) ויאמר... לאחיו, to his companions. Although Yaakov used the expression “to his brothers,” in telling them to collect stones for the monument, Lavan and his men did likewise and between them they built them into a pile before sharing a meal together. Yaakov ate a meal with his men, Lavan with his, both near the heap of stones they had erected. It is also possible that the meaning of the word לאחיו includes also the men traveling with Lavan, as they were all included in that term now that their war had been settled peacefully. The meal then would be similar to placing a seal on the newly concluded covenant between them.

This view perhaps explains Ya'akov's "timid" response to the "Dina Incident."
25 כה
(ל) וַיֹּ֨אמֶר יַעֲקֹ֜ב אֶל־שִׁמְע֣וֹן וְאֶל־לֵוִי֮ עֲכַרְתֶּ֣ם אֹתִי֒ לְהַבְאִישֵׁ֙נִי֙ בְּיֹשֵׁ֣ב הָאָ֔רֶץ בַּֽכְּנַעֲנִ֖י וּבַפְּרִזִּ֑י וַאֲנִי֙ מְתֵ֣י מִסְפָּ֔ר וְנֶאֶסְפ֤וּ עָלַי֙ וְהִכּ֔וּנִי וְנִשְׁמַדְתִּ֖י אֲנִ֥י וּבֵיתִֽי׃
(30) Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me, making me odious among the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites and the Perizzites; my men are few in number, so that if they unite against me and attack me, I and my house will be destroyed.”
26 כו

VI. Yehuda

27 כז

(ח) יְהוּדָ֗ה אַתָּה֙ יוֹד֣וּךָ אַחֶ֔יךָ יָדְךָ֖ בְּעֹ֣רֶף אֹיְבֶ֑יךָ יִשְׁתַּחֲוּ֥וּ לְךָ֖ בְּנֵ֥י אָבִֽיךָ׃

(8) You, O Judah, your brothers shall praise; Your hand shall be on the nape of your foes; Your father’s sons shall bow low to you.