The Torah is obviously fascinated with twins. Whenever the Torah describes the birth of twins, it goes into minute detail, as if we are the grandparents who are anxious to hear about every step of the labor and delivery.

When Tamar gives birth to her twins, the Torah gives us this detailed description:

While she was in labor, one [of the babies] stuck out his hand [from the womb]. The midwife took a scarlet thread and tied it on his hand to signify “this one emerged first.” [The baby then withdrew his hand.]

But as soon as he withdrew his hand, his brother emerged, and [his mother] said, “With what vigor have you pushed yourself ahead!” So [Judah] named him Peretz [“breaking through”].

Then his brother, who had the scarlet thread on his hand, emerged, and [Judah] named him Zerach [“shining”].1

Why do we need to know that one stretched out his hand, pulled it back, and the other burst ahead and emerged first? Why do we have to know that the midwife tied a crimson thread on his hand because she thought that he would be born first? What message is the Torah conveying?

The Two Paths

There are two paths we may walk on our journey in this world.

We can walk the bright and shiny path. We can strive to never succumb to evil temptation and to always make the right choices.

Or we may find ourselves on the more tricky path. We follow our heart, even when it directs us to places our mind cautions us to stay away from. Those of us on this second path make mistakes. We stumble. We lose our innocence. We probably cause pain to ourselves and to the people who love us. We may even reach a place of total spiritual darkness, a place where we can no longer hear the whispering voice of our G‑dly soul, directing us back to the path of life.

And then we burst forward.

We don’t know where we get the strength from. We are not sure if and how we will be able to rebuild our shattered relationships. We are not certain we will have the strength of character to sustain us as we push forward, trying to escape old habits.

But we burst forward and push ahead. And do all it takes to make it back to where we need to be.

And then we discover that by leaving that second path, we have come out ahead in the game of life.

While at the outset we should have taken the “firstborn” path, the path G‑d wanted us to choose, ultimately we are now ahead. For the journey through the wilderness of life forces us to dig deeper, to mine our soul for spiritual courage, and to discover treasures that most people never find.

We discover within ourselves the power to burst through any challenge, to overcome any obstacle and to shatter any roadblock. We discover that our commitment to the people and ideas we hold dear is unbreakable. The strength needed to burst forward and get us back on the right path is now channeled to sustain and nurture our commitments.

“One [of the babies] stuck out his hand [from the womb]. The midwife took a scarlet thread and tied it on his hand to signify ‘this one emerged first.’” We recognize that our “midwife”—G‑d—tells us to take the first path, the path of the shiny crimson string. It’s the path of a Zerach, one who “shines.” It’s the path that the Torah is pointing toward.

And yet, if we fail to take the preferred path, if we find ourselves in the dark, we must know that we can be a Peretz—one who “bursts forward.” The Torah tells us that, ultimately, Peretz is the one who achieves greatness and becomes the ancestor of King David and the future Moshiach.

For the perfection of the world will be achieved not by those who never experienced pain, but by those whose pain was transformed into fuel. As Tamar exclaimed upon the birth of Peretz, “With what vigor have you pushed yourself ahead!”

Strive to stretch out your hand and reach for the crimson path of Zerach. But if you fail, burst forward like Peretz. You will be the firstborn. You will achieve more than anyone would dream possible.2