When Yehuda’s third child, שלה, was born, he, and/or the birth, was in כזיב (Bereishis 38:5). There is much discussion about why the Torah includes this information. Radak is among those who say that parents took turns naming their children. Yehuda named their first child (38:3), and his wife named their second one (38:4). It should have been Yehuda’s turn to name their third child, yet it was his wife who named him. In order to explain why they deviated from the custom, the Torah tells us that Yehuda was in כזיב when their third child was born, so she named him instead.
Ramban doesn’t think the custom (or explaining why it was changed) is significant enough for the Torah to mention. But there might also be a geographical problem with suggesting that the Torah told us Yehuda was prevented from naming their child because he was in כזיב.
כזיב is associated with אכזיב, a city in the lowlands between the coastal area and the Judean Hills (see Ibn Ezra and Radak on Micha 1:14). אכזיב is near עדלם, where Yehuda’s wife was from (Bereishis 38:1-2) and also near תמנה, where he and his business partner sheared their sheep (38:12). It seems that Yehuda was always in the vicinity (the three cities are only a few miles from each other, see Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan’s footnotes on Keziv and Timna on page 191 of his “The Living Torah”), so why wouldn’t he have been there for his third son’s birth—or at least close enough that his wife could wait for him to arrive so that he could name him?
Although the Torah doesn’t say that the name שלה is based on כזיב, several commentators make the connection. [In “Places in the Parasha,” Yoel Elitzur quotes a student of Rav Saadya Gaon on Divrei Hayamim I 2:3, which is printed in Bar Ilan’s Haketer series as “פרשן עלום שם,” and mentions that Ramban suggests it on our verse as well; the same idea is expressed in both מדרש לקח טוב and מדרש שכל טוב, as well as in דעת זקנים מבעלי התוספות.] When Elisha promised his hostess that she would finally have a child (Melachim II 4:16), she responded “אל תכזב בשפחתך,” whereas when she repeated the conversation (4:28), she quoted herself as having told him “לא תשלה אתי,” indicating that כזב and שלה mean the same thing; i.e. she was asking him not to mislead her. The two Midrashim take it a step further, telling us that כזיב refers to the sale of Yosef. In other words, Yehuda was away when שלה was born because that’s when the brothers (following Yehuda’s advice) sold Yosef. Since this occurred much farther north, Yehuda was not near his wife when their third son was born.
I would take it another step, suggesting that שלה was born when Yehuda was misleading his father (and it was Yehuda who asked him to recognize whether the bloody coat was his son’s, see Soteh 10b and Bereishis Rabba 84:19). Whether his wife knew what was going on at the time, or named him without knowing its full significance, the Torah is hinting to us why Yehuda was away when his wife named their third son.
The sale of Yosef (or misleading Yaakov about it) occurring as שלה was being born brings up another issue. Yosef was 17 when he was sold (37:2), and 30 when he became viceroy (41:46). There were seven years of plenty and two years of famine (45:11) before Yaakov and the rest of his family joined Yosef in Egypt, for a total of 22 years. Within those 22 years, שלה was born, and grew up enough that Tamar thought she should marry him. When this didn’t happen, she enticed Yehuda, and gave birth to twins, one of whom (Peretz) had two sons (46:12). That means the equivalent of three generations (Shaila/Peretz/Chamul) were born within 22 years. I discussed this issue in 5772; here was my conclusion:
God wanted “70 souls” to descend to Egypt, corresponding to the 70 nations of the world, and to the “70 faces of the Torah” (see Vilna Gaon’s commentary on the Haggadah, d”h b’msay meat). Peretz therefore matured early, and by becoming a father (of two) at an early age, the number 70 was reached. Similarly, Er and Onan (Shaila’s older brothers, who married Tamar and died because of their sins) had to mature early too, in order for Yehuda and Tamar to have Peretz in time for him to become a father earlier. But there’s another reason why God wanted Er and Onan to mature so early.
“God said to Yehuda, ‘You have no children, therefore you haven’t experienced the [emotional] pain [of parenthood], and [so] you tricked your father and told him ‘your son (Yosef) died.’ You will [therefore] marry a woman and bury her children so that you will experience the pain [of parenthood].’ This is why it says, ‘and Er and Onan died” (Midrash Tanchuma manuscript, quoted in Ishay HaTanach and by Hadar Z’kainim and Rav Chaim Paltiel; also see Sefornu). God accelerated the maturation process of Er and Onan so that Yehuda would experience the kind of pain he had inflicted on his father earlier, enabling him to fully repent in time to protect Binyamin. And he did, as evidenced by Yehuda’s refusal to leave Binyamin in Egypt.
Shaila may have matured early as well. But even if he didn’t, Tamar thought he would mature as quickly as his older brothers had, so expected to marry him when he was the same young age they were. If Shaila was 9 when Tamar thought she should marry him, and she gave birth to Peretz a year later, two “generations” were born within 10 years, leaving 12 years for Peretz to get married and have two children, thereby completing the “70 souls” that descended to Egypt 22 years after Yosef was sold.
Rabbi Dov Kramer wrote a weekly dvar Torah from 5764-5776; most are archived at RabbiDMK.wordpress.com and AishDas.org/ta (his Jewish Geography pieces are on the Link’s website – search for “Kramer” – and on dmkjewishgeography.wordpress.com).