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A blog of Jewish study and traditions. Notes from classes: Torah Study with Rabbi Marder, Toledot and Shabbaton as well as other details found of interest.

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Thursday, March 14, 2013

Why so much Esau Genealogy in Torah?

Torah Study with Rabbi Marder - 9 March 2013 - (Howard's notes)

·      Philosophical and theological problem – why so much verbiage on this family that nearly disappears from Torah and become the enemies of Israel? Edom becomes a symbol for Rome and Christians.  Why do these peoples rise to a position of power?  Munk offers two reasons (36:8 ff).
+ (1) Esau’s name is mentioned three times; acquired this name because of his desire for blood. 
-  Esau was grandson of Abraham, therefore had ties to the Israelite nation.  Edomites still retained some part of Israelite nation’s tradition, but perhaps in a watered down or diluted form. Thus there was some divine purpose: spread the principles of Judaism of the time.
Munk writes, the repetition of Esau’s name three times means “that the important group of nation called Edom and stretching from East to West, was founded by its ancestor, the son of Isaac and grandson of Abraham.  Some ideas concerning the existence of God and certain moral principles going back to the patriarch were in this way spread among the peoples of mankind, albeit in softened and ‘sweetened’ form [Christianity, Islam?].  The purpose of this chapter [Genesis 36] would then be to sketch a vast historical picture of the cultural evolution within humanity.”  Munk cites Ibn Ezra in support of this analysis.
-  Rambam, Mishneh Torah on Jesus and Mohammed and their triumphs:
.  Jesus’ ascendancy is foreshadowed in Book of Daniel.  Jesus (and his disciples) changed the Torah by preaching that the Commandments were no longer relevant.
.  Although Christianity and Islam did prepare the world for coming of Messiah, the suffering of the Jews suggests that Jesus and Mohammed were false messiahs.  Yet they helped spread monotheism throughout the world: the triumph of the Abrahamic religions.
-  (2) Contrast the ultimate fate of Edom with descendants of Jacob.  Edom and Ishmael conquered territory by military might.  Jews (descendants of Jacob) give to the world a morality not present in Edom and Ishmael.  Edom rose quickly but has disappeared from the world (not Christianity and Islam).  Jews are still here.
Munk writes, “this chapter … shows us the contrast between the remarkable development of Esau’s offspring and the destiny of the descendants of Jacob, who will be living for long centuries in wretched conditions and will go through great headship before finding peace.  Esau and his descendants live according to the ‘natural law’ of the sword.  Their prosperity and their greatness stem directly from the easy success achieved by one who does not keep moral law.  But, Jacob and his sons work modestly, to build the true city of God, the only one on which the future of the world will depend.  Esau and his descendants have disappeared from the world stage despite their rapid rise and their immediate successes. … Jacob and his sons humbly founded the nation that would bring spiritual redemption the world and which to this day has kept a personality quite like that of its ancestors in all its aspects.” 
The Palestinians might dispute this.
-  As further illustration of the rise and fall of empires, Rabbi Marder offered two poems.
s  Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: `Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear --
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.'
Edom is the “colossal wreck” of an empire.  Yet Jacob and his descendants, small and humble, are still here.
.  “In Memoriam: 1933 by Charles Reznikoff (1894-1976)
Jonathan speaking to a rabbi at the Academy at Jamnia, CE 70:
You have seen a bush beside the road
whose leaves the passing beasts pluck at
and whose twigs are sometimes broken
by a wheel, and yet it flourishes,
because the roots are sound --
such a heavy wheel is Rome;
these Romans,
all the legions of he East
from Egypt and Syria,
the Islands of the sea and the rivers of Parthia
gathered here
to trample down Jerusalem,
when they have become a legend
and Rome a fable,
that old men will tell of in the city’s gate,
the tellers will be Jews and their speech Hebrew.
The hurricane, leaving its dead or dying,
leaves also the healing and the hale,
but the sunshine and the stars,
the air that we breathe,
the daily bread,
the words we listen to,
and the thoughts of our hearts
become ourselves and our sons.
We who have outlived the empires
 of the ancients –Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon
withstood their conquests or been conquered
and, captives or fugitives, slaves or strangers,
still were Jews,
have nothing to fear from Rome …
Rome is a wheel crushing the grass; Jews are like the dew on the grass, there the next day and every day.
+ Maimonides in his Guide for the Perplexed, Part III, Chapter 50 [“On Scriptural Passages with seemingly Purposeless Contents”], writes about why Esau’s genealogy is necessary.  Rambam is adamant that every word in the Law [Torah] has a purpose. In this case, it was to spare the Amalekites so they would not be forgotten [?].
“THERE are in the Law portions which include deep wisdom, but have been misunderstood by many persons.; they require, therefore, an explanation. I mean the narratives contained in the Law which many consider as being of no use whatever; e.g., the list of the various families descended from Noah, with their names and their territories (Genesis 10.): the sons of Seir the Horite (Genesis 36:20-30): the kings that reigned in Edom (Genesis 36:31 ff): and the like. There is a saying of our Sages (Sanhedrin 99b) that the wicked king Manasse frequently held disgraceful meetings for the sole purpose of criticizing such passages of the Law." He held meetings and made blasphemous observations on Scripture, saying, Had Moses nothing else to write than, And the sister of  Lotan was Timna" (Genesis 36. 22) ?

“The list of the families of Seir and their genealogy is given it the Law (Genesis 36:20-36), because of one particular commandment.  For God distinctly commanded the Israelites concerning Amalek to blot out his name (Deuteronomy 25:17-19). Amalek was the son of Eliphas and Timna, the sister of Lotan (Genesis 36:12). The other sons of Esau were not included in this commandment. But Esau was by marriage connected with the Seirites, as is distinctly stated in Scripture: and Seirites were therefore his children: he reigned over them; his seed was mixed with the seed of Seir, and ultimately all the countries and families of Seir were called after the sons of Esau who were the predominant family, and they assumed more particularly the name Amalekites, because these were the strongest in that family. If the genealogy of these families of Seir had not been described in full they would all have been killed, contrary to the plain words of the commandment. For this reason the Seirite families are fully described, as if to say, the people that live in Seir and in the kingdom of Amalek are not all Amalekites: they are the descendants of some other man, and are called Amalekites because the mother of Amalek was of their tribe. The justice of God thus prevented the destruction of a[n] [innocent] people that lived in the midst of another people [doomed to extirpation]: for the decree was only pronounced against the seed of Amalek.” [Translated from the original Arabic text By M. Friedlander, Ph.D.  Second Edition, Revised Throughout.  1904.]
·      Verses 9-14 repeat the listing of Esau’s descendants from 1-3, 28:34, and 28:9 and extend the line to his grandchildren.  For some wives, Adah and Basemat, grandchildren – two generations -- are given; for others, only one generation.
+ Sarna (JPS Torah Commentary.  Genesis) –social status; listed in order of number of sons.  Oholibamah’s sons are placed on the same level as grandsons of other wives, suggesting that her family had a lower social status that the others.  Amalek is stated to be the son of the concubine Timna and Esau’s son Eliphaz, and thus having inferior status.
+ The sons of Esau total twelve.  Other places in the Torah where twelve children are listed:
-  Genesis 35:22-25, Jacob’s sons
-  Genesis 22:20-24 - Nahor’s (Abraham’s brother’s) 12 sons
-  Genesis 17:20 - Ishmael’s twelve chieftains [or princes]
+ Timna – also a place name in Edom, near Petra, Jordan
+ Kenaz – Genesis 15:19 covenant of the half – the Kenizites were granted land; also in book of Judges
·      12 – Timna is a concubine – why should we care?
+ Rashi – Timna was a highborn Edomite, but wanted to be associated with Israelites.
-  [This passage is here] to proclaim the greatness of Abraham-how much [people] longed to attach themselves to his descendants. This Timna was a daughter of chieftains, as it is said: “and the sister of Lotan was Timna” (below verse 22). Lotan was one of the chieftains of the inhabitants of Seir, from the Horites, who had dwelt there before. She said, “I may not be worthy of marrying you, but if only I could be [your] concubine” (Genesis Rabbah 82:14).
In (I) Chronicles (1:36) [the Chronicler] enumerates her among the children of Eliphaz [here she is counted as the daughter of Seir the Horite, and the concubine of Eliphaz]. This teaches [us] that he (Eliphaz) was intimate with the wife of Seir, and Timna emerged from between them (Seir’s wife and Eliphaz), and when she grew up, she became his (Eliphaz’s) concubine. That is the meaning of “and the sister of Lotan was Timna.” [Scripture] did not count her with the sons of Seir, because she was his (Lotan’s) sister through his mother but not through his father. — [from Tanchuma Vayeshev 1]
-  In other words, the relationship was incestuous!
+ From Talmud Sanhedrin 99b – Timna as a gentile was not accepted as a convert, so she gives birth to Amalek, Israel’s greatest enemy.
+ Why didn’t they accept Timna in light of Abraham’s missionary legacy? 
-  The Israelites didn’t think she was sincere and believed her to be an opportunist. 
-  Abraham didn’t keep prisoners in Genesis 14 because he might have converted them forcefully.  Abraham had scruples – he didn’t want to force religion on others; that would be contrary to the basis tenets of religious faith.  So Abraham lost the opportunity to bring pagans to a belief in God [Munk citing Nedarim 32a]
-  By refusing to accept her, Israel paid the consequences; see below.
-  Elie Munk writes, “Certainly no Jew fulfilled the duty of converting people to monotheistic belief with such zeal, perseverance, and success as Abraham.  But he wanted the conquest of spirits to be based solely on the persuasive force [that] comes from the truth.  He [and the other patriarchs to which she turned] refused to accede to Timna’s demand, for he know that she was above all ‘desirous of joining with the family of Abraham’ whose greatness alone forth over the whole of that generation [citing Rashi on 36:20].
·      More on Amalek in verses 12 and 16, son of Timna
+ His status is that of a son of a concubine; not a genuine Edomite
+ Verse 22 – Horites were the indigenous people in the land to where Edomites moved.  He is of mixed stock.  Unlike Edomites and Egyptians, which Jews are not allowed to hate forever (Deuteronomy 23:8), Jews are required to always hate Amalek (Deuteronomy 25:17-19) because of the memory of gratuitous violence and cruelty against the Israelites.
+ Certain verses related to this issue are read on Shabbat Zachor (before Purim) in addition to the regular parasha – Tetzaveh, Exodus 27:30 to 30:10
-  Deuteronomy 25:17-19 (above)
-  I Samuel 15:2-34, in which Agag kept alive by Saul instead of killed; Haman was his descendent.  Oy Vey.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

What is gleaned from the list of names of Esau's family

Torah Study with Rabbi Marder 2 March 2013
·      Why such detail in verses 1-15ff when other pieces of Torah legislation are so terse?  Sages say this shows the depravity of Edomites.
·      36:2 - Rashi: “Anah” is masculine name; see verse 24.  Zibeon is another father of Anah.  How can this be?
If she was the daughter of Anah, she could not have been the daughter of Zibeon: Anah was the son of Zibeon, as it is said:“And these are the sons of Zibeon: Aiah and Anah” (below verse 24). [This] teaches [us] that Zibeon was intimate with his daughter-in-law, the wife of Anah, and Oholibamah emerged from between them both [i.e., from Zibeon and Anah]. Scripture teaches us that they were all mamzerim (illegitimate), products of adultery and incest. — [from Tanchuma Vayeshev 1]  
-      Mamzer” – colloquial Yiddish, not a “bastard” – persons who cannot marry according to Jewish law.  All descendants of Anah are mamzerim.
-      Adah = Basemat.  According to Rashi, his is [actually] Basemath the daughter of Elon (mentioned above 26:34). She was called Basemath because she burnt incense (בְּשָׂמִים) to idols. [some references to Song of Songs…]
-      Oholibamah - She is [identical to] Judith (mentioned above 26:34). He (Esau) nicknamed her Judith (יְהוּדִית) to imply that she denied the validity of idolatry, so that he might deceive his father.  Judith, the daughter of Ishmael, is from word for praise.
-      Rashi solves problem of multiple sources and justifies the negativity toward the Edomites.
·      Raises issues of projecting bad characteristics onto some people (outward) and good things on others.  This is verbal aggression, done by people without the ability to use physical power.  Often, Jews’ only weapons are words. They are not above criticizing other sages, too.
·      36:3 - Basemat
-      In v 28:9, she’s named for machalat (sickness); but in Aramaic, sweetness
-      Rashi - Elsewhere [Scripture] calls her Mahalath (above 28:9). I found in the Aggadah of the midrash on the Book of Samuel (ch. 17): There are three people whose iniquities are forgiven (מוֹחֲלִים) : One who converts to Judaism, one who is promoted to a high position, and one who marries. The proof [of the last one] is derived from here (28:9). For this reason she was called Mahalath (מָחֲלַת), because his (Esau’s) sins were forgiven (נְמְחֲלוּ).
-      Origin of Jewish tradition: all sins are forgiven on wedding day; bride and groom wear white; they fast until the ceremony.
·      36:5, children of Oholibamah
-      Korach - This Korah was illegitimate. He was the son of Eliphaz, who had been intimate with his father’s wife, Oholibamah, the wife of Esau. This is evidenced by the fact that he [Korah] is [also] listed among the chieftains of Eliphaz at the end of this chapter. — [from Genesis Rabbah 82:12]
-      In Torah, he’s the son of Esau
-      36:16 – Korach is descendant of Eliphaz – incest!
-      Another tradition about Eliphaz from Ramban: raised in Isaac’s household; he would not kill someone…
-      Eliphaz appears in Job 2:1 as one of Job’s friends; Job was an Edomite as was Eliphaz.
·      Identification of an individual by his/her ancestors is rare today [in USA].  Bible is a literary work, not a factual history book.  Such genealogy shows patterns that show structure of the world, despite the outward chaos.
·      36:6-7 – Esau takes his family elsewhere, another land away from Jacob
-      Rashi - to dwell wherever he would find a suitable place.  There is no further specification of where this land could be, implying that Esau had no specific place in mind when he left [Rashi. Sapirstein Edition/Artscroll].
-      Alter [The Five Books of Moses, page 201] and Sarna [JPS Torah Commentary.  Genesis, page 249] note that the language of these verses is similar to the separation of Abraham and Lot in Chapter 13.  Furthermore, Esau recognizes that the loss of his birthright does not entitle him to stay in Canaan, so he moves elsewhere.
-      Me’Am Lo’Ez, citing many commentators, lists six reason the Esau-Jacob split
*  The land could no longer support the herds of livestock both brothers owned (Rashi on 36:7 and Ramban).
*  Esau feared Jacob after learning of what his sons did to Sh’chem (Targum Yonatan).
*  Esau did not want to be enslaved for 400 years as a condition of inheriting the land according to the covenant in 15:13 (Midrash Rabbah 82:13).
*  He was ashamed and humiliated at having sold his birthright to Jacob (Midrash Rabbah 82:13 and Rashi).
*  Because of the “bastards among Esau’s children, [he] went to a place where he was not known” (Yafet Toar, page 458).
*  Esau and Jacob agreed to divide Isaac’s estate.  Jacob divided that estate into two parts: (1) gold, silver, and other treasure; and (2) land of Canaan and Cave of Machpelah. Esau as the elder had first choice.   He saw no gain from the land and thus took the gold and silver – i.e., Isaac’s movable assets -- because of his [short-term] materialistic tendencies.  Jacob knew of Esau’s desires and divided the estate accordingly – clever of him! (Zohar, Pirke Rabbi Eliezer 38, and other sources)
-      Wives are mentioned first.  In 31:1, Jacob took children before wives.  Esau thought more about his women than his children; this is a comment on righteousness; righteous people marry to produce righteous children; wicked people marry for the physical pleasure; children are by-products [Bereshit Rabbah 82:13].
·      36:8 – Esau goes to hill country of Seir.  This land got its name from the bushy (shaggy) vegetation, just like Esau’s hairy appearance as birth.  It’s near today’s Petra in Jordan.
-      Deuteronomy 2 – identified as territory of Esau; in v.12, formerly inhabited by Horites, whom Esau wiped out.
-      But Esau was already in Seir according to 32:4 and 33:14. He was a nomad who moved around; now he makes a permanent break from Jacob.
-      What about Seir?  Why this place?
*  Oholibamah is a descendent according to 36:20, 25; i.e., Seir is a dowry.
*  וַיֵּשֶׁב – does this imply permanent residency?
-      Munk on 36:6 and 8, citing Onkelos and Zohar– Esau’s destination is less important that just getting away from Jacob.  Did we go away to college to get away from our parents?  Separation looks like an economic necessity, but it’s more of a mental separation: Jacob priorities were spiritual; Esau’s motives were materialistic.
Munk writes, “Henceforth the paths of the two brothers separate definitively.  Esau goes ‘to another land’ to devote himself to material satisfactions, whereas Jacob, sheltered from bad influences, will become the people who are God’s portion, Jacob, the lot of His inheritance (Deuteronomy 32:9).” [italics in original]