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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.


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