Timna – The price of re­jec­tion

The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - JUDAISM - SHMUEL RABI­NOWITZ The writer is rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites.

This week’s To­rah por­tion, Vayishlah, tells us about the life of our pa­tri­arch Ja­cob, dur­ing the 17 years be­tween the birth of Joseph to the time he was sold into slav­ery by his broth­ers. We read about the jour­ney Ja­cob took with his wives and ex­tended fam­ily from Haran to Canaan; about Ja­cob’s mys­te­ri­ous strug­gle with the an­gel that cul­mi­nated in get­ting an­other name – Is­rael; about the com­pli­cated en­counter be­tween the broth­ers-ad­ver­saries, Ja­cob and Esau, that sur­pris­ingly ended in peace; about the sad story of Ja­cob’s daugh­ter Di­nah who was kid­napped and raped by the peo­ple of Shechem, and about the res­cue mis­sion con­ducted by her broth­ers, Simeon and Levi; about Ja­cob’s jour­ney from Shechem to He­bron, and the death of his beloved wife Rachel dur­ing Ben­jamin’s birth and her burial along the side of the road.

At the end of the por­tion, there is a chap­ter ti­tled “the chron­i­cles of Esau” which de­tails his de­scen­dants and the kings who ruled in Edom, the land where Esau and his fam­ily resided.

Why should the chron­i­cles of Esau in­ter­est some­one learn­ing the Bible? Com­men­ta­tors have sug­gested a va­ri­ety of rea­sons. We will suf­fice with say­ing that the To­rah po­si­tions the chron­i­cles of Esau in con­trast to the chron­i­cles of Ja­cob, with Esau’s his­tory be­ing sum­ma­rized in one chap­ter, and Ja­cob’s spread­ing out over at least 10 chap­ters. We can sur­mise from this re­gard­ing the rel­a­tive im­pact of Ja­cob’s chain of gen­er­a­tions ver­sus Esau’s.

In the list of Esau’s chron­i­cles, the name of one un­known woman stands out: Timna. This woman’s name ap­pears twice in this chap­ter. At first, it says: “And Timna was a con­cu­bine to Elip­haz, son of Esau, and she bore to Elip­haz Amalek” (Ge­n­e­sis 36:12). From this we un­der­stand that Timna was a semi-le­gal wife mar­ried to Esau’s son. Their son, Amalek, would later rep­re­sent a highly neg­a­tive char­ac­ter when the na­tion named for him would wage bat­tle with the Jewish na­tion leav­ing Egypt. This earned it a se­vere re­buke lead­ing up to our com­mand­ment to erase it from the earth.

The sec­ond men­tion of Timna in­cludes an im­por­tant bio­graph­i­cal de­tail. The To­rah talks of the kings who ruled in Edom be­fore Esau con­quered the land: “These are the sons of Seir the Horite, the in­hab­i­tants of the land: Lotan... and the sis­ter of Lotan was Timna” (Ge­n­e­sis 36:20-22).

It turns out that Elip­haz’s mis­tress and the mother of Amalek was not so un­known. Ac­tu­ally, she was the daugh­ter of the lo­cal ruler in Edom. At this point, our radars go up. What is the story be­hind this woman and why is it im­por­tant for us to know it? The Baby­lo­nian Tal­mud pro­vides fur­ther de­tail to this story, re­veal­ing Timna’s life story and even learn­ing an im­por­tant les­son from it:

Timna was the daugh­ter of kings and sought to con­vert. She came be­fore Abra­ham, Isaac and Ja­cob, and they did not ac­cept her. She went and be­came a con­cu­bine of Elip­haz, son of Esau, and said, re­fer­ring to her­self: It is prefer­able to be a maid­ser­vant for this na­tion and not be a no­ble­woman for an­other na­tion. Ul­ti­mately, Amalek emerged from her and that tribe af­flicted the Jewish peo­ple. What is the rea­son that the Jewish peo­ple were pun­ished by suf­fer­ing at the hand of Amalek? It is due to the fact that they should not have re­jected her when she sought to con­vert. (Baby­lo­nian Tal­mud, Trac­tate San­hedrin, page 99.)

This sheds a new light on Timna and turns her into a sym­bol of devotion for the sake of faith. This woman was roy­alty and could have her­self be­come a ruler. She was fas­ci­nated by the faith and lifestyle of the pa­tri­archs, Abra­ham, Isaac and Ja­cob, and chose to fol­low them. But the pa­tri­archs re­jected her. She did not de­spair and in­stead chose to live the dif­fi­cult life of a con­cu­bine to Elip­haz, the son of Esau, just to be able to some­how join the fam­ily of Abra­ham.

The pa­tri­archs’ re­jec­tion of Timna came with a steep price. Cen­turies later, fol­low­ing the Ex­o­dus from Egypt, the de­scen­dants of her son, Amalek, made the lives of the Jewish peo­ple mis­er­able. To this day, “Amalek” rep­re­sents ha­tred of Jews and the per­se­cu­tions we have suf­fered for gen­er­a­tions.

So, what is the les­son we are meant to learn from this painful story? The re­jec­tion of any per­son, par­tic­u­larly if the re­jec­tion is of spir­i­tual sig­nif­i­cance, should never be done hap­haz­ardly. We must care­fully ex­am­ine the good and pure in­ten­tions of the per­son be­fore us, check if he or she is in­deed hon­estly and coura­geously seek­ing to de­vote him­self to a life of pro­found faith, as Timna was will­ing to sur­ren­der her so­cial sta­tus in or­der to join the faith of Abra­ham; and if so we must help him move for­ward and tran­scend. ■

The pa­tri­archs’ re­jec­tion of Timna came with a steep price

(Wiki­me­dia Com­mons)

‘JOSHUA FIGHT­ING Amalek,’ print from the Phillip Med­hurst Col­lec­tion of Bible il­lus­tra­tions at St. Ge­orge’s Court.

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