Genesis 32:4 – 36:43
This is a huge parasha. Jacob wrestles with something big (God, an angel, his conscience – depending on who you ask) and as a result is transformed and becomes Israel. The next day, he makes peace with Esau. Dinah, Jacob’s daughter is raped by Shechem the Hivite, and her brothers take revenge by murdering every male of Shechem and plundering the city. Rachel dies giving birth to Benjamin, and Isaac dies and is buried in Hebron.
With all of this to capture our attention, the last chapter of the portion can easily be overlooked. After all, it is but a long, “dry as bones” list of the descendants of Esau. Yet, buried in the midst of this genealogy is a mystery which captivated the rabbis:
“Timna was a concubine of Esau’s son Eliphaz, she bore Amalek to Eliphaz.” [Gen. 36:12]
Rabbi Michael Gold observes that, in general, biblical genealogies mention the men, but not the women. Why then does the Torah make an exception for Timna? Who was this woman? Why was she so important that she had to be included in Torah, where every word is there for a reason?
Torah says nothing else about Timna, but the rabbinic tradition tries to fill in the gaps. According to the rabbis, Timna was the daughter of a local chieftain. As a child, she was deeply moved by the teachings of Abraham, and desired to convert to Judaism. When she tried, she was turned away. Yet, she was so desperate to become part of this people that she turned to the only other option she could think of – she tried to become part of the family as a concubine to Eliphaz, the great-grandson of Abraham. Then she gives birth to Amalek, the eternal enemy of the Jewish people. Rabbi Gold writes: “The lesson is that our greatest enemy is born because a woman is turned away from conversion.”
Contrast this with Abraham, who the rabbis teach was chosen by God because of his extraordinary hospitality.
In every synagogue, and every Jewish community, we would be well advised to remember Timna, and to seek ways to be more like Abraham, with our tents opened wide.
Hi there! I am the senior rabbi at Temple Beth Ami in Rockville, Maryland, where I have served since 2016.
(c) copyright 2018 by Rabbi Gary Pokras