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The Rabbis: Accept Those Who Want to Convert to Judaism…Or The Jewish People Will Deal with Terrible Results! Parashat Va’Yishlach

Rabbi Prof. David Frankel explores rabbinical imagination to wonder what would have happened if Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob had accepted the conversion of Timna. However, they did not, and thus was the born the Jewish People’s greatest historical enemy: Amalek. Frankel teaches us to accept the other.

The parashah has many different stories about Jacob. There is one passage which is particularly startling in the sense that is seems to be superfluous. It is not clear what the purpose of the story is. It is not even a story.

It is a list of kings and queens that are related to the people of Edom and this lasts for quite a long time. The rabbis discussed this passage and reported that one of the most evil kings of Israel, of Judah actually, was the King Menashe. One of his great sins was that he mocked this section of our parashah.

The section about the kings and queens and concubines of the Edomites, seem to him, to the King Menashe, to be just a ridiculous, long, boring, meaningless passage and the rabbis castigated Menashe for this attitude.

They tried to explain what the purpose of all these names and marriages and details, what the purpose of the Torah could be by this.

In particular, the text tells us about a certain woman by the name of Timna. Timna married (was the concubine of) Esau’s first born son, Eliphaz. They have children. The first child is Amalek. And this is one of the many different details of this chapter.

And the rabbis tell us, as opposed to King Menashe, who didn’t understand, they should learn from this. We should all learn from this story that is implicit behind the text.

What is the story?

The story is about Timna who was actually a princess who was very attracted to the Jewish religion. She was so attracted to the Jewish religion that she wanted to convert. She came to Abraham, the rabbis tell us, and Abraham said, no you cannot convert.

Then she came Isaac, and Isaac too, found her unacceptable and then she came to Jacob, the rabbis tell us, and finally, he also rejected her, disqualified her, found her not worthy enough to join the Jewish People.

And so, what does Timna do? She decides that if I can’t join the Jewish People, I’ll at least marry somebody who is related to the Jewish People. So marries Esau’s first born son Eliphaz.

What is the result of this marriage?

The result is the birth of Amalek.

The rabbis say this became a terrible punishment to the Jewish People because Amalek became the people of Amalek who so disturbed and offended the Jewish People in later history.

Why, the rabbis ask, did this union produce Amalek?

And they answer….this is the punishment to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They refused to accept her conversion, and so the results were that the Jewish People would be punished and would suffer from the later fruits of this rejection.

And I believe this rather, imaginative story that the rabbis put together, was really invented to tell their contemporaries and to tell us what are the results of rejecting, pushing away, excluding and undermining people who are interested and who are attracted and want to be a part of our people.

The results are that we sow the seeds of resentment and anger, and eventually what sprouts out from this hatred, enemies, and great, great unhappiness.

And so the rabbis teach us an important lesson here.

If Timna would have been accepted by the great holy Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who found her to be unwanting. If they would have accepted her, instead of finding her faults and rejecting her. They,Amalek one of the great enemies of the Jewish People would not have been born.

And so this is a lesson for us today. If we learn to draw close and accept those who are perhaps those somewhat different from us. If we embrace them, perhaps we can avoid sowing the seeds of hatred, of tomorrow.



David Frankel is Associate Professor of Bible at the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies. He has been on the faculty since 1992. He earned his PhD from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem under the direction of Prof. Moshe Weinfeld. His publications include “The Murmuring Stories of the Priestly School,” and “The Land of Canaan and the Destiny of Israel.”  From 1991 to 1996, Frankel was rabbi of Congregation Shevet Achim in Gilo, Jerusalem.

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