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The Mother of All Evil

Mother and Child facing WW

Dishon, Ezer and Dishan. These sons of Seir in Edom were Horite chiefs. The sons of Lotan: Hori and Homam. Timna was Lotan’s sister. — Genesis 36:21–22

The Torah portion for this week, Vayishlach, which means “and he sent,” is from Genesis 32:4—36:43, and the Haftorah is from Obadiah 1:1–21.

Have you ever wondered about the origins of evil? According to Jewish tradition, the root of all evil is the nation Amalek — the first nation to attack the children of Israel after their exodus from Egypt and the nation destined to be at war with God until the end of time. Amalek is the source of the greatest hatred that the world has ever known — and the source of Amalek is found in this week’s Torah portion.

The mother of Amalek is a woman by the name of Timna. Scripture tells us little about Timna except that she was the sister of Lotan and that she became the concubine of Esau’s son Eliphaz. The Jewish sages ask why we need to know that Lotan and Timna were brother and sister. What could possibly be the life message in the knowledge of Timna’s family ties?

The sages fill in some gaps. They teach that Timna desperately wanted to join the nation of Israel. She approached Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, hoping that one of them might marry her or otherwise take her into their homes. However, all three patriarchs rejected Timna.

There are various speculations for why they chose to keep their distance from Timna. Some say that they foresaw that evil would descend from her. Others say that Timna’s lineage contained some very questionable and immoral unions. Whatever the reason, the forefathers felt that Timna was unworthy of joining the nation of Israel and so she was shunned.

Now Timna was no ordinary girl. As the verse teaches us, she was the sister of Lotan, who was a prince. That means that Timna was a princess; she enjoyed great wealth and honor. To her credit, Timna was willing to give up everything just to be part of Abraham’s family.

As a last resort, she married the only family member who would take her – the son of Esau, great-grandchild of Abraham. According to Jewish tradition, Timna said, “It is better to be a maidservant to this nation than to be a princess in any other nation.” Timna successfully married into Abraham’s family, but the feelings of hurt and rejection remained – and that was the source of the evil nation of Amalek.

We learn from Timna’s story how important it is to embrace others. While the forefathers thought that they were keeping Israel from hate, they, in fact, encouraged it. When we reject and shun others, it feeds hatred and violence. However, when we reach out to even the lowliest and lost around us, we sow love and kindness. Today, reach out to someone. Accept the rejected, uplift the neglected. The more we include others in our love, the more love will radiate throughout the world.

With prayers for shalom, peace,

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President

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Toov —
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