What should Jews learn from the Goyim in Genesis 36

Why is a whole chapter of the Torah devoted to the non-Jewish descendants of Esau (the nation of Edom); their clans and their kings?

To teach us that it is a Mitsvah to study the social and political history of the non-Jewish peoples who live near by. “These are the (8) kings who reigned in the land of Edom before any king reigned over Israel.” (Genesis 36:31) From the example of these kings the Jewish people should have learned not to desire kings like all the other nations.

Hadar the last King of Edom listed was married to Mehetable the daughter of Matred the daughter of May-Zahav. (36:39) Why is this tiny detail of Gentile mothers and daughters in our holy Torah? The Zohar says that Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai derived 300 rules of conduct from this text through mystical esoteric wisdom. Then he revealed them only to Rabbi Eliezer so he would know how much wisdom lies in every word and in every incident in the Torah.

One rule is based on Rabbi Simon who said that Mehetabel, the name means God makes good, would make women good/beautiful for their husbands. This wisdom and skill was passed down from May-Zahav whose name is Goldwater. Jews should not idolize non-Jewish beauty queens, but they also should not despise them. Goodness and beauty can be linked. Learn and apply it to your own wives and daughters.

The evil King Manasseh studied the Torah in order to disparage it. He asked: Did Moses have nothing better to put in the Torah than “Lotan’s sister was Timna”? (36:22) The Talmud answers with a profound Midrash. Timna wanted to convert to Judaism and marry Eliphaz. She came to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and they would not accept her. So Timna could only be a concubine to Eliphaz (36:12) and she didn’t become Jewish.

One of her descendants was Amalek who attacked the Jewish people in later generations. Why did this happen? Because the patriarchs should not have rejected Timna! The Torah lesson is always encourage conversion to Judaism even if it is initially due just to a desire to marry and unify the family.

Those Orthodox Rabbis who think their job is to prevent less than perfect non-Jews from entering the Jewish People need to study this verse (36:12) and rid themselves of their anti-Gentile convert negativity.

For some Jews the Torah is an intellectual joy. They love to study and discuss Torah. For other Jews the Torah is their beloved. She is a tree of life and they love to hold her and kiss her. Thus a commentator says that a man learned neither in Bible nor in Mishnah who sits and repeats all day long the words, Lotan’s sister was Timna, will achieve the same reward as for studying Torah because if you are deeply in love every little detail is magical.

“Anah found the Yaymim in the wilderness while pasturing his father’s donkeys” (36:24) Some scholars translate Yaymim as hot springs others as mules. The word appears nowhere else in the Bible.

Was Anah the first to find out that crossbreeding a horse and a donkey could produce a hybrid? Is a hot spring also a strange combination? Will we ever find out what this word really means? Does it matter? The details we can’t understand simply testify to the love of previous generations; and we can understand and admire that. Or perhaps future generations will understand because they will know more than we do.

About the Author
Rabbi Allen S. Maller has published over 250 articles on Jewish values in over a dozen Christian, Jewish, and Muslim magazines and web sites. Rabbi Maller is the author of "Tikunay Nefashot," a spiritually meaningful High Holy Day Machzor, two books of children's short stories, and a popular account of Jewish Mysticism entitled, "God, Sex and Kabbalah." His most recent books are "Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms' and "Which Religion Is Right For You?: A 21st Century Kuzari" both available on Amazon.
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