Why is Esav’s Head Buried in Maarat HaMachpela?

After Yaakov passed away, Yosef went to the Land of Cnaan in order to give him a proper burial. He was joined by Pharaoh’s servants, the elders of his house, the elders of Egypt, Yosef’s household, his brothers and his father’s household. Chariots and horsemen were also with him.

In Parsha Vayechi, Breisheet 50:10-13 we read about Yaakov’s funeral: “They came to the threshing place of Atad, which is on the other side of the Jordan, and there they eulogized him and held a great and imposing funeral. Yosef made seven days of mourning for his father. The Cnaanites who lived in the land saw the mourning in the threshing place of Atad and they said ‘This is a heavy mourning for Egypt.’ It was therefore named Evel Mitzrayim (Egypt’s mourning) which is on the other side of the Jordan. His sons did for him as he commanded them. His sons carried him to the Land of Cnaan and buried him in the cave of the field of Machpela, which Avraham purchased along with the field for possession as a burial place from Ephron the Chhitie, facing Mamre.”

When studying Sefer HaAgada, the Talmud, Sotah 13a and Sefer HaYashar we learn what may have happened behind the scenes during the funeral.

Sefer HaAgadah 3:111 based on the Talmud, Sotah 13a explains: The sons of Esav, Yishmael and Keturah came to wage war against the sons of Yaakov. However, when they saw Yosef’s crown hung upon Yaakov’s coffin, they all took off their crowns and hung them upon the coffin as well out of respect. When they came to the cave of Machpela, Esav appeared and tried to prevent Yaakov’s burial in it saying, “This cave has room for only four couples (that is why the city is called Kiryat Arba). Since Yaakov buried Leah in his place, the plot that remains is mine.” Yaakov’s sons replied, “But you sold your portion to our father.” Esav retorted, “Even if I did sell my claim as firstborn, did I sell also the original single portion due me as an heir?” They said, “You sold that also.” Esav said, “Show me the bill of sale.” They said, “The bill of sale is in Egypt. Who will go and bring it from there? Let Naphtali go- he is swift as a hind.”

Hushim, the son of Dan, who was hard of hearing was standing there. When he asked why it was taking so long to bury Yaakov, he was told that they were waiting for Naphtali to return. Hushim asked, “And until Naphtali returns is my grandfather to lie shamefully unburied?” He seized a club and struck Esav on the head so hard that his eyes fell out. At that moment, Rivka’s prophecy (Breisheet 27:45) “Why should I be bereaved of you both in one day?” was fulfilled.

How do we know that Yaakov actually bought his burial place in the cave?

In Breishhet 50:5 Yosef tells Pharaoh: “My father made me swear an oath saying, ‘Behold I am dying. In my grave that I prepared (kariti) for myself in the Land of Cnaan, there you shall bury me…’”

According to Rashi, Yaakov had taken silver and gold that he brought from Lavan’s house and made a piled heap of it and said to Esav: “Take this for your share in the cave.”

Sefer HaYashar (written in the 13th century, printed in the 16th century) adds that there was a full war that took place between the children of Esav and the children of Yaakov in Chevron while Esav was lying dead on the ground. Eighty of Esav’s descendents were killed. Zepho, Esav’s grandson and fifty of his men were taken captive. All who remained fled with Eliphaz, Esav’s son. They carried Esav’s body to Mt. Seir to be buried there but his head remained buried in Maarat HaMachpela where the battle took place. Not one of Yaakov’s descendents was killed.

Rabbi Aharon Kotler (1892-1962) said that although Esav was an evil person, his head was full of  the Torah that he was taught by his father, Yitzchak and his grandfather, Avraham, therefore his head merited to be buried in the cave.

If Esav would have used his head and put his Torah knowledge into practice, imagine how much he could have accomplished.

The next time that you visit Maarat HaMachpela in Chevron, be sure to look for the chamber of the head of Esav, a reminder that a signed contract denotes a final sale.

About the Author
Sharona holds a BA in Judaic Studies from Stern College and an MS in Jewish Education from Azrieli Graduate School, Yeshiva University. Sharona was the first Congregational Intern and Madricha Ruchanit at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, NY. After making aliya in 2004, Sharona founded Torat Reva Yerushalayim, a non profit organization based in Jerusalem which provides Torah study groups for students of all ages and backgrounds.
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