Parshas Vayishlach - You Are 'The' Best!

By Rabbi Zvi Teichman

Posted on 11/18/21

Parshas HaShavua Divrei Torah sponsored by
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Menashe, the son of Chizkiyahu, committed many grave sins. He worshipped idols, placed a graven image in the Temple, he murdered many people and even killed his own grandfather, the prophet Yeshayahu. Yet, there was one sin he was admonished for that was singled out as the catalyst for them all. He claimed that many of the Torah narratives were worthless, serving no purpose. He derisively pronounced, “Had Moshe nothing to write but ‘Lotan’s sister was Timna, and Timna was a concubine to Elifaz’ !?”

Why was this the very first verse of the many apparent verses in the Torah that seem equally insignificant that bothered him so?

The Talmud inquires what indeed is the import of this verse and its vital lesson. It then relates how Timna was a princess, being the sister of Lotan an uncrowned king. Nevertheless, she desired to convert. She went to Avraham, Yitzchak and Yakov, but they refused to accept her. She then decided to become a concubine to Elifaz the son of Esav, reasoning that it is better to be a concubine to the nation of Avraham and Yitzchak than to be a distinguished wife in another nation. Her son was Amalek, the head of the nation that torments Yisrael. This was a punishment. The patriarchs should not have rejected her. (סנהדרין צט:)

Rashi adds that this passage is here to proclaim the greatness of Avraham, revealing how strongly people longed to attach themselves to his descendants. (בראשית לו יב)

Rashi on the verse at the end of Chumash that asserts how the Torah ‘is not an empty thing’, with every letter and word accounted for and purposeful, reaffirms: ‘so why does Scripture enter into all these details [of her birth and marriage]? To teach us the greatness of Avraham, that rulers and kings yearned to cleave to his seed.’ (דברים לב מז)

Is this so difficult of an idea for Menashe to comprehend on his own or to at least accept? What was really bothering him?

Why did the sophisticates so desire to marry into Avraham’s family? Was it expectation for some financial gain, privileges, or special status? What motivated them?

Every human being has an instinct to live a life of purpose. Until Avraham came along the purpose of life was merely survival. Avraham introduced the world to morals, a universe that is illuminated by discovering G-d and His will in every facet and realizing that His sole goal is to provide us a life of meaning and joy.

People began to sense there was something greater than just survival to aspire to. They instinctively clung to this giant of humanity and sought to sense more deeply their purpose for existence.

Timna, as many others, desired to become part of this thrilling destiny, hoping to convert and marry into this family and bear children who would promote these ideals.

For some unarticulated reason she was shunned from marrying into the family of Avraham.

Not one to be totally defeated, she decides to accept a lesser stature, becoming a concubine to one of Avraham’s descendants, Elifaz.

Would being a concubine to Elifaz, the son of Esav, possibly fulfill her earnest desire to attach herself to greatness?

Although Elifaz was not of the caliber of the Avos and their progeny, the Sifrei states clearly that the family of Esav was renowned for their excellence in upholding the mitzvah of honoring parents, and people were drawn to identifying with, at least, this noble banner of purpose and meaning. (ספרי דברים לא)

Evidently though, Timna became resentful and charged her infamous child, Amalek, to exact revenge from the descendants of Avraham.

The Talmud says that the patriarchs were accountable for this outcome since לא אבעי להו לרחקה — they should not have distanced her.

Is it that simple? They erred, so we must suffer until Moshiach comes, at the hands of Amalek?

Interestingly, the Talmud does not say they should have converted her, just simply ‘they should not have shunned her.’

The Midrash, as quoted in Rashi in Haazinu, when describing Timna’s determination to marry Elifaz quotes Timna — after being rejected in her quest to convert and be a wife — as saying, “I am not worthy of being a wife, if only I could become a concubine to Elifaz.”

I believe the failure on the part of the patriarchs was not their reluctance to allow her to convert and become a wife unto them, for certainly they had justified reasons to exclude her from that role. It was the fact that they did not attend to encouraging her to remain devoted to their ideals and make her feel ‘worthy’ in a role appropriate for her. The moment she was allowed to wallow in the dejection of being ‘unworthy’ she began to slide down the slippery slope from rejection to dejection to resentment and finally hate.

The Rambam when discussing the eighth principle of faith, the divinity of Torah, states that there is absolutely no difference between the verse that says Timna was a concubine of Elifaz and the full verse of Shma Yisrael, they each are equally significant in the sum of what Torah is.

The Kabbalists point out that both verses have the exact number of letters, twenty-five.

Perhaps the intent in this parallel is that the unity of G-d that is expressed within His Torah — the very blueprint of the universe, with each detailed component critical to its wholeness — finds its expression in the lives of every individual within the framework unique to them. No two people are alike.

The path towards sin begins with a feeling of unworthiness.

The father of Menashe, Chizkiyahu, had never married because he saw prophetically that he would have a wicked son, Menashe. The prophet Yeshayahu admonishes him to not to engage in heavenly calculations, and just do what he is commanded to — marry and have children. Chizkiyahu goes on to marry Yeshayahu’s daughter, who begets Menashe.

Despite his brilliance in Torah, he goes astray. Perhaps he was a victim of being deemed unworthy even before he was conceived. This was his justification for failing to live up to all the promises of hope for his rehabilitation.

It was precisely this verse regarding Timna, and its lesson that everyone is worthy and can live up to the greatness destined for them, that he refused to accept.

The Holy Maggid of Chernobyl, and the Yesod HaAvodah, both assert that the very name תמנע is rooted in the word מנע, to ‘hold back’, reflecting on the weakness of those who feel unworthy, and thus incapable of rising to the challenges they face, opting instead to settle on mediocrity rather than greatness.

We each face מניעות, resistance to grow. If we would believe in our value and feel worthy, nothing would stand in our way.

May we rectify the flaw that led to the evil force of Amalek, that plays with our minds, infiltrating us with thoughts of unworthiness.

May we realize that each one of us can define our special contribution to the unity of G-d’s presence in this world by filling our niche with a sense of duty and determination.

May nothing stand in our way of manifesting His will in all that we do.

You are worthy. You can do it. Never settle for anything less.


צבי יהודה טייכמאן