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The last chapter of Parasha recounts the doings of Esau’s descendants, including Amalek’s first appearance as Esau’s grandson. Apart from Amalek, they then melt into the background, not to resurface until they rebelled against Judean rule in the time of the Prophet Elisha (Kings II 8:20).
Rashi, quoting Midrashic sources, explains that the Torah rushes through Esau’s progeny as a background to the long account of the doings of Jacob’s progeny. Esau’s descendants would ultimately vanish; Jacob’s would continue to flourish.
Yet the Torah recalls one incident in detail, where Jacob and Esau meet for the last time.
‘Esau took all his family and property… from Canaan, because of his brother Jacob. For their combined property (including animals) was more than land could support. (Thus) Esau settled down in the region of Mount Seir’ (36:8).
The stories of the Patriarchs repeats the theme of ‘the land not being able to support’ with enough pasture for their source of income – cattle, sheep, and goats – over and over again. Famine and lack of pasture caused Abraham to leave the Holy Land for Egypt. Isaac had a similar problem – though he ventured to the south-western margins of the country. And in Jacob’s case it was so severe that it caused the entire family to settle in Egypt (47:4) until ultimately Moses led them back.
Yet it was Esau who – seemingly graciously on this occasion – made way for Jacob – even where scarce resources were involved. Not the other way round. There were no quarrels, as with Abraham and Lot. Esau moved further south where, as the Torah recounts, with G-d’s help he took possession:
‘Esau’s children dispossessed the Horites of the Land of Seir… as the Israelites would do to the (Canaanites)… which G-d gave to them’ (Deut. 2:12).
The expression: ‘which G-d gave to them’ is ambiguous – it could refer to both the Israelites and to the descendants of Esau. As Joshua recounts: ‘I (G-d) gave Mount Seir to Esau’ (Josh. 24:4).
This incident seems to work in Esau’s favor, and shows him in a positive light. Though Esau’s descendants, headed by the Amalekites were to be a source of stress and distress to the Israelites, our last meeting with Esau conveys a message of gentlemanly behavior – being prepared to compromise, in the knowledge that the world contains enough resources without having to compete with one another.
Perhaps that is the reason it is mentioned. The outlooks, virtues, and teachings of other nations do indeed have from which we can learn. Even those whose descendants have inflicted suffering on the Israelite peoples.
For those looking for more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/questions/ and on the material on the Haftara at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/haftara/ .
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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