When we talk about the villain of the Purim story, Haman, we most often go to the origins of his ancestor, Amalek, noting how he (his nation) waged war on those of the children of Israel that were week and lingering at the end of the procession on their way out of Egypt:
וַיָּבֹ֖א עֲמָלֵ֑ק וַיִּלָּ֥חֶם עִם־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל בִּרְפִידִֽם׃
Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim (Exodus 17:8)
The verse does not say anything about the origins of this nation, it just instructs us to remember it, and make sure to remember that Gd Gdself will be at war with this nation for all times.
However, if we go back to Beresheet (Genesis) and start reading the verses that most people usually skip carefully, we will see the following lineage:
וַיִּהְי֖וּ בְּנֵ֣י אֱלִיפָ֑ז תֵּימָ֣ן אוֹמָ֔ר צְפ֥וֹ וְגַעְתָּ֖ם וּקְנַֽז׃
The sons of Eliphaz were Teman, Omar, Zepho, Gatam, and Kenaz.
וְתִמְנַ֣ע ׀ הָיְתָ֣ה פִילֶ֗גֶשׁ לֶֽאֱלִיפַז֙ בֶּן־עֵשָׂ֔ו וַתֵּ֥לֶד לֶאֱלִיפַ֖ז אֶת־עֲמָלֵ֑ק אֵ֕לֶּה בְּנֵ֥י עָדָ֖ה אֵ֥שֶׁת עֵשָֽׂו׃
Timna was a concubine of Esau’s son Eliphaz; she bore Amalek to Eliphaz. Those were the descendants of Esau’s wife Adah. (Genesis 36:11-12)
אֵ֤לֶּה בְנֵֽי־שֵׂעִיר֙ הַחֹרִ֔י יֹשְׁבֵ֖י הָאָ֑רֶץ לוֹטָ֥ן וְשׁוֹבָ֖ל וְצִבְע֥וֹן וַעֲנָֽה׃
These were the sons of Seir the Horite, who were settled in the land: Lotan, Shobal, Zibeon, Anah, (36:20)
וַיִּהְי֥וּ בְנֵי־לוֹטָ֖ן חֹרִ֣י וְהֵימָ֑ם וַאֲח֥וֹת לוֹטָ֖ן תִּמְנָֽע׃
The sons of Lotan were Hori and Hemam; and Lotan’s sister was Timna. (36:22)
וְ֠אֵ֠לֶּה שְׁמ֞וֹת אַלּוּפֵ֤י עֵשָׂו֙ לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתָ֔ם לִמְקֹמֹתָ֖ם בִּשְׁמֹתָ֑ם אַלּ֥וּף תִּמְנָ֛ע אַלּ֥וּף עַֽלְוָ֖ה אַלּ֥וּף יְתֵֽת׃
These are the names of the clans of Esau, each with its families and locality, name by name: the clans Timna, Alvah, Jetheth (36:40)
Here, the sages fill for us a few interesting details about Timna, the mother of Amalek. As we see from the psukim (sentences from Torah) themselves, Timna was not an ordinary woman, but a member of the Chieftain’s (think local royalty) family. Therefore she could have chosen to marry /or could have been married off by her father into a good family of some other local Chieftain.
However, we are told, in Masechet Sanhedrin 99b:8 that
Timna sought to convert. She came before Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and they did not accept her. She went and became a concubine of Eliphaz, son of Esau, and said, referring to herself: It is preferable that she will be a maidservant for this nation, and she will not be a noblewoman for another nation. Ultimately, Amalek, son of Eliphaz, emerged from her, and that tribe afflicted the Jewish people.
Additionally, we are told in Midrash Tanchuma (A Midrash on five books of Moses written probably at the turn of the fist Millenia, but compiled around the 9th century) that Timna was forced (emphasis mine) into an incestrial relations with her father, Eliphaz. I say ‘forced’ here because it is hard for me to imagine that a woman who was seeking to be with the most moral family of the time would willfully enter into the most immoral relations known to man – to be the daughter and the concubine of the same man.
Scripture states in one place: And the children of Elephaz were: Teman, and Omar, Zepho, and Gatam, and Kenaz. And Timna (ibid. 36:11), and elsewhere it states: And Timna was concubine to Elephaz (ibid., v. 12). This clearly informs us that Elephaz had sexual relations with his own daughter. How did that occur? He had sexual relations with Seir’s wife first and made her pregnant and begot Timna. Later he married Timna, as though she were Seir’s daughter, when in fact she was his own. That is why it says: And the children of Seir: Lotan … and Timna was Lotan’s sister (I Chron. 1:38–39). She was Lotan’s sister by her mother, but not by his father; Elephaz was her father, and Timna became the concubine of Eliphaz the son of Esau. (Midrash Tanchuma Vayeshev 1:4)
We may see this if we look at the strange structure of psukim 11 and 12, where the name Timna seemingly belongs to pasuk 12, but in reality is part of enumeration of the progeny of Eliphaz.
The text may lead us to one of the assumptions:
One is that Timna’s intentions to convert were pure. If she were to seek the True One Gd and wanted to attach herself to the only family known to be of His service, we may draw the conclusion that the Avot hakdoshim (our holy fathers) were in the wrong in rejecting her. On the other hand, it is inconceivable that Avraham, who was not only known as baal-chesed (man of kindness), but made his life purpose to encourage strangers to believe in and serve the One Gd, would push away a woman sincerely seeking to come under His wings.
However, if her lineage was that of incest, the Avot would for sure know about it, and had grounds to reject her. We can also speculate that she wanted to penetrate the family and inject ‘bad blood’ in it.
In both cases, whether the Avot were justified in their attitude to Timna or not, we can at least try to understand the woman when she went back and became a concubine to Eliphaz. If she were really seeking the family of Avraham, she could have ‘settled’ for the family of one brother as opposed to the other (Eisav vs. Yaakov).
If she were indeed the daughter of Eliphaz, this would be the only family she knew, and being rejected, she might have had no choice or will to look for something else when she was taken as her own father’s concubine.
In both cases, the anger and frustration of Timna’s could be understood. That anger and frustration bore the child that would be infused with hate toward the seed of Yaakov literally from his mother’s milk. That child was Amalek.
So this mother will leave to teach her child that anger, and, ultimately, his descendants will always fight against the Jewish people and the Gd they are chosen to serve.
Another mother will also raise a child, who will live to protect his people and raise his descendants to fight specifically those who hate the Jews, and ultimately, their Gd. That mother is Rachel. Her son, Joseph, will work with Gd at his side, hidden from the scene almost like in the Purim story. And her other son, Benjamin will become the ancestor of Mordechai, the uncle of Esther, haMalka (the queen).
To this end, our teachers said:
דְּאָמַר רַבִּי פִּינְחָס בְּשֵׁם רַבִּי שְׁמוּאֵל בַּר נַחְמָן מָסוֹרֶת הִיא שֶׁאֵין עֵשָׂו נוֹפֵל אֶלָּא בְּיַד בָּנֶיהָ שֶׁל רָחֵל
(Beresheet Rabah 73:7)
Rabbi Pinchas said in the name of Rabbi Shmuel bar Nahman, the tradition is that Esau only falls at the hands of Rachel’s sons
Here, I would suggest that the love Rachel felt from her husband and his family ultimately bore the seeds of love in her children that were able to keep this love for their people through generations and finally use it in ways both hidden and open in order to arouse them to the love of Gd, granted in the time of major distress.
Therefore, Tosfot says: אבל בימי אחשורוש קבלו מדעתם מאהבת הנס But at the time of Achashverosh, they accepted [it] with their consent from love of the miracle.
It feels to me that the story of the different ancestries tells us something really important. Gd will trace the deeds of a person for several generations, and we can at least try to affect the outcome by thinking here and now how we behave towards every human being, specifically, and even more so toward a woman that is seeking closeness. Regardless of her ancestry.
Maybe even if we can’t accept her fully, if we try to guide her to a better path, and help her find her own way, the new Amaleks will not be born.
I am privileged every day to watch how one mother’s love nurtures and instills the love in the heart of one tiny human being – my grandson, whose Hebrew birthday is on Purim. Shmuel-Aryeh, my Levochka, these words are for you. May the love always come into your heart from Above, and may you share your love with the world.