Esau’s wives: deciphering the biblical riddle

In Parashat Toldot we are told that at the age of 40 Esau took two Hittite wives: Yehudit Bat Beeri and Bosmat Bat Ailon (Gen, 26,34). However, in Vayishlach we are told that they were called Ada Bat Eilon the Hittite and Oholivama Bat Ana Bat Tzivon the Hivean. So which version is correct?

Ibn Ezra writes that they are actually the same women but they have several names and states that this is common in the Bible (See the sons of Samuel Divrei Hayamim 6,13, see also Ibn Ezra Br. 6, 19 and Ralbag in this verse) . We also know that Yitro according to the midrash had seven names (Mehilta deRabbi Yishmael, Yitro 1). However, one wonders if the names could have been connotations related to different circumstances. We also find that the midrash does not shy away from arguing that names are sometimes modified in the Tanakh for educational purposes, as in the case of Mahlon and Khilyon in the Book of Ruth, of which the Talmud maintains that they were not their real names. Names. (Bava Batra 91A) (Thank God. Can you imagine naming your children illness and devastation?)

Rashi has a tendency, like our sages, to present Esau in the most negative light. Rashi (in Genesis 25:28) states that Esau would pretend to be too righteous and ask Isaac how to take tithes from the salt (which does not grow from the ground and is therefore exempt). He continues with this condemnation of Esau, comparing him to a sincere one who shows his broken helmets to show that he is kosher (Rashi Gen. 26,34). Where in the actual text do we see such an attitude on his part to try to win his father’s favor through false justice? I think this riddle could provide an answer. Esau married exactly at the age of 40, which, according to Rashi and Ibn Ezra, would imitate his father (Genesis 25:20). As for the names of their wives; Suppose for the moment that the actual names are the ones found in Parashat Beshalach, then what would be the reason why the name changes? Esau wants to get married and find his father’s favor. You may have noticed that your father and grandfather were married within the family, but that is not true.
Eem to be a factor for him. However, the names of the wives are not accidental either. If one were to look up the two main events that shaped Isaac’s life, that would have to be the Akeida, in which not only was Abraham put to the test to see if he would be willing to hand over his son at God’s command , but also Isaac, who was 37 (Rashi) or 13 (Ibn Ezra) and would have had to help his elderly father tie his hands and feet (meaning Akeida) on the altar in preparation for his own sacrifice.

There is much to be said about the trauma of the Akeida and how it shaped Isaac’s spirituality making him insular and a bit removed from earthly affairs. The second major event in his life, as described in Genesis, is his first meeting with Rebecca. It is the first time that love between a man and a woman is mentioned in the Bible (Genesis 24, 67). Rebecca is one of the few humans who can penetrate Isaac’s island world, despite her own fear of having an inferior pedigree (see Genesis 25, 22 and Rashi 3). These two experiences shape Isaac’s behavior; the Akeida, as mentioned, shapes his belief form in one of Divine reverence (Yirat HaRommut, “And he swore by the fear of Isaac his father”, Genesis 31, 53) and the connection with Rebecca taught him love for God and man, all men, even those souls who seem totally lost, like Esau, who need the understanding and love of their father (Gen. 25:28).

WHICH version is correct? (credit: Sigmund / Unsplash))

Esau knows it and plays with these two events. The first wife is named Yehudit Bat Beeri. Yehudit as Yehuda has the first three letters of God’s four-letter name (the tetragrammaton). It means, like Yehuda, that one is praising God (see Genesis 29, 35). This is probably an unlikely name for a Hittite. What does the compliment refer to? Bat Beeri. The daughter of the Well. What happened at the well? It was there that Abraham’s servant met Rebekah for the first time and praised God for helping him find a wife for Isaac.

Coincidence or design? Let’s continue. The second wife is called: Bosmat Bat Ailon. Why? Bosmat comes from the word besamim which is fragrant incense. Bat Ailon refers to the ayil (in Hebrew it is even more surprising) that Abraham was told to take instead of Isaac in the Akeida as an offering and a fragrance pleasing before God. (see Genesis 8, 21). So the two wives simply reflect in their names the two most important events in Isaac’s life.

Esau, I suppose, hoped that “coincidence” would make his father think that matches were bashert (made in heaven). This, however, was not the result “because they [the wives] they were a pain in the mind for Isaac and Rebekah ”(Gen. 26,35). This is not surprising since, according to the midrash, they were idol worshipers (Gen. Rabbah 65, 4), and according to the apocryphal Book of Jubilees (25, 1) they led a promiscuous and corrupt lifestyle. So far, I have argued that the actual names of Esau’s wives were as in Vayishlach: Ada Bat Eilon the Hittite and Oholivama Bat Ana Bat Tzivon the Hiv, and this seems reasonable since the text of chapter 36 mentions these latter names several times. .

However, we still have to solve the problem of Esau’s third wife. When Esau sees that his mother sent Jacob to Lavan’s house to find a family wife, he realizes that his father is not particularly in love with Canaanite women (Gen. 28,8). Therefore, to make amends, he goes to Uncle Ishmael to remarry and takes his daughter Mahalat Bat Ismael, sister of Nevayot (Genesis 28, 9). He does not divorce from Hittite wives, which could actually be seen as a redemptive quality, yet Rashi criticizes him again for this (Rashi on Genesis 28, 9). Again we are faced with the same problem as before. Ishmael’s daughter in Parashat Vayishlach is called: Bosmat Bat Ishmael and not Mahalat? I will argue, as before, that this woman’s real name was Bosmat, as in Parashat Vayishlach, but despite the fact that this woman’s name was Bosmat, Esau had already used this name for his Hittite wife and it might seem too much of a coincidence for this new wife to have the same name. In fact, I think
It was not a coincidence that Ishmael named his daughter that, possibly in memory of the Akeida, since according to the midrash he was one of the two boys waiting for Abraham to return (Genesis 22, 5, see Rashi).

Furthermore, the Talmud states that Ishmael amended his ways and felt comfortable as Abraham’s son and Isaac’s brother (Bava Batra 16B). The name Esau is related to his father because Ishmael’s daughter is Mahalat, which according to Rashi means forgiveness (Rashi in Genesis 36,3; Yerushalmi Bikurin 3, 3). In this context, it would be appropriate since Esau is seeking his father’s forgiveness, (although the Midrash states that the marriage to Ishmael’s daughter was part of a plot to kill Jacob and inherit both families (Gen. Rabbah 67, 8 ).

Despite Esau’s seemingly religious claim, it does have a redemptive quality. He loves his father and is constantly looking for ways to be accepted by him (see Psikta Rabati 23 on Esau and Kibud Av).

Contrary to what is said about Ishmael, we do not find that Esau changed his ways. In fact, the prophet Ovadia, who is the haftarah (selections from the Book of Prophets) for Parashat Vayishlach, describes an end-of-day reckoning with Esau for all that he and his descendants did to Jacob and his descendants.

The writer, a rabbi, is a professor of Jewish studies at Bar-Ilan University and a researcher at Ariel University.

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