Vayishlach: What's in a Name
Intro: I've always been a last-minute kind of guy. Often that degenerates into an after-last minute situation, to my long-suffering wife's chagrin. There's a good reason I started a Friday night minyan in my house when I was saying kaddish for my father; I almost never used to make it to shul before that!
Since I took back on the practice of reviewing the weekly parshah, I've sometimes come up with new ideas - or remembered old ones of mine - that I haven't seen in the meforshim or published elsewhere. True to form, though, I generally have these insights over the Shabbos of that parshah, or even a day or so later. Never, that is, in time for posting before the parshah is actually read, when such writings are generally sought.
But hey...my blog, my rules, and all that. So on a semi-regular basis, on Mondays (or Sundays if I can pry the kids from the home computer), I'll be blogging "post-parsha points". Actually, I already did one of these late-breaking parshah posts a couple of weeks ago, so in a sense this intro itself is, characteristically, late!
Nuff said. On with this week's post-parshah point:
The final portion of parshas vayishlach covers the descendants of Esav in meticulous and extreme detail. It's puzzling then, that at the very start of this account (Gen 36:2), the names of Esav's three wives and their fathers do not match those given in parshas toldos (26:34, 28:9). The midrash steps in with elaborate discussions of name swapping and other bizarre behaviors attributed to these women and their progeny. But is there a more straightforward interpretation, and lesson, for this odd discrepancy?
Here's my thought. A good part of the previous parshah is devoted to illuminating the characters and fortunes of Yaakov's two wives, Rachel and Leah. A clear picture emerges of two strong-willed women, with unique and sharply drawn personalities. For Yaakov's part, he clearly had a very different relationship with each wife. He also viewed both as important people in their own right and not just extensions of himself; i.e., in 31:4-16 he sought their advice and approval before deciding to leave Charan.
And now, after completing the story of our distinctive, charismatic Imahos, we turn to Esav's wives. These ladies are so non-individuated that their very names are interchangeable! I believe they are presented this way not to make fine points of linguistics or nomenclature, but simply to illustrate Esav's own attitude towards them. By contrast to his brother Yaakov - a man who worked seven years for the privilege of marrying each wife, and held them in no less post-matrimony esteem - Esav couldn't even be bothered to keep his wives' names straight. To him they were just vessels to enable him to produce the prodigious set of descendants that the parshah goes on to delineate. Otherwise, Esav's wives were utterly worthless to him.
No wonder Leah cried at the thought of having to marry the brute!