Don Isaac Abravanel (1437-1508) was a preeminent Jewish thinker, scholar, and prolific Biblical
commentator. In Genesis chapter 26, we find out that Esau marries two women. Isaac and Rebeccah’s
son’s choices in spouses were more than a source a friction; it haunted them.
“And when Esau was forty years old, he took to wife Judith the daughter
of Beeri the Hittite, and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite. And
they were a source of bitterness of spirit unto Isacc and Rebekah.”
Abravanel gives Bible studies a boost with his interpretation of Esau’s family life. Not surprisingly,
context is vital. Earlier in chapter 26, we read about Isaac and Rebekah’s years in Gerar, where King
Elimelech had hosted the family. Isaac’s fortunes flourished there. The episode concludes with the king
and his top brass paying homage to Isaac, actively pursuing his friendship and political alliance.
That is our chapter’s backdrop. But then Esau took two wives who shattered Isaac’s and Rebeccah’s
homelife. “And they were a source of bitterness of spirit unto Isaac and Rebeccah.” Esau’s wives were
scurrilous. The marriages illustrated an evil streak that marked their son Esau. Insofar as both ladies
hailed from the Hittites, it caused Isaac and Rebeccah great consternation, misery.
Abravanel paints the picture of a shattered household. The vile wives had no shame, openly parading
their indecency and disrespect for Isaac’s and Rebeccah’s morals and values. The women’s obnoxious
conduct contrasted with the highest honors accorded to Isaac and Rebeccah by King Elimelech and his
There’s more, Abravanel teaches. Esau didn’t rebuke his wives when they acted out, as would have been
proper for a dutiful son.
How did Esau’s insufferable spouse choice affect his relationship with his parents, Isaac and Rebeccah?
“Now Issac loved Esau…and Rebeccah loved Jacob.” To borrow a concept in modern psychology, Isaac
compartmentalized, Rebeccah couldn’t. Abravanel does not rule out festering ill feelings as a motivating
force fueling Rebeccah’s role in redirecting Isaac’s blessing, so that Jacob – and not Esau – would receive