Don Isaac Abravanel (1437-1508) was a preeminent Jewish thinker, scholar, and prolific Biblical
commentator. The Bible devotes an entire chapter in Genesis to Esau, meticulously charting out his
family tree. Furthermore, our chapter traces Esau’s move from the Holy Land to Seir.
“And Esau dwelt in the mountain land of Seir, Esau is Edom.
Abravanel discusses both subjects, Esau’s descendants as well as his relocation to Seir. See Abravanel’s
World for the fuller treatment of both subjects. For brevity, we will focus on Esau’s generations.
Abravanel questions why the Bible allocates an entire chapter to chronicling Esau’s seed, seeing that The
Five Books of Moses is essentially concerned with the Jewish nation, God’s Chosen People?
Jewish attitudes toward Esau are regulated by divine law. “You shall not abhor an Edomite, for he is your
brother.” On a practical level, Abravanel writes, Hebrews need to know Esau’s generations so they do
not infringe divine law by mistreating their brethren. One strain of Esau’s offspring, however, proves the
exception. “And Timna was concubine to Eliphaz, Esau’s son. And she bore to Eliphaz Amalek.” On a
number of occasions in the Bible, we read that the nation of Amalek repeatedly attempted to obliterate
the Children of Israel. God, thus, commanded the Hebrews to be on guard against Amalek attacks,
demanding the Jews to wipe out all memory of Amalek, their nemesis.
Abravanel lists more reasons to explain why the Bible records Esau’s generations. Here, we’ll add one
more to the rationale provided above. In the previous chapter, the Bible writes: “Now the sons of Jacob
were twelve.” Each one of Jacob’s twelve tribes was upright. The Maker walked in their midst. How
opposite were Esau’s descendants! The majority of his grandchildren were ill-legitimate, according to
ancient tradition. This is deduced from the verse: “Esau took his wives of the daughters of Canaan, Adah
the daughter of Elon the Hittite, and Oholibamah the daughter of Anah, the daughter of Zibeon the
Hivite.” Tradition attests to Zibeon fathering bastard children with Anah’s wife, who was his daughter in
Our chapter testifies to the vast difference in moral character separating Jacob and Esau. While Jacob’s
seed remained chaste and virtuous, the same may not be said about Esau’s descendants; they were
philanderers. The Bible marks that for the record.