There are many famous narratives (such as the story of Creation, the great Flood, the histories of the Patriachs, etc.) in the book of Genesis. There are, however, an equal number of “esoteric” narratives that are merely alluded to by a few words. For instance: “And Timna was concubine to Eliphaz, Esau’s son” (Genesis 36:12) and “and Lotan’s sister was Timna” (ibid :22). The Book of Genesis contains several listings of generations, but these two verses stand out for their connected reference to a woman named Timna.

The identification of Timna as Lotan’s sister informs us that she came from royalty, as Lotan is listed as the oldest son of Seir. Her noble background forces the commentators to ask why Timna became a concubine, a far less respected position than a wife. According to the Talmud, Sanhedrin 99b, Timna desperately wanted to be part of the destiny of the family of Abraham. She approached Abraham, Isaac and Jacob but, for some unspecified reason, they did not welcome her as a proselyte. Rejected, Timna joined with Eliphaz, the son of Esau (also a descendant of Abraham), feeling that it would “be better to be a servant to this people than a mistress of another nation” (ibid).

Eliphaz himself appears to have had a complicated relationship with his extended family. As Esau’s eldest child, he spent his formative years in the larger household of Isaac. He was also well aware of his father’s hatred for his uncle, Jacob. According to the Midrash, when Eliphaz was 13, Esau sent him to kill Jacob. Jacob, however, convinced the boy to spare him by taking all of Jacob’s possessions (even the clothes on his back), for one with no possessions is considered dead. Esau, as one can imagine, was not happy with his son’s failure to kill Jacob.

Both Timna and Eliphaz had the ability to see the spiritual distinction of the Jewish people but were kept apart from it. Their union produced one noted offspring, about which the rabbis opine. “From her Amalek was descended who afflicted Israel. Why so? — Because they [the family of Abraham] should not have pushed her away” (Sanhedrin 99b).

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