Parashat Vayishlach - The Weight of the Past
What role does the past play in a person’s life? What weight is given to the future? In the simplest sense, the answer would seem to point to a self-fulfilling prophecy. A society that occupies itself with the past will likely find the source of its vitality in the delving into and longing for that which already was. A future-oriented society will make the future its focus, offering both vision and renewal. An interesting observation as to the relationship between past and future is revealed in the record of one of the branches of Esav’s family.
In this shiur, we will address the toldot of Esav, and more specifically of Aholivama, Esav’s second wife. We will follow the progeny that she brings into the world, as well as looking back to her father, Ana, who “found the ‘yemim’ in the wilderness as he fed the donkeys of Tziv’on, his father.” We will examine the complexity of their family map. Following this biblical review, we will address a Talmudic debate recorded in Bava Batra between the Sages and the Sadducees with regard to our introductory question. Interestingly, the gemara traces the Sadducee stance back to the family of Aholivama, thereby prompting us to devote some thought to this connection and to consider its significance.
Let us begin with a review of the structure of our unit. The Torah tells us, “These are the generations of Esav,” and this heading serves to introduce the next forty-three verses. The review begins with Esav’s descendants during the period that he lives in the land of Cana’an, up until his departure (36:2-7). Then there is a description of his descendants in Mount Se’ir (vv.9-14), and finally we encounter a list of “chiefs” and the families that arose from him (vv. 15-19). Thereafter, the text looks to the past, to “the children of Se’ir the Chori, who inhabited the land” preceding the arrival of Esav. First, the text enumerates the sons of Se’ir (36:20-21) and his grandsons (22-28), and finally names the seven families who are “the chiefs who emerged from the Chori, according to their chiefs, in the land of Se’ir” (29-30). The next section in this unit lists the kings who ruled in the land of Edom (31-39). Finally, the text returns to the chiefs of Esav, “by their families, by their places,” listing those chiefs who succeeded in settling and taking root in their places (vv. 40-43).
Esav in the Land of Cana’an
Esav’s story starts in the land of Cana’an, and its first steps are taken with Esav’s marriage to Canaanite women:
And these are the generations of Esav, who is Edom. Esav took his wives from the daughters of Cana’an – Ada, daughter of Eilon the Chitti, and Aholivama, daughter of Ana, daughter of Tziv’on the Chivvi; and Basmat, daughter of Yishmael, sister of Nevayot. (36:1-2)
Esav takes three wives: first Ada, then Aholivama, and then Basmat. Even a superficial reading suffices to note the unusual description of Aholivama’s lineage. In contrast to Ada, who is traced to her father, Eilon, and Basmat, who is the “daughter of Yishmael, sister of Nevayot,” Aholivama is presented twice as a daughter (“the daughter of Ana, the daughter of Tziv’on the Chivvi”), as though she were the daughter of two different men. Later, we read that it was Ana who “fed the donkeys of Tziv’on, his father” – indicating that Ana is actually the son of Tziv’on. If so, verse 2 should seemingly have read, “and Aholivama, daughter of Ana, son of Tziv’on.” Why is Aholivama’s lineage traced back not one generation, but two?
The text then goes on to record the birth of the next generation:
And Ada bore to Esav Elifaz; and Basmat bore Re’uel. And Aholivama bore Ye’ush and Ya’lam and Korach; these were the sons of Esav who were born to him in the land of Cana’an. (vv. 4-5)
In the list of wives that Esav takes, Ada is mentioned first, followed by Aholivama, and then Basmat. Why is is the order changed when it comes to their children? Here, Ada is again mentioned first with her children, but then children of Basmat follow, while Aholivama appears third. Furthermore, we note that Ada is recorded as bearing only one son, Elifaz, and Basmat likewise bears only Re’uel, while Aholivama bears three sons: Ye’ush, Ya’lam, and Korach. The obvious question is whether the text is recording all the sons or only those who were important. The second possibility reflects the style that characterizes similar genealogical lists in the Tanakh, which are intended to sketch the lineage of the family’s fame and continuity, rather than to offer a comprehensive documentation of all descendants.
At this point, the text summarizes the family tree thus far: “These are the children of Esav who were born to him in the land of Cana’an.” This was the first stage, when the family dwelled in the land of Cana’an. The next stage involves a move:
And Esav took his wives and his sons and his daughters and all the members of his house, and his cattle and all his beasts and all his substance which he had acquired in the land of Cana’an, and went into another country, away from his brother Yaakov. For their property was too great for them to dwell together, and the land in which they sojourned could not bear them because of their cattle. And so Esav dwelled in Mount Se’ir; Esav is Edom. (vv. 6-7)
Esav leaves, taking with him all the members of his family and their attendants. His departure is undertaken in order to move “[away] from his brother Yaakov.” In its wake, there is a new beginning in Mount Se’ir.
Esav in Mount Se’ir
And these are the generations of Esav, the father of Edom, in Mount Se’ir. These are the names of Esav’s sons: Elifaz, son of Ada, wife of Esav; Re’uel, son of Basmat, wife of Esav. (vv. 9-10)
This new period begins with a reiteration of the names of Esav’s sons, followed by the names of their descendants. But only two sons are mentioned at this stage: Elifaz, son of Ada, and Re’uel, son of Basmat. What of Ye’ush, Ya’lam, and Korach, the sons of Aholivama? The text ignores them for the time being, continuing with the sons born to Elifaz and Re’uel:
And the sons of Elifaz were Teiman, Omar, Tzefo, and Ga’tam, and Kenaz. And Timna was the concubine of Elifaz, son of Esav, and she bore to Elifaz Amalek; these are the sons of Ada, wife of Esav… And these are the sons of Re’uel: Nachat and Zerach, Shamma and Mizza; these were the sons of Basmat, wife of Esav… And these were the sons of Aholivama, daughter of Ana, daughter of Tziv’on, wife of Esav: the chief Ye’ush, the chief Ya’lam, the chief Korach… (vv. 11-14)
Five sons are listed as being born to Elifaz, with one more – Amalek – born to him from Timna, his concubine. Re’uel has four sons. Then, inexplicably, the text jumps back a generation and again mentions Aholivama and her three sons: Ye’ush, Ya’lam, and Korach. These are not Esav’s grandsons, but rather his sons, familiar to the reader from the genealogy of the previous generation.
These are the Chiefs of Esav
These are the chiefs of the sons of Esav: the sons of Elifaz, Esav’s firstborn, were the chief Teiman, the chief Omar, the chief Tzefo, the chief Kenaz, the chief Korach, the chief Ga’tam, the chief Amalek; these are the chiefs of Elifaz in the land of Edom; these were the sons of Ada.
And these are the sons of Re’uel, son of Esav: the chief Nachat, the chief Zerach, the chief Shamma, the chief Mizza; these are the chiefs of Re’uel in the land of Edom; these are the sons of Basmat, wife of Esav. And these are the sons of Aholivama, wife of Esav: the chief Ye’ush, the chief Ya’lam, the chief Korach; these are the chiefs of Aholivama, daughter of Ana, wife of Esav. These are the sons of Esav, who is Edom, and these are their chiefs. (vv. 16-19)
These verses serve as a sort of summary, noting the chiefs – the families that had branched out from Esav’s three wives. In fact, this list is almost an exact replica of the list of Esav’s children in verses 13-14. The first chiefs are the sons of Elifaz, seven in number: six sons of Elifaz and one of Aholivama. The next chiefs are the sons of Re’uel, and here there is no change: Nachat and Zerach, Shamma and Mizza. The last set of chiefs are the sons that Aholivama bore Esav: Ye’ush, Ya’lam, and Korach. Unlike the first two groups of chiefs, who are Esav’s grandsons, these chiefs are his sons.
A summary thus far of the status of Aholivama: Aholivama is traced back two generations. She is “the daughter of Ana, the daughter of Tziv’on,” and the text seems to be alluding to the significant influence of both her father and her grandfather on her character and consciousness. The reference to her as “daughter of Ana, daughter of Tziv’on” instead of “daughter of Ana, son of Tziv’on,” as we would have expected, draws a direct connection between her and her grandfather, as though she was his daughter. This may be another expression of her strong connection with her roots. Aholivama is Esav’s second wife, but in the context of mothering the next generation, she is mentioned last.
Furthermore, she is not mentioned in the same verse together with Esav’s other two wives. This would seem to indicate an attitude of rejection; she is not considered as sharing the same footing as the other two wives. Another sign of rejection is the significant omission of her sons in the list of Esav’s offspring (verse 10). It is as though Esav had only two sons, while the three born to Aholivama – Ye’ush, Ya’lam and Korach – are simply not counted. This weak status is continued at the stage where Elifaz and Re’uel beget the next generation. Once again, Ye’ush, Ya’lam, and Korach are not presented as fathers who establish families (ibid. 11-14). Instead, they appear only as sons of their mother, who in turn is described again as “daughter of Ana, daughter of Tziv’on” (v. 14) – a reiteration of the story of their birth. They seem to be included in the list of the chiefs as an afterthought. Establishing the next generation of chiefs is seemingly beyond their capacity.
At this point, the text returns to Se’ir and begins enumerating his descendants.
The Children of Se’ir the Chori
These are the sons of Se’ir the Chori, who inhabited the land: Lotan and Shoval and Tziv’on and Ana; and Dishon and Etzer and Dishan, these are the chiefs of the Chori, the children of Se’ir, in the land of Edom. (vv. 20-21)
Se’ir has seven sons, and in time they become “the chiefs of the Chori… in the land of Edom.” The text now goes on to enumerate their descendants:
And the sons of Lotan were Chori and Hemam, and Lotan’s sister was Timna. And the sons of Shoval were Alvan and Manachat and Eival, Shefo, and Onam. And these were the sons of Tziv’on: both Aya and Ana; this was the same Ana who found the yemim in the wilderness, when he fed the donkeys of Tziv’on, his father. And these were the children of Ana: Dishon and Aholivama, daughter of Ana. And these were the sons of Dishon: Chemdan and Eshban and Yitran and Keran. These were the sons of Etzer: Bilhan and Za’avan and Akan. These were the children of Dishon: Utz and Aran. (vv. 22-28)
Some comments are in order here with regard to these genealogies. First, two women are mentioned among the descendants of Se’ir: one is Timna (v. 22), who eventually becomes the concubine of Elifaz and bears him Amalek (v. 12). The other is Aholivama (v. 25), later to become Esav’s second wife. In other words, one of Esav’s wives and one of the wives of his son are granddaughters of Se’ir.
Second, we encounter a most peculiar verse: “These are the children of Tziv’on: both Aya and Ana (literally “and Aya and Ana”); this was the same Ana who found the yemim in the wilderness, when he fed the donkeys of Tziv’on, his father.” Ana is identified as the son of Tziv’on, but the reader already knows that Ana is the son of Se’ir and the brother of Tziv’on (v. 20). Is this the same Ana, or is the text perhaps talking about two different people? More perplexing still is the description of his finding “yemim” in the wilderness. What are these “yemim,” and what is the significance of him having found them? The context of his discovery – while feeding the donkeys of Tziv’on, his father – is likewise surprising in many ways. What is the meaning of this feeding (literally “grazing”) of donkeys? And why is it important for the text to note that the donkeys belong to Tziv’on, his father? What does all of this teach us about Ana? And why the repetition, “These are the children of Ana: Dishon and Aholivama, daughter of Ana” (v. 25)?
Let us now go back to the birth of Aholivama, where the text emphasizes the formative influence of her past and her roots. Now we can understand where this wistfulness comes from. If we posit that there were two different individuals named “Ana,” then Aholivama’s father, Ana, is named after his uncle (his father’s brother). The Sages of the midrash maintain that Tziv’on engaged in an incestuous relationship with his mother, who bore Ana, such that Ana was both his son and his brother (Bava Batra 115b). Incest is an extreme act, reflecting a psychological movement backwards in a quest to bring life from the same place that brought oneself into the world. This individual fails to grasp that he belongs to a different generation: “And these are the sons of Tziv’on – ve-Aya ve-Ana. The conjunctive “vav,” connecting to the past, implies more of the same rather than a new beginning.
Ana’s choice to lead a pack of donkeys to pasture is likewise a rather unusual activity. A donkey is a beast that serves man in his creative, productive capacity, for riding or for carrying. The animals that are usually taken to pasture are flocks of sheep or herds of cattle, which are used in a less sophisticated way – for meat, wool, skins, etc. Taking donkeys to pasture is an act of cultural regression; it means dealing with the donkeys in an unsophisticated way, ignoring their more highly developed cultural potential. This act is undertaken by Ana in deference to or on behalf of his father, which likewise suggests a backward-looking orientation. In the wilderness, he finds the yemim, which Chazal identify as a mule, a cross-breed of a horse and a donkey (Yerushalmi, Berakhot 8:5). The yemim, then, is a strange and deviant creature that has no continuity. It has a past, but it has no future. Immediately thereafter, the text notes in peculiarly repetitive fashion, “And these were the children of Ana: Dishon, and Aholivama, daughter of Ana,” as though emphasizing the spiritual and psychological stance of a woman permanently and resolutely connected to her father.
All of these elements express the powerful backward orientation of this family, preventing it from breaking free, moving forwards, and creating a meaningful future.
From the Talmud
Before analyzing the Talmud’s discussion of the story of Ana, some background is called for. Prior to the appeal by the daughters of Tzelofchad (Bamidbar 27), the law had been that a son inherits from his father, while a daughter does not. Recall that in the Torah, the inheritance is actually a portion of land, which is handed down in such a way as to ensure continuity of the father and his family. Since a daughter, upon marriage, joins her husband’s family, inheritance by a daughter would mean that her father’s inheritance would likewise be transferred out of the family. The daughters of Tzelofchad brought about an amendment of this law whereby if a man died leaving no sons, his inheritance would go to his daughters (and not to his brothers, uncles, etc.)
R. Huna said in the name of Rav: Anyone who says that the daughter [of the deceased] should inherit together with the daughter of his son [in the event that the son had died earlier, leaving only a daughter]: even if the person who proposes this is a prince in Israel, we do not follow him, for such is the practice of the Sadducees. As we learn: On the twenty-fourth of Tevet, we returned to our own law [with regard to inheritance]. For the Sadducees had said: A daughter inherits with the daughter of a son. R. Yochanan ben Zakkai disagreed with them. He said: Fools; from where do you deduce this? And there was no one who could give him any answer, except for one old man who chattered against him, saying: If the daughter of his son, who becomes entitled [to an inheritance] by virtue of the right of that son, is heir to him, then his own daughter, whose right derives directly from him, should certainly be heir to him! [R. Yochanan ben Zakkai] responded by reading this verse to him: “These are the sons of Se’ir the Chori, who inhabited the land: Lotan and Shoval and Tziv’on and Ana...” (Bereishit 36:20). But the text goes on to say, “And these are the children of Tziv’on: both Aya and Ana” (36:24). This teaches that Tziv’on had intercourse with his mother and begat Ana. But perhaps there were two individuals named Ana? Rabba taught… The verse says, “That is [the same] Ana…” – meaning, the same Ana who had been mentioned originally. (Bava Batra 115b)
The discussion in the gemara involves a situation in which the deceased had a son and a daughter, in which case the son is supposed to inherit, and the daughter is not. However, the son, who was supposed to be the heir, has died, leaving a daughter. Now, his daughter (the granddaughter of the original deceased) becomes the heiress. But what of the daughter of the deceased; what is her status? The Sadducees argue that both women – the daughter and the granddaughter – should inherit equally. However, R. Huna declares in the name of Rav that even if a “prince in Israel” rules thus, we do not obey him. The midrash records that the Sages argued this issue against the Sadducees, and when the matter was finally decided in favor of the position of the Sages, the date of the ruling – the 24th of Tevet – was declared a holiday.
The debate between the Sages and the Sadducees concerns a matter of principle, and we shall now turn our attention to identifying its deeper significance. The argument of the old Sadducee, as quoted in the story, is that if a granddaughter can inherit from her grandfather (since her father – the natural heir – has died, leaving no sons), then certainly a daughter should be able to inherit. R. Yochanan ben Zakkai responds by comparing this argument to the figure of Ana, son of Tziv’on, son of Se’ir, who was the product of an incestuous relationship.
What is the meaning of this comparison? What are the Sadducee’s basic assumptions? What is the basic assumption of the Sages?
The Sadducee argument follows the principle of kal va-chomer: if a granddaughter can inherit by virtue of the right of the deceased’s son, then certainly the daughter of the deceased should inherit, since her right derives directly from him. This claim sounds logical. A daughter is more closely related to her father than is the granddaughter, and so if the granddaughter can inherit, seemingly the daughter should, too.
The Sages, on the other hand, maintain the principle that “A son takes precedence [in inheritance] over a daughter, and all descendants of a son take precedence over a daughter.” When a man has a son and a daughter, the son is the heir. If the son dies, his descendants take precedence over other heirs – including his sister (the daughter of the deceased). In our case, the “descendant” is a daughter, who now represents her father. While superficially the situation appears to compare a granddaughter of the deceased with a daughter of the deceased, the situation is more accurately viewed as comparing the son of the deceased (as represented by his own daughter) with the daughter of the deceased. And here we revert to the unanimously agreed principle that a daughter does not inherit when there is a son.
According to the logic of the Sadducees, the son of the deceased is no longer part of the picture. The issue at hand is the rights of the deceased and who it is that inherits these rights. The Sages, in contrast, view the heir as someone who upholds and continues the name of the deceased in the inheritance. He is a continuation of the deceased and of his endeavors in the world. In this sense, the granddaughter declares, as it were, “I am the representative of my father; it is as though he were present here. My father is engraved in my consciousness; I give him a presence and give voice to him and to his rightful claim in this world.”
On the deeper level, the debate would seem to center around the meaning of death and the meaning of life. A person who dies leaves the world. For the Sadducees, this is the end of him; he has no continuity. All that is left to discuss is his estate.
From Ana to the Sadducees
Let us now consider the response of R. Yochanan ben Zakkai, who draws a connection between the stance of the Sadducees in this argument and the story of Tziv’on’s cohabitation with his mother. We have already noted the trait reflected in this act and, more broadly, in Aholivama’s family in general: a backward, past-centered orientation. Instead of a forward movement towards the future and its challenges, there is a fond clinging to the past and to the generations gone by. The heading “These are the generations of Esav” is given literal and graphic elaboration in the story of a dynasty that is characterized by a psychic backward movement. The comparison of the Sadducee argument to the story of Ana’s birth is an indication of a similar worldview in which the direction of movement is towards the past, negating the progress and continuity of life.
Where can this stance be identified in the world of the Sadducees?
The comparison would seem to work as follows: the subject under discussion is inheritance, in a situation in which on the one hand there is the daughter of the deceased’s son and on the other hand the deceased’s own daughter. The Sadducees regard the former as having rights only by virtue of her father. She demands her rights in his name, but she does not represent him in person. Her father is gone, and she, as his daughter, assumes his rights. From this perspective, inheritance deals in death; its focus is on what remains of the deceased and what may be done with it. It is in this sense that R. Yochanan ben Zakkai compares the Sadducees as looking backward – taking themselves backward – to the place of the dead, looking to the inheritance, and drawing vitality from it as it is.
The Sages, on the other hand, understand the laws of inheritance as guiding the continuation of the deceased into the future. The granddaughter, coming in the name of her father, serves as his mouthpiece and thereby gives him life, as it were. Inheritance, to this view, means continuity. The next generation assumes responsibility for reality, for the world which until now has been shaped by its parents. The next generation moves forward, living and doing and creating, having previous generations engraved on its consciousness and connecting those generations to places, acts and achievements that they themselves did not manage to attain.
The comparison between Ana in Sefer Bereishit and the Sadducees would seem to contain a further level of meaning. In the background there lurks the question of what led Tziv’on to turn backwards, instead of looking forwards, towards progress. The explanation would seem to be that a look to the future, to renewal, implies the thought that “there is within me something that has not existed in the past.” One acknowledges his inner world and the interaction of soul, psyche, and life. When a person has no inner life movement, there is no engine capable of driving him towards a meaningful future. In other words, the ability to dream, to propel the world forwards, depends to a large extent on the faith that a person has in the world, in the meaning of life, in their connection to vistas of the spirit and of meaning. The future is largely built on the quality of the present, and the creativity within it, allowing a person to be filled and inspired and to move towards the future. When there is no inner dimension of life, no life movement giving meaning to the present, then there can be no real future; there is nowhere to go, and the result will be a turning back to the past.
The Sages establish a holiday commemorating the law being ruled in accordance with their view and against the view of the Sadducees. In this sense, they connect this disagreement over the concepts of death, inheritance, and continuity with a greater, broader debate between themselves and the Sadducees. The attitude towards the past is just one expression of an entire world-view that the Sadducees hold, affecting a wide range of issues. They believe in the Written Law, but not the Oral Law. They do not believe in the Sages’ power of renewal, the ability to interact with the Written Law and to create, leaving a living imprint on it. In the same way, the Sadducees do not believe in the endurance and perpetuation of the soul; they do not believe in life as having a future and a continuation. R. Yochanan ben Zakkai points to the thread that connects the “generations of Esav” – with their orientation towards the past – to the Sadducees, who likewise see and are inspired by a past that is inert and set in stone. His own view, and that of the Sages, is one that is rooted in the present and oriented towards the future, while at the same time remembering and reviving the past, binding it and propelling it towards the future.
Translated by Kaeren Fish
 In our shiur on Parashat Toldot, we discussed the concept of “toldot” as including a family dimension as well as a behavioral one (in the sense of “deeds”) and spiritual one. When the Torah enumerates the “toldot” of someone, it not only tells us who his progeny were; it also conveys something about his spiritual world and the processes that he and his descendants undergo.
 Just one of many examples in Tanakh: Twice in Sefer Shmuel (I 14:49; 31:2), we are told that Shaul had three sons. No mention is made of Ish Boshet, since he is unimportant; at this stage, no one imagines that he will actually be Shaul’s successor.
 The level of detail in the description here would seem to suggest a decisive, absolute move, leaving nothing behind.
 Why is Korach, son of Aholivama, mentioned here amongst the list of “the sons of Ada”? Further on he is mentioned again, in his proper place, as the son of Aholivama. This would seem to indicate a schism in Korach’s camp, some of which joined the chiefs of the sons of Ada.
 In addition, the text repeats once again that their mother, Aholivama, is “the daughter of Ana, daughter of Tziv’on.”
 The phenomenon of naming someone after someone else is rare in Tanakh. This fact would seem to reflect an orientation towards newness and progress. Life is perceived not as the continuation of life that has already been lived, but rather as a new beginning.
 The midrash cited below draws a connection between the “finding of the yemim” – representing the creation of this hybrid – and Tzivon’s incest: “R. Shimon ben Gamliel said: The mule came into existence in the time of Ana, as it is written, ‘This was the [same] Ana who found the mules in the wilderness…’ Those who follow a symbolic interpretation said: Ana himself was unfit, therefore he brought unfit [creatures] into the world, as it is written, ‘These are the sons of Se’ir, the Chori [… and Tziv’on and Ana],’ while it is also written, ‘And these are the sons of Tziv’on: both Aya and Ana.’ This teaches that Tziv’on cohabited with his mother and thereby begat Ana. But perhaps there were two people named Ana? Rabba said: I say something which even King Shapur could not say (and who is that? Shemuel). Others say, R. Papa said: I say something which even King Shapur did not say – (and who is that? Rabba): The text says, ‘That is the [same] Ana’ – meaning, the original Ana” (Pesachim 54a).
 The Sadducees concur, since this is stipulated explicitly in the Torah, and they accept the Written Law.
 In our shiur on Parashat Pinchas, we noted the conceptual revolution represented by the daughters of Tzelofchad and their request. What this signified was not just rights for daughters in cases in which there are no sons, but a whole new perspective and basis for the laws of inheritance. Previously, the inheritance had been regarded as belonging to the people who were counted in the census – the inheritors of the land – and the only issue related to passing it on to the next generation was ensuring that the name of the deceased would remain attached to his land, as a categorical, legal step ensuring continuity. In this sense, the laws applied to men, rather than women, whose attachment to the inheritance of their birth-family was weaker. The daughters of Tzelofchad introduced another perspective on the laws of inheritance. They envisioned a channel representing a different sort of continuity, suited to the inner character of a daughter. As the daughters of Tzelofchad, they are filled with a consciousness of and desire to continue their father; they sincerely wish to give his memory standing in the world. From this point onwards, the laws of inheritance are based on the continuity of previous generations as maintained, in living form, in the hearts of the generations that follow. They carry within themselves the aspirations and dreams of their predecessors, thereby reviving both their way and their spirit. For further discussion, see our shiur on Parashat Pinchas.
 We have elaborated on this dimension of the Oral Law in our shiurim on Parashat Vayera and Parashat Ki Tisa.