Amalek is the ancestor of the Jewish people’s eternal enemy, a nation whose utter destruction remains, at least theoretically, incumbent on all Jews. In the Book of Exodus we read how Amalek launches an unprovoked attack on the Children of Israel shortly after their departure from Egypt. However, based on the above verse, the Talmud in tractate Sanhedrin suggests that Amalek’s enmity was not completely without foundation.
Timna, Amalek’s mother, was the sister of Lotan, a local nobleman. It is somewhat surprising, therefore, that she became a mere concubine in the house of Esau. Why did she degrade herself to such an extent? The Talmud explains that Timna wanted to convert and join the family of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Her request was rejected. Timna was not to be deterred; rather than accept this rebuff, she turned to Isaac’s great-grandson, Eliphaz, and became his concubine and their offspring was Amalek.
As the Talmud puts it, “from her Amalek was descended, he who afflicted Israel. Why so? Because they should not have refused her.” The Talmud is clearly suggesting that Timna’s rejection led inexorably to the deep hatred between the two peoples.
Why was she rejected? A commentary in the Ein Ya’akov, a compilation of the non-legal sections of the Talmud, suggests they did not trust her determination; there was concern that someone as high-born as Timna would never be able to lower herself sufficiently to pledge loyalty to God. How wrong they were; Timna was willing to go to any lengths to join this family.
This frank and self-critical talmudic lesson reminds us of the sensitivity and trust we must have towards those who wish to tie their fate to our people. Rejection of a person’s genuine desire for acceptance can have tragic consequences.