Sunday, December 2, 2012

When Did Esav Leave?

I noticed this week a small problem in the Parasha. If you were to read the end of the parasha (chapter 36) you would assume that Esav left Canaan, after Jacob returned:

ו  וַיִּקַּח עֵשָׂו אֶת-נָשָׁיו וְאֶת-בָּנָיו וְאֶת-בְּנֹתָיו, וְאֶת-כָּל-נַפְשׁוֹת בֵּיתוֹ, וְאֶת-מִקְנֵהוּ וְאֶת-כָּל-בְּהֶמְתּוֹ וְאֵת כָּל-קִנְיָנוֹ, אֲשֶׁר רָכַשׁ בְּאֶרֶץ כְּנָעַן; וַיֵּלֶךְ אֶל-אֶרֶץ, מִפְּנֵי יַעֲקֹב אָחִיו.6 And Esau took his wives, and his sons, and his daughters, and all the souls of his house, and his cattle, and all his beasts, and all his possessions, which he had gathered in the land of Canaan; and went into a land away from his brother Jacob.
ז  כִּי-הָיָה רְכוּשָׁם רָב, מִשֶּׁבֶת יַחְדָּו; וְלֹא יָכְלָה אֶרֶץ מְגוּרֵיהֶם, לָשֵׂאת אֹתָם--מִפְּנֵי, מִקְנֵיהֶם.7 For their substance was too great for them to dwell together; and the land of their sojournings could not bear them because of their cattle.
ח  וַיֵּשֶׁב עֵשָׂו בְּהַר שֵׂעִיר, עֵשָׂו הוּא אֱדוֹם.8 And Esau dwelt in the mountain-land of Seir--Esau is Edom.

However, there are various passages in the beginning of the Parasha that indicate that Esav left long before Jacob came. For example in chapter 32:

  וַיִּשְׁלַח יַעֲקֹב מַלְאָכִים לְפָנָיו, אֶל-עֵשָׂו אָחִיו, אַרְצָה שֵׂעִיר, שְׂדֵה אֱדוֹם.4 And Jacob sent messengers before him to Esau his brother unto the land of Seir, the field of Edom.

Jacob when he is heading home, sends his messangers to Esav at Edom! In other words, Esav was no longer in Canaan when Jacob was heading home.

Very few of the classical commentators comment on this - Radak explains that Esav was in Edom, but had yet to settle there. Ibn-Ezra expalins that Edom is between Haran and Israel, and hence Jacob has to send the messangers to Esav. This explains why Jacob bothered to send messengers to Esav at all, but not why Esav had already left Canaan. Nahmanides (commentary on Gen. 36:6) explains  that initially Esau moved to Edom with only a few of his people, leaving most of his family in Canaan. Later, he returned to Canaan to meet Jacob, who was coming back from Laban's home, and only afterward did he take the rest of his family to Edom. Hazkoni (Gen. 36:6) similarly explains that until this point Esav lived in both places, and now he decided to give up any rights to Canaan. 

These explanations are all possible, though somewhat unsatisfactory. Harav Goren gives a different explanation. Esav left Canaan long before Jacob returned, because Esav truely believed his father's blessings would come true (evidenced by his cry of anguish). Since Esav had no wish to be ruled by his brother, he got up and left before Jacob came back. The problem with this explanation is that the Torah specifically says Esav left because the land could not bare them both. 

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