Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Cost of Rejecting a Ger. Timna.

The original version of this was posted in '06.  There have been some, and will be more, changes, but I wanted to get it up before Shabbos.  The main reason for reposting was that I found Rav Bergman's excellent words on this topic in his Shaarei Orah, which I partially quote at the end.

In Sanhedrin 99b the Gemara explains that Timna went to Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya’akov and asked that they accept her as a convert to Judaism, and they all refused her. So she went and became concubine Esav's son Eliphaz just to be close to the family of Avraham Avinu, even though it was a shocking debasement for the daughter of a king to become a concubine. The Gemara then says that we were punished for this, in that Amalek descended from her union with Eliphaz. With this the Gemara illustrates that what may seem to be a passuk with no special significance is actually very meaningful. But it is important to realize that this Gemara opens the window on a very significant issue.

The Alter from Slobodkeh (in his sefer Ohr Hatzafun) says that we know that Avraham's life work was to spread the knowledge of Hashem and that he was a great seeker of geirim.  If he refused her, he must have seen terrible character traits in her.

If so, we can say that they refused her because they correctly discerned in her the midos that ultimately expressed themselves in her descendant, Amalek, and they didn’t want those personality traits grafted onto Klal Yisroel.

Even though this rejection resulted in the birth of Amaleik, it is better to allow the creation of an eternal existential threat rather than jeopardize our defining Jewish traits. Better to create an Amoleik than to bring middos ra’os into Klal Yisrael.

Similarly, we find the issur of accepting Amoni and Mo’avi, apparently for their bad middos. But maybe that is only after their nation had expressed the bad midda in a maaseh which deserved punishment--shelo kidmu. Here, her middos ra’os had not yet expressed themselves. Even so, the Torah shows us that he and the other avos should have helped her. Their refusal shows how serious a refusal to do a chesed is--our terrible nemesis Amalek came from her.

And this is the same taineh on Ya’akov for hiding Dinah from Eisav, and of course he was punished for that as well, when Dinah was taken by Shchem.

Perhaps (see Yalkut Lekach Tov at the end of Vayishlach) the taineh was not that they didn't do differently, but that they didn’t feel any sympathy for her when they decided that they couldn’t help her. But the fact is the Gemara uses the expression Lamos (in Iyov, from the shoresh “nameis”, meaning melt, here meaning a person who shrinks from doing chesed for his neighbor) mei’rei’aihu chesed regarding Ya’akov, which sounds like a tainah for not doing differently.

Also remember what R’ Chaim Shmeulevitz says about “ohr vechoshech mishtamshim be’irbuvia” on the Makkas Choshech. Perhaps the problem in this marriage was not only the choshech alone, but the fact that it was combined with an ohr that both Eliphaz and Timna had. In other words, Timna was honestly motivated to become a giyores, but along with that ohr there was a choshech that they were unable to eliminate, which, in combination with their ohr, was capable of generating a terrible force.

But there might be a theme about refusing geirim, because not only do we have the Gemara in Sanhedrin about Timna, there’s also the Gemara in Sottah 42b about Orpa, which says that both Golyas and Yishbi (who almost killed David in a later battle) were among the four sons of Orpa. The Gemara there says that amar Hakadosh Baruch Hu yavo’u b’nei haneshukah v’yiplu b’yad bnei hadvukah, so you can’t really tell whether there’s any taineh on Na’omi for discouraging Orpa, or the only point of the Gemara is that Orpa was unfit to become a Jew, as shown by the sons she ultimately had. So, although there is a clear similarity between the cases of Timna and Orpa– both being turned away, both giving birth to children who threatened our existence– and there’s also the Gemara about Yaakov refusing to give Dinah as a wife to Eisav, and the story of Shchem that followed, there’s no clear evidence as to how the three fit together, whether there is a general theme or mussar haskeil, or that you have to judge them on a case by case basis.

Also note that the Gemara in Yevamos (79a) says that the reason Hashem agreed to the demand of the Giv’onim to have the children of Sha’ul killed, was in order to make a Kiddush Hashem so that other potential Gerim would see the concern that the Jews have for the well-being of Gerim, and the Giv’onim lost their livelihood with the destruction of Nov. Now, Chazal also say that Yishbi’s ability to almost kill David was because the aveiraa of Nov had as of then not been forgiven (that’s why he’s called Yishbi B’nov). So you have the son of a refused geir becoming the instrument of nekomoh for an injury to geirim– not good geirim, Giv’onim, but geirim nonetheless. So you see once again that Chazal stress the importance of sympathy with, and the risks of indifference to, the geir.

R’ Chaim Ehrman attended R Schwab’s chumash shiur for four years, and in 1961 he heard the following from him:
When nations wage war, one nation generally covets the resources or the land of the other nation. Amalek went to the desert to wage war against Yisrael. Did they want the desert? There are miles and miles of desert available to any nation. There is no need to wage war to claim the desert. Amalek had a goal in mind. He wanted to show that the Am Hashem, the nation that Hashem chose to be His people are vulnerable and can be attacked like any other nation. Amalek deliberately waged war against the Will of Hashem. He wanted to show that Hashem’s nation is made up of mere humans and can lose a war (which happened when Moshe lowered his hands) like any other nation. What is the source of this hatred?

Rav Schwab answers this question based on the Gemara in Sanhedrin 99b. Amalek’s hatred came from his mother, Timna. She was a princess from the land of Canaan. She could have lead a life of luxury and royalty. She decided to become a giyores and marry into the descendants of Avraham Avinu. She approached Yaakov Avinu, but he replied, saying “you are from Canaan, and we may have nothing to do with Canaanites.” She went to Eisav, who told her that he had three wives and could not take another wife. She approached the children of Eisav and again she was rejected. Finally, Elifaz, the son of Eisav, took her as a concubine, not as a regular wife.

Timna felt totally rejected. She stooped from being a princess to a mere concubine, not even receiving a kesuba, a dowry. She realized that Hashem is the true G-d, but became very bitter because of her treatment and the respect she should have received. (Notice the warm reception Boaz gave Ruth, a princess of Moav who gave up her religion to become a giyores.) Amalek, her son, picked up the bitterness and unhappiness of Timna. He, then, decided to avenge his mother’s sadness and rejection. The mussar haskell (moral lesson to be learned) is that we must try to be mekarev (bring close) everyone, to the best of our ability, and avoid rejecting any person from Avodas Hashem.
(End Ehrman. He says that he is in middle of putting a together a sefer of the shiurim he heard from R Schwab, which will include this.)

So, you have a pretty clear difference of opinion between the Alter and R Schwab. One said that we pushed her away because she had middos m’gunos, the other says she had middos m’gunos because we pushed her away, which seems closer to what the Gemara in Sanhedrin says. Unless pshat is that we shouldn’t have pushed her away (at all, so brusquely, so completely) despite her middos m’gunos.

If I were around when Chazal talked about discouraging potential geirim, I would have asked, but look what happened when we did that to Timnoh and to Orpoh. What would they have answered? That the richuk there was too strong? That the richuk is only a test for sincerity, but once you find sincerity you should encourage them? That we were m’racheik them because of their bad middos, and better a bad goy than a bad Jew? That instead of rejecting them completely, we should have worked with them and helped them eliminate the middos ro’os and then taken them as geirim? That even if you are m’racheik, you should be close to them socially and try to do chesed for them?

At a conference in Eretz Yisroel in July 2006 about standards in Geirus, Harav Reuven Feinstein said a new pshat in Koshim Geirim L’Yisroel K’sapachas: he said that this is also referring to the punishment for being m’racheik a geir tzedek, or in making him wait five years before his geirus, because it says “m’kablim osso miyad.”


I just saw Rav Bergman in his Shaarei Ora II on this parsha, and his discussion of this sugya is beautiful. His focus is on the concept of Kiruv, which spans a range from baalei teshuva to geirim.  He goes with the Alter's approach.  He adds that it was davka because Timna was such a great person that her middos ra'os could not be corrected.  A normal geir will be mevatel themselves to Klal Yisrael, and overcome their natural techunos hanefesh.  But she was a great woman.  She had such a hakara that she would do anything just to get close to the family of the great Avraham Avinu.  Ironically, davka because she was so great she couldn't be mevatel herself to our hashkafos and middos, and her terrible middos would remain part of her.  But, he says, no matter what the reason is, rejecting a person who wants to become a ger has a terrible price.  The consequences are inevitable even if the decision was fully justified.  He says that we see what Avraham Avinu was willing to forego, kabalas pnei haShechina, for all the years Lot was with him, so he could be mekareiv him.  He adds something I also once said: why is גדולה הכנסת אורחים מקבלת פני השכינה?  Because receiving guests, chesed and kiruv, is being domeh to Hashem, mah hu.... and becoming a Godly person is far greater than standing in the presence of God.  In any case, the idea is that kiruv is so precious and valuable that even in those cases where kiruv is not good, where it is dangerous, rejecting it causes tremendous damage.  We find it by Timna and we find it by Dina/Eisav, and I would add that this may have also been the shitta of Shammai HaZaken.

The way I visualize the concept that there are negative consequences even when the act is entirely justified is that Kiruv is so critical to the briya that it is close to teva.  There are times that picking up a piece of steel that is glowing red is necessary.  Your act might be necessary to protect someone you love from a horrible fate.  But you're going to get burned.

Visualizing it is not the same as understanding it.


  1. Hi,
    If I remember correctly, the gmara in Sanhedrin said the Avot made an error, they should have accepted her, no ?


    1. The gemara in Sanhedrin 99b says
      נפק מינה עמלק דצערינהו לישראל מאי טעמא דלא איבעי להו לרחקה
      Amalek came from her, who pained Israel. Why? Because they shouldn't have distanced her.
      Yes, the plain meaning of the Gemara is a criticism of the Avos. Many mefarshim are unwilling to accept the Gemara at face value. If we were to take every Gemara at face value, MBD would be out of business: see two blatt later in Sanhedrin 101b where the Gemara, and certainly Rashi, seems to prohibit singing any passuk from Tanach. My point is that we are beholden to the great mefarshim in interpreting the Gemara, and although this Gemara does seem to say that, there is still a great deal of room for interpretation.