Elul 4: Choose, Don’t Refuse by Yael Unterman


The Talmud: dense and legalistic, tales of rabbis, matrons, kings and folk, surprising, challenging, cryptic, dry, fascinating, multilayered, heavenly, earthly – This is the Talmud for me.

I especially love it when the Talmud, the very mouthpiece of the Jewish people, engages in critique of the Jewish people themselves. Thus, it informs us that Amalek – symbol of ultimate evil – came into being following Jewish rejection of a prospective convert:

And Lotan’s sister was Timna…Timna was a royal princess…Desiring to become a proselyte, she went to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but they did not accept her. So she instead became a concubine to Eliphaz son of Esau, saying, ‘I’d rather be a servant to this people than mistress of another nation.’

From her, Amalek was descended who afflicted Israel. Why so? — Because they should not have repulsed her. (Sanhedrin 99b)

We have no idea why Abraham, Isaac and Jacob rebuffed Timna. Did she make them feel uncomfortable? In what way? In any event, the message is clear: it was our own fault that we ended up plagued by Amalek, our arch-nemesis. Evil begets evil.

So, alongside “blotting out the name of Amalek,” let us also blot out rejection due to insularity, snobbery, fear or hatred. Let’s try harder to embrace people with open arms, even those who cause us discomfort. Especially those.

As Bob Marley sings in “Corner Stone”:

‘Cause the things people refuse
Are the things they should choose…

Yael Unterman is a Jerusalem-based author and Bibliodrama facilitator. www.yaelunterman.com

  • yaelshahar

    A very important lesson in the consequences of intolerance and lack of acceptance.

    Perhaps the converse applies as well: Just as lack of acceptance may have dire consequences generations down the line, so kindness and welcoming in one generation may bear fruit in another generation. So David was born of a Moabite convert. It would seem that only a welcoming community is worthy of a wise and just king.

    In the same way, we refer to Mashiah as “Ben David”. It may be that, true to his “Av”, he will be the child or grandchild of a convert. Have we been guilty of turning away the woman or man who is destined to give birth to Mashiah?