SALT - Friday, 18 Kislev 5781 - December 4, 2020

  • Rav David Silverberg
            Yesterday, we noted the names of Eisav’s three wives given in Parashat Vayishlach, and how they differ from the names by which they are referred back in Parashat Toldot.  In Parashat Vayishlach (36:2-3), Eisav’s wives are identified as: 1) Ada, the daughter Eilon, a Chittite; 2) Aholivama, the daughter of Ana, a Chivite; 3) Bosmat, Yishmael’s daughter.  In Parashat Toldot (26:34, 28:9), by contrast, we read that Eisav first married Yehudit, the daughter of Be’eri, and Bosmat, the daughter of Eilon, both Chittites, and he later married Yishmael’s daughter Machalat.  Most commentators explain, very simply, that it was common in the ancient world for people to be known by more than one name, and this account for the discrepancies between the two accounts.  However, this does not explain why Eisav’s first two wives are both identified as Chittites in Parashat Toldot, whereas in Parashat Vayishlach, one is identified as a Chittite and the other as a Chivite.
            The Ramban offers a different – and surprisingly simple – explanation, suggesting that Eisav’s first two wives were named Yehudit and Bosmat, as the Torah says in Parashat Toldot, but they both died without children.  The Ramban notes that the Torah emphasizes that these two women were sinful (“Va-tihiyena morat ruach le-Yitzchak u-le-Rivka” – 26:35), and it is thus possible that they were punished and died young, without begetting children.  As the Torah here in Parashat Vayishlach names Eisav’s wives for the sake of recording his progeny, it makes no mention of his wives who died without producing offspring.  It therefore mentions the two wives he married later – Ada and Aholivama.  As for the daughter of Yishmael, the Ramban speculates that Eisav perhaps changed her name from “Machalat,” which resembles the inauspicious word “machala” (“illness”), and gave her the name of one of his deceased wives – “Bosmat” – which has a more pleasant association, resembling the word “besamim” (fragrant spices).
            A slightly different theory is advanced by the Rashbam, who writes that one of Eisav’s first two wives – Yehudit – died without children.  The other wives – Bosmat, the daughter of Eilon, and Machalat, the daughter of Yishmael – remained alive and produced offspring, and, for whatever reason, their names were changed to Ada and Bosmat, respectively.  Later, after Eisav settled in the region of Se’ir, he married Aholivama, whom the Torah identifies here as the daughter of Ana and the granddaughter of Tzivon.  Ana and Tzivon are mentioned towards the end of Parashat Vayishlach (36:20,24) as natives of Se’ir, and so it stands to reason that Eisav married Aholivama later in life, after he relocated in Se’ir.  The Rashbam adds that for this reason, the Torah first lists the children of Ada and Bosmat, before presenting the names of the children of Aholivama – because Eisav married Aholivama later, and thus her children were younger. 
This approach is taken also by Netziv, in his Ha’ameik Davar, where he notes that in listing Eisav’s offspring upon arriving in Se’ir (36:9-19), the Torah names the sons of Ada and Bosmat, and also their grandsons, whereas Aholivama’s sons are named, but not her grandsons.  It appears that since Aholivama married Eisav later, she had only children at that time, but not grandsons.  (We should note that Netziv, unlike the Rashbam, apparently understood that Eisav married Aholivama before he arrived in Se’ir, such that she bore him three children by the time he settled there.)