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Moses sent messengers to the king of Edom… "You know all about our troubles in the past… Please let us pass through your land… we will not stray from the main highway… and we will purchase our water from you…" Edom replied "No passage [through my lands]!" Edom sent out his strong army in support. Thus Edom refused to let the Israelites travel through his lands, and Israel turned away from him (20:14-21).
The nations of Edom is identified with Jacob's brother, Esau (Gen. 36:8). So Jacob's descendants - the Israelites, and Esau's descendants - the Edomites, share common ancestors Abraham and Isaac. As recounted in the story of Jacob and Esau, the relationship between the brothers had been strained. It forced Jacob to leave home in a hurry because of Esau's wrath in losing both the birthright and the blessing. Later on, they were reconciled. Esau's subsequent parting was for a practical reasons - Jacob and Esau had become both so wealthy that there was not enough pasture to go round for all their animals (Gen. 36:6-7).
Significantly, it was Esau who left Jacob, and not the other way round. Esau and his descendants moved and conquered the southern lands known as Edom and Seir, which the Torah declares as being the property of Esau's descendants (Deut. 2:5,12). And the Israelites were told to recognize these lands as the sole property of Esau's descendants (Deut. 2:5).
This point can perhaps explain why the Edomites did not give passage to the Israelites.
Back in the patriarchal days, Esau felt that Jacob had obtained the birthright and the blessing by deception, and at his expense (Gen. 27:36). Thus there was a deep family rift. The brothers met many years later, and seemed to have superficially worked out a way of co-existence. The key word is superficial. They did not have to get close to each other as they were both shielded by abundance and wealth. Both Jacob and Esau had "done well" since their last meeting.
So the wounds were superficially healed - cushioned by armies and wealth. But the actual issues between Jacob and Esau had never been faced head-on. It is like quarreling family members who can put aside their rankling issues when socially required to meet at a celebration or at a funeral. But having made the reunion does not solve the underlying issues, which can rankle for generations. And having not faced the issues in time means that the issues are remembered and even magnified by future generations who simply want nothing to do with "that side of the family". It is deep in their guts.
Thus the Israelites had to pay the price. Forbidden to react to Edom's aggressive response, they were forced to avoid that nation completely and go for a "very long walk" round around the borders of Edom instead of the direct route (Deut. 2:8).
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Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: email@example.com for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
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