| Parshah |

My Waterloo

Imitation is a very important learning tool. We endeavor to emulate others’ good points


“Timna was a concubine of Elifaz, the son of Eisav, and she gave birth to Amalek…” (Bereishis 36:12)


Timna was a princess. She wanted to convert to belief in Hashem, but Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov wouldn’t accept her. So she went and became a concubine to Elifaz, son of Eisav, saying, “Better I should be a maid to someone from this nation rather than a primary wife in another nation.” Subsequently, she gave birth to Amalek (Sanhedrin 99b).

Why didn’t the Avos accept Timna as they accepted other geirim? Perhaps it is because the Torah doesn’t allow Amalek or his household to be accepted as geirim; the Avos maintained this, since they kept the whole Torah even before it was given. But how does this relate to Amalek’s mother, Timna?

Timna gave up a life of royalty, just to be part of this family. Her husband, Elifaz, the greatest of Eisav’s children, grew up in the lap of Yitzchak’s family and allowed Yaakov to escape although Eisav had sent him to kill him. So what went wrong? (Rabbi Yaakov S. Weinberg, The Torah Connection)

My friend Esty is Napoleon. At least that’s what I call her. She’s a petite bundle of energy who runs her home, her business, and her life with confidence and verve. Her kids know to put their dirty laundry in the hamper, her suppliers know she’s efficient and savvy, and she’s the type to step up with a grand chesed — like making an entire kiddush for a family without relatives.

She also has a great sense of humor and is a terrific friend. But let’s face it. Deep down, there’s a little voice inside me that wishes I could be more like Esty.

Rav Tzaddok states that Timna’s intentions couldn’t have been l’sheim Shamayim, because the result was Amalek. Rather, her behavior was a copycat reaction.
Timna’s words echo those of Pharaoh when he gave his daughter Hagar as a wife to Avraham. Timna was simply copying Pharaoh and Hagar’s sentiments.
The Maharal states that this was the cheit of Hevel as well. He only brought his korban after Kayin did. We also see this in Haran, Avraham’s brother. He said, “If Avraham comes out alive from the fiery furnace, then I’ll throw my lot with him.” Such copycat beliefs didn’t protect him from the furnace.

So, one bright afternoon, I decided there was nothing actually stopping me from emulating Esty’s organization and efficiency. I too would be Napoleon.

I commanded the kids to pick up their toys, wash their hands, and put their knapsacks away. I cooked an elaborate, healthy supper, making sure to send some to my neighbor who was recuperating from Covid. I orchestrated showers and bedtimes with a strict timetable and limited last-minute requests for more stories and drinks with a decisive click of my tongue in what I hoped was a firm yet kind manner, like Esty. (I controlled myself from tucking my hand into the buttons of my sweater as that would have been over-the-top and certainly not efficient.)

Imitation is a very important learning tool. We endeavor to emulate others’ good points. But the purpose thereafter isn’t to remain stagnant with the newly inspired behavior remaining an outside shell. Rather, it’s to acquire this new trait as your own. If the behavior doesn’t become a part of your inner self, it’s but a superficial copy.
This was Timna’s flaw. Rav Tzaddok says, “Every nation has a merit that will grant it existence in Mashiach’s time, except Amalek, which will cease to exist. Timna’s initial copycat act was seemingly meritorious. But since she never internalized it to make it her own, the result was Amalek.

That day was a disaster. I collapsed on the couch after the last kid was tucked in, realizing I was drained and stressed-out beyond belief. Plus, that little voice inside of me was insisting that my kids were just as stressed out from the day’s activities as I was, and if I continued this Napoleon march, it would lead to madness.

I just was not cut out to be a Napoleon. I’d have to leave that to the Estys of the world. I’d been trying to copy her, but it wasn’t me, and I couldn’t internalize it. It wouldn’t work. It was a humbling (perhaps disappointing) admission to swallow.

But I have to admit, I make a really good Winston Churchill.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 768)

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