After Jacob comes back home to Isaac, before we continue on with the story of Jacob and Joseph, we have an extra perek of genealogy (it’s the bane of every בעל קורא in this parasha. The תיקון סימנים, which usually has mnemonics to help reading, just says “be careful out there”).
This is 43 psukim of תלדות עשו. For comparison, we have only have 5 psukim of נחור‘s family (בראשית כב), and that is to tell us about רבקה’s birth, so it connects to the narrative of בני ישראל. We have 7 psukim of תולדות ישמאל (בראשית כה), and the gemara (מגילה יז,א) says that even that is only to tell us of the details of עשו's marriage to his daughter. In other words, תולדות ישמאל is really part of תלדות עשו.
And we have one paragraph here of the genealogy of אלה בני שעיר החרי ישבי הארץ, one of the branches of the כנענים. But that’s also part of תלדות עשו:
So Esav and his descendants intermarried with the local populace. Why do I care? The Zohar (as mentioned in the Artscroll Chumash) reads all this as symbolic and kabbalistic, but I’m going to try to look at the פשט.
The third paragraph starts with a problem:
What does לפני מלך מלך לבני ישראל mean? When the Torah was written, there was no king in Israel! Most מפרשים assume Moshe is talking about himself; מלך is figurative:
Ibn Ezra allows for the possibility of a prophetic view of the future (though this seems suspiciously specific for a נבואה), and adds an argument against a proto-Documentary Hypothesis explanation:
Rav Shimon Schwab has an interesting explanation. First he notes that the list of kings and then the list of “chieftains”, אלופים, seems to be sequential: first there were kings in Edom, then tribes:
And that sequence is explicit in the version in דברי הימים:
And there seems to be a change within the chronology of the Torah itself. At קריעת ים סוף, there were אלופי אדום:
But 40 years later, when בני ישראל approach Edom, there is a king:
So Rav Schwab says that Edom only had an ad-hoc king:
In the entire list there is no מלך בן מלך. Edom only had what we will later in תנ״ך call שופטים.
This is parallel to the way Rashi describes the appointment of Balak as king of Moab:
But I want to give this a little different twist. First, there is a short narrative in the middle of all the genealogy:
After Isaac dies, Yaakov and Esav live together peacefully for a while (Esav wanted to kill Yaakov not for stealing the ברכה, but for the stuff that the ברכה promised: מטל השמים ומשמני הארץ ורב דגן ותירש. As long as Esav is rich, Esav is happy.) Then it gets crowded, and Esav moves to Seir. But it looks like he was already living in Seir:
It seems that before, Esav was just working in Seir (with his father-in-law!) and commuting from Hebron, but after Yaakov comes he actually moves:
Esav actually takes over the entire land, as we see in Moshe’s description of the confrontation with Edom:
So why does he move? It doesn’t seem like a very Esav-y thing, to say “רכושם רב משבת יחדו, so I’ll just leave”. The midrash explains the backstory:
And Rashi expands:
I would argue that הבושה שמכר בכורתו is not that he was embarrassed that he had sold the birthright for a mess of pottage. The בושה is that he continued to sell the birthright:
And I think this story here is the real sale of the בכורה. What they did when they were 15-year-old kids was just foreshadowing. It indicated Esav’s attitude to the mission of Abraham:
Here Esav demonstrates what ויבז עשו את הבכרה really means. He doesn’t want the land, the future, the mission. The price is too high. He would rather be an ordinary nation, intermarrying with everyone around him, with ordinary politics and an ordinary destiny.
And I think that is why this chapter is in the Torah. Moshe is leading a people who have not had an “ordinary” history; לפני מלך מלך לבני ישראל means “even now, as you are on the cusp of entering ארץ ישראל, you don’t have a מלך or a ממלכה. But you want one:”
So Moshe is telling them: You want to know what מדינת ישראל looks like without the ברית אברהם? An ordinary country, with an ordinary history? Look at your twin brother, the nation of Edom. You go that route, you end up being just 43 sentences in someone else’s book:
You’ll get a paragraph in Wikipedia.
But to be בני ישראל is to have an eternal future, despite the price: