The first Rash"i in the Torah cites Rav Yitzchak's question as to why the Torah didn't begin with the first mitzvah, because it's assumed that the purpose of the Torah is as a mitzvah guide and not a history book.

However, what doesn't get answered is if we should assume that if there is a necessity to include historical figures, why not limit it to those that in some way influenced only Jewish people? In other words, should we assume that the Torah is meant to be a book for the Jewish people? (Not that we exclude Gentiles from learning the Torah if they wish, but it's main purpose is for Jews.) So, why do Jews need to know the family history of non-Jews such as Yishma'el and Esav?

I can see that at least regarding Esav's lineage, Amalek, might have some Jewish "significance" as eventually that nation attacked B'nai Yisra'el. But, if a non-Jew had no direct connection in any way with B'nai Yisra'el, why do we need to know the family lineage at all?

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    The Malbim at the beginning of Divrei Hayamim counts several descending groups of 70. I don't remember all the details, but I think it was something like 70 nations from Noach, 70 descendants of Avraham (with some convolutions in the count as I recall), 70 descendants of Yaakov. The first and last are well known, but I found the second to be a nice addition.
    – Heshy
    Nov 29, 2017 at 16:30
  • I think I heard there are many seforim on kabbalah entirely devoted to the parsha of Eisav's descendants. They're meant to explain the process of the tzimtzum, not that I'm an expert on the subject. I think the Arizal also expanded on this. So according to this the Torah would be teaching this parsha for its esoteric significance, if you feel that justifies its inclusion.
    – robev
    Nov 30, 2017 at 3:54

2 Answers 2


Rambam discusses the phenomenon of the Torah mentioning seemingly irrelevant genealogies in Moreh Nevukhim (3:50) (see here). He includes the listing of the descendants of Noah, the descendants of Seir, the kings of Edom, and the like. He writes that the genealogies are meant to strengthen belief in the Torah's account of creation, starting with one man. This account may be difficult for some to accept given the multiplicity of languages and groups of humans. Particularly, some might doubt that such diversity developed over just a few millennia. The Torah therefore mentions the names of well known characters and their lineage, (and the story of how they got scattered throughout the world, and how their various languages developed), so that the Torah's account of creation; a fundament of Judaism, become more believable.

Radak writes similarly in his commentary to Genesis (5:29, and 9:28) regarding the mention of the decedents of Adam and Noah respectively.

For a discussion of the role of geologies by Prof. Aaron Demsky, a modern scholar, see here.


Forgive my sourcelessness again, that's my "oral tradition", that crystallized for decades. I give you a direction and you'll find the sources B"H.

  1. Our overall goal in this world is divided into two: "סור מרע ועשה טוב" - Do good and fight bad.
  2. Fighting bad is also divided into two: personal bad (bad inclinations) and worldwide bad (ס"א).
  3. Fighting the worldwide evil is not a personal guidance, but related to the Jewish people as a whole. It was extensively done in Egypt, exterminating the 7 nations, destroying the remembrance of Amolek etc.
  4. To get acquainted with the Evil to all of its branches, the Torah lengthily describes the generations of the "wicked", as opposed to generations of the "pious".
  5. Speculation: The Lubavitcher Rebbe had a library of the anti-Semitic literature, to learn the development of the evil to prepare the fight.

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