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Twins in the Bible

Twins in the Bible

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Although the Torah doesn’t spell out any special characteristics of twins, some rabbis say that twins are generally slightly weaker than others1 and have a predilection towards words of truth.2

Jacob and Esau: The Quintessential Twins

The first, and perhaps the most famous, twins in the Bible are Jacob and Esau. The two could not be more different. As the verse sums it up, “Esau was a man who understood hunting, a man of the field, whereas Jacob was an innocent man, dwelling in tents.”3

As the biblical narrative unfolds, elucidated by the various commentaries, Esau turns out to be a deceiving murderer and idol worshiper who tries to kill his twin brother.

Some say that Jacob and Esau are the origins of the “evil twin” legends found in various cultures, where one twin will turn out righteous and the other evil.

Peretz and Zerach: The Bible’s Other Twins

The only other set of twins mentioned explicitly in the Torah is Peretz and Zerach, sons born to Judah and Tamar.

There are some parallels: Zerach stuck out his arm first, but Peretz “jumped” out of the womb first, earning the title of firstborn.4 This is not unlike Jacob holding onto the “heel of Esau” when they were born, and later purchasing the firstborn rights from him.5 However, unlike Jacob and Esau, both Zerach and Peretz were righteous.6

Thus, twins are not necessarily split between good and evil. In fact, hidden beneath the text of Genesis, we find many other twins, and while admittedly not all were righteous, most of them were.

Cain and Abel Had Twins

According to the Midrash, Cain was born with a twin sister and Abel was born with two sisters.7 In fact, according to some traditions, Cain and Abel each married a woman born with them, and their lethal quarrel was over who would marry Abel’s remaining triplet.8

Alternatively, Cain and Abel were themselves twins. One opinion in the Midrash sees evidence for this in Scripture itself. Regarding Cain's birth, we read, “And [Eve] conceived and bore Cain.”9 The next verse simply states, “And she continued to bear his brother Abel,” implying that the births followed a single conception.10

Rachel and Leah

According to the Seder Olam Rabbah, a chronological Midrash from the 2nd century, Jacob’s wives Rachel and Leah were not only sisters, but actually twins.11

Twelve Tribes Plus Twins

According to some, each of the twelve sons of Jacob was born together with a twin sister, whom they married.12 There is a minority opinion that Dinah, daughter of Leah, was a twin sister of Zebulon.13 Others say that Benjamin was born together with two girls.14

Menasseh and Ephraim

According to one tradition, Joseph's children Menasseh and Ephraim were actually twin brothers.15

G‑d and Israel

The Midrash compares the Jewish nation to G‑d’s twin. Just as a twin feels what is happening to his or her twin, so, too, are G‑d and the Jewish people interconnected.16

Rabbi Yisrael Hopstein (1737–1814), the chassidic master known as the Maggid of Kozhnitz, explains that this is why the Torah was given in the Jewish month of Sivan. Since the astrological sign for the month of Sivan is Gemini (or Mazal Te’umim—Twins), and the Jewish nation is like G‑d’s “twin,” it is only fitting that the Torah be given in that month. This teaches us that what is good for G‑d (e.g., learning Torah and fulfilling mitzvahs) is good for the Jewish people.17

The sign of Gemini is also referenced in the liturgy that we recite on the night of the 9th of Av, when we mourn the destruction of the holy Temple: “The constellation of the Twins appeared separated because the blood of brothers was spilled like water.” In other words, the calamity was so great that even the constellation of Twins (representing a bond that is closer than that of ordinary siblings) was “split.”18

May we merit the rebuilding of the Temple speedily in our days!

Footnotes
1.
See Keli Yakar, Exodus 1:9.
2.
See Sefer Chayei Olam Habah. The Hebrew word for twins, תאומים, has the same letters as יום אמת, “Day [of] Truth,” and that something that is “true” is constant and the same, similar to twins.
6.
Midrash, Bereishit Rabbah 85:13.
7.
Midrash, Bereishit Rabbah 22:2. For more on this see Whom Did Cain and Abel Marry?
8.
Midrash, Bereishit Rabbah 22:7. For more on this see Why Did Cain Kill Abel?
10.
Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer 21.
11.
Seder Olam Rabbah 2.
12.
Midrash, Bereishit Rabbah 84:21.
13.
See Ibn Ezra on Genesis 30:21 and Talmud, Bava Batra 123a.
14.
Midrash, Bereishit Rabbah 82:8.
15.
Seder Hadorot 2233.
16.
Midrash, Shir Hashirim Rabbah on 5:2.
17.
Avodat Yisrael, Shavuot.
18.
See Kinot for the night of the 9th of Av.
Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin responds to questions for Chabad.org's Ask the Rabbi service.
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Phil Charlottesville Va November 16, 2017

Jacob and Esau in later years became fast friends and loving brothers. When Jacob wrestled with the angel and saw who he was/is -- soon after he embraced his twin. They looked into each others' eyes and both saw who they were, their higher Selves. Reply

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