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Parshas Vayishlach

Non-Negotiable Part I

1. Why did Yakov wait for his sons to return from the fields before doing anything about Dina's abduction? (34:5)

2. Why did Yakov remain silent during the negotiations with Chamor? Did his silence mean that he agreed to the Shiduch (marriage) with Shechem so long as all the men of Shechem were circumcised? And if so, why? Why agree to a marriage with such a man and such a family? (34:8-18)

3. After the brothers killed the men of Shechem Yakov chastised them for putting the family in an indefensible political and military position. (34:30) Were the military and political concerns the only issues and values at stake? What about his outrage as a father at what had been done to Dina?

4. When the brothers defended the annihilation of Shechem with the emotionally charged, "Should he be allowed to treat our sister like a harlot," (34:31) Yakov did not respond? Why was he silent? Why didn't Yakov show them that their rational or killing the men of Shechem and their response to his criticism validated his criticism of their actions? First of all, the Brothers were less than truthful with themselves. Why hadn't they subjected their true intentions to the incisive scrutiny of their father and mentor? Who better than the master strategist Yakov to think through a plan? If Yakov survived Lavan and Eisav he certainly would know how to beat Chamor and Shechem! Shechem and Chamor were no Lavan and Eisav! Secondly, the actions of the Brothers severely compromised the safety and mission of Yakov and the fledgling Jewish nation just as Yakov criticized them. The Brother's headstrong emotionality was the very response they could not afford! Why didn't Yakov reemphasize his criticism when they responded, "Should he be allowed to treat our sister like a harlot?" (34:31)

I would like to suggest that the story of Dina's abduction and the interchange between Yakov, the Brothers, and the city of Shechem is the Torah's introduction to the story of Yoseph, Mitzrayim (Egypt), and the key to Jewish survival.

The selected "stories" in Sefer Bereshis (book of Genesis) were intended to teach more than inform. They are essential lessons extracted from the lives of the Avos (patriarchs), Imahos (matriarchs), and the Shevatim (12 sons of Yacov) to teach who and what we are. They were not intended to be a complete historical record of the lives and times of the biblical era.

At the beginning of the Parsha the victory over Eisav's angel awarded Yakov the name Yisroel and substantiated his claim to the firstborn's birthright and blessings. In so doing Yakov became solely responsible for teaching the rest of the world the beliefs and values of monotheism. However, as we have stated time and again, the job of teaching a world was never intended to be accomplished by one person or one family. It required an entire nation to teach by word and deed the truths of ethical monotheism and the obligations inherent in having been created in the image of G-d. Therefore, Yakov / Israel had to instill truths into the fiber of his descendants that would survive millennium of persecution, challenge and assimilation. At every stage of history the Children of Israel would have to maintain their G-d given mission of being a light onto the nations, regardless of where they were or what had been done to them. The stories of Dina's abduction and Yoseph's enslavement highlight the greatness and challenges of Yakov, his family, and his nation, and the keys to their eternal survival and success.

1. Why did Yakov wait for his sons to return from the fields before doing anything about Dina's abduction? (34:5)

Having successfully escaped the clutches and lures of Lavan and Eisav, Yakov was determined to raise his children within the relative sanctity and isolation of Canaan. With the help of Yitzchak, Yakov knew that his life long mission had just begun. True, he had physically and spiritually survived the previous 36 years of escape and exile; but now he had to train his children to continue the mission of Avraham. They needed to understand the rules of engagement with the non-Jewish world and how to be patient but determined as teachers, and humble but unyieldingly in the face of ignorance and falsehood.

Dina's abduction was a family tragedy of unrealized proportions. As a father, we must assume that Yakov was devastated. His Dina! The beautiful and talented daughter of Leah brutalized and shamed in a manner so unwarranted and undeserved. Yet, it was the will of G-d. What could G-d want from him now?

At the end of Lech Lecha, the Medresh introduced us to Avraham's three friends, Aner, Eshkol, and Mamrei. These three local chieftains became Avraham's confidants, and supporters. Even Avraham needed friends to accomplish his mission. When G-d granted him the covenant of Bris Milah (circumcision), Avraham turned to them for advice in working out the details. "Should I do the Bris in public or private? Will my becoming physically different than everyone else drive a wedge in my ability to relate to others and their ability to relate to me? It was Mamrei who advised Avraham to do the ceremony in public and not to worry about being different.

Upon returning to Canaan, Yakov realized that he too would have to interact with the Canaanites and develop alliances and treaties with them. He chose to settle outside Shechem and began to interact with them. Why Shechem?

The Torah states, (33:18-20) Yakov arrived intact (Shalaim) at the city of Shechem… He bought the parcel of land… He set up an altarâ Shechem - is nestled at the foot of Har Grizim and Ayval, the place to which Yehoshua would lead the Jews upon crossing the Yarden and entering the Promised Land. There, between the twin-mountains, the Bnai Yisroel would proclaim their fealty to G-d and Torah as the condition for living in Israel. "The actions of the Fathers are a foretelling for the children." Yakov first went to Shechem just as his children would one day do. (It also suggests that the city of Shechem and the twin-mountains of Ayval and Grizim are fundamental to our mission as Avraham's heirs.)

As a wealthy landowner and cattleman, Yakov attracted the interests of Shechem. At the same time, Yakov sensed that the royal family of Shechem had the latent ability to appreciate who and what the Jewish people were. Unfortunately, the abduction of Dina brought all other plans to a halt.

Confronted with the need to respond, and yet the need to teach his children how to survive and how to advance their mission of being a light onto the nations, Yakov decide to withhold any response until his sons returned home. Under his guidance they would have the chance to process their emotions and plan a proper response that took into account all aspects of the case.

At the same time, Shechem had beseeched his father to ask for Dina's hand in marriage hoping to correct the evil he had done to her and the family. Although difficult to imagine, this substantiated Yakov's original feelings that the royal family of Shechem had the ability to appreciate who and what the Jewish people were and would be. Yakov began to see a possible solution.

2. Why did Yakov remain silent during the negotiations with Chamor? Did his silence mean that he agreed to the Shiduch (marriage) with Shechem so long as all the men of Shechem were circumcised? And if so, why? Why agree to a marriage with such a man and such a family? (34:8-18)

Instead of taking the lead in the discussion, Yakov allowed his sons to respond, knowing that this was a unique opportunity for them to experience the complexity of their mission as the Chosen People. The Brothers made Yakov proud. Instead of outright refusing Cahmor's request, they presented a plan that reflected on the lessons of Avraham and Mamrei. "We can forgive what happened to Dina if in the end we can make this relationship and alliance work. We need allies and there may be a silver lining to this event. Join us as one nation and we will sanction Dina's marriage to Shechem. However, Bris Milah is a prerequisite to our identity and we must be sure that we do not disappear among the greater population of Canaan. We must remain apart and distinct and circumcision accomplishes that; therefore, you must join us and strengthen our identity by accepting the laws of Avraham and circumcising all the males of Shechem."

Once Chamor and Shechem agreed to the conditions, Yakov felt that his sons had made "lemonade from lemons." There was no reason to further challenge them or the inhabitants of Shechem. From the tragedy of Dina would emerge the first alliance between Yakov and the other nations. He would have successfully negotiated a deal that would win him favor in the eyes of the surrounding city-states as judicious, forgiving, trustworthy and wise. He would be in a much better position to teach the truths of ethical monotheism having proven himself under such dire circumstances. Unfortunately, the Brothers had a different plan.

3. After the brothers killed the men of Shechem Yakov chastised them for putting the family in an indefensible political and military position. (34:30) Were the military and political concerns the only issues and values at stake? What about his outrage as a father at what had been done to Dina?

Clearly, the actions of Shimon and Layvie were disastrous. Not only didn't they advance the cause and mission of Israel, not only hadn't they won a moral victory that could have been parlayed into a much greater influence among the inhabitants of Canaan, not only hadn't they won a strong ally supporting their physical and spiritual well-being, now Yakov would be known as a man who did not keep his word. From being the recognized victim Yakov had become the aggressor. If they did not trust his political promise they would not trust his spiritual teachings either. All around, Yakov felt that the destruction of Shechem was a no-win situation for everyone involved.

4. When the brothers defended the annihilation of Shechem with the emotionally charged, "Should he be allowed to treat our sister like a harlot," (34:31) Yakov did not respond? Why was he silent?

The final words in the recorded story were those of the Brothers. "Should he be allowed to treat our sister like a harlot?" Yakov seemingly did not respond to their rationalization. I would like to suggest that Yakov's not responding was his tacit approval and agreement. The Brothers were clearly wrong in the way they went about their plan. The fact that they did not go to Yakov and tell him what they were thinking and open themselves up to his critique showed a lack of honesty. Yet, they were not wrong in their sentiment and values.

"Should he be allowed to treat our sister like a harlot," was their battle cry. "Father, there comes a time when the safety and sanctity of the family transcends all other considerations. So you showed us and so we learned from you. Politics and missions not withstanding, who are we if we do not defend the essence of our sanctity and purity? What Shechem did to Dian was unforgivable. Had his nation taken issue with his behavior and punished him, we would not have done what we did. However, they did not and therefore we did. There is a bottom line. There are times that we will not negotiate with evil. There are times that evil must be destroyed or kept completely away. So you did with Lavan and so you did with Eisav. We realize that you had a grander vision than us. We realize that you were looking for the silver lining; however, there cannot be a vision or future if our sister is treated like a harlot. Some things are just not negotiable. That is strength of family and that will be the secret to our survival!


Text Copyright © 2004 by Rabbi Aron Tendler and Torah.org

The author is the Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation, Valley Village, CA, and Assistant Principal of YULA.


 






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