Vayishlach 5770

Posted on March 23, 2011

by David Helfand

December 5, 2009 / 18 Kislev 5770

Reuven, Shimon, Levi, Yehudah, Yisachar, Zevulun, Dan, Naftalii, Gad, Asher, Yosef, and Benyamin. These are the twelve sons of Jacob, the twelve tribes of the people of Israel. But where are the women in this group? We all know that Jacob had 12 sons. But did you know that he also had a daughter?

In this week’s Parasha Vayishlach, Dinah, the daughter of Jacob and Leah, goes out to visit the daughters of the land. Shechem the Hivite takes her and sleeps with her by force. He asks his father Hamor to arrange his marriage to Dinah. Meanwhile, Jacob waits until his sons come in from the field to tell them about what just happened to Dinah. Jacobs’s sons tell Hamor that it would be improper for their sister to marry anybody who is not circumcised. Hamor agrees that all the men of his community will be circumcised, the two communities will trade with one another, and they will marry into each other’s families. On the third day, as the Hivite men were recovering from their circumcision, Simeon and Levi took their swords and slew all the Hivites. Jacob criticizes his son’s actions, fearing an attack on him and his people. But the brothers respond harshly to their father by saying, “shall our sister be treated like a whore?”

The story of Dinah is violent and tragic. Who is the villain of this story? At first glance it appears to be Shechem, the son of Hamor, who took Dinah and forced her to sleep with him. He is considered to be a rapist who deserved a harsh punishment. Yet Dinah’s brothers exacted a punishment far beyond what we would consider fit for the crime when they killed the entire male Hivite population. But the story could also be read differently. It could be that Dinah went willingly to Shechem’s tent and was not really forced to sleep with him against her will. In that case, would Shechem really be the villain?

Just prior to the story of Dinah, Jacob brings all of his wives and his sons to greet his brother Esav. But once again Dinah is nowhere to be found. Rashi asks “But where was Dinah? Benjamin was not yet born, but Dinah should have been accounted for. Jacob put her into a chest and locked her in, so that Esau should not set eyes on her. Therefore, Jacob was punished for withholding her from his brother, because had Esav married Dinah perhaps she would cause him to improve his ways.” Jacob made a bad judgment call when it came to visiting his brother Esav. He decided what he thought would be in the best interest of his daughter Dinah. But God did not see it that way. Dinah was a good person and meant well. She just did not know the difference between right and wrong because she was never taught.

Jacob was not an ongoing presence in his daughter Dinah’s life. Could it be that the story of Dinah is a story about parenting, particularly the parenting of a daughter? Could it be that Jacob is the villain here? That Dinah went willingly to Shechem because she had not been taught by her father the difference between right and wrong? Parenting is of particular importance in the raising of children. If a child has the constant presence of a parent in her life, as an adult she will yearn for that same love and affection in a partnered relationship, and strive to provide the same commitment to others. Jacob needed to teach Dinah the fundamentals of life, but he didn’t because he wasn’t there for her. This all goes to show us the importance of a dugmah … a role model … in the life of a child. It is important for children to learn how to make choices in their lives … to know the difference between right and wrong, and to challenge their role models when they see their role models falter.

So how do we make sense out of all of this? How does all of this fit together? And what does it mean to us?

The story of Dinah tells us that each of us is responsible for his or her own actions. No matter how often someone tells you to do something or not to do something, in the end the decision lies in your own hands. At the same time it is important to remember that what we do, or don’t do, is influenced by our role models.

Think about the presence and influence you have in the lives of your family and friends – is it positive, negative, or non-existent? In every place you go, whether at school or USY, at home or just walking on the street, you can be a positive influence for others. Even without knowing it, you have the power to change someone’s life for the good. So always do your best and what you think is best, not only for you but for the benefit of others. Never give up on the opportunity to be a good dugmah. This is the lesson that Dinah’s story teaches us in her relationship, or lack of one, with her father. Dinah’s encounter with Shechem teaches Jacob about the importance of being a dugmah. And from that we learn that we also have an obligation to be a role model to others. May this Shabbat be the beginning our quest to become the future dugmaot of Am Yisrael, the people of Israel.

Shabbat Shalom.