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Aftermath of the Abduction: The Debate Between Yaakov and His Sons

In this week’s parashah we are told of the tragic abduction and molestation of Dinah, the daughter of Yaakov. Dinah was forcibly taken by the powerful prince, Shechem, and kept locked up in the palace as he and his father, Chamor, came to Yaakov to “kindly request” Dinah’s hand in marriage. It was beneath Yaakov’s dignity to even respond to them, so instead, his sons did the talking (Ramban). They answered Shechem and Chamor cleverly, telling them that they could certainly never intermarry with an uncircumcised nation. Rather they would all need a circumcision before such matrimony could even be considered. Shechem and Chamor accepted this condition and went on to convince all the male residence of the city to be circumcised. On the third day after this procedure, when the inhabitants were recuperating and in pain, Shimon and Levi, entered the city, killed all of the male inhabitants, rescued Dinah from the palace, and plundered the city (Bereishis 34:1-29).  Shimon and Levi felt that the inhabitants of the city were complicit in the abduction and molestation of Dinah, as it was their complete lack of morals which helped normalize such abhorrent behavior (Sforno, see also Ramban). Moreover, when Shimon and Levi came into the city to rescue their sister, the inhabitants rallied around their leaders, Shechem and Chamor, attempting to fend off the rescue attempt. They thereby became active combatants, rather than simply ancillary supporters of the crime (Or HaChaim).

Upon Shimon and Levi’s return home, however, Yaakov expressed his displeasure. He said, “you have discomposed me, making me odious among the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanite and the Perizzite; while I am few in number. If they band together and attack me, I will be annihilated” (Bereishis 34:30). In other words, Yaakov was concerned about the reaction of the surrounding Canaanite and Perizzite towns. [In fact, his concerns were not unjustified, notes Ramban (citing ספר מלחמות בני יעקב), for they were immediately thrust into three different wars, where Yaakov valiantly fought off many of the local Canaanites, (as alluded to in v. 48:22 below).] Shimon and Levi however ultimately disagreed with their father, and argued, “Should he treat our sister like a harlot?!” (Bereishis 34:31).

What was meant by the response of Shimon and Levi? What indeed was their underlying argument? Some suggest that Shimon and Levi were forcefully arguing for the absolute necessity to make a clear and unambiguous statement that molestation of the house of Yaakov will not go unanswered. Had they not stood up to Shechem and his city, others would be emboldened to molest the family of Yaakov, the Jewish people, in a similar fashion (Or HaChaim).  In fact, some add, that it was due to their being “few in number” (as argued by Yaakov) that they had to do this! Their small numbers could give copy-cat aggressors the appearance that they were indeed vulnerable. They needed to act to restore deterrence, and to thereby create security for the fledgling family of Yaakov (Malbim). After all, Shechem only acted as he did because he thought he could get away with it, for who would take up the cause of a “foreign, friendless, Jewish girl” (R’ S. R. Hirsch).

It is telling that the sons of Yaakov seem to have gotten the last word. The Midrash (Lekach Tov) states that they answered Yaakov with a תשובה נצחת, a winning argument. Although, Yaakov continued to disagree with Shimon and Levi, as he told them on his deathbed (see below 49:5-7), the disagreement was less about the need for a response and more about their methodology (see Ramban and R’ S.R. Hirsch). Yaakov recognized that the motives of Shimon and Levi were “holy and justified.” He understood that the spirit that moved them was indispensable for the nation’s future ability to stand tall and persevere with “resilience of spirit and nobility of mind” through our eternal march through the ages (R’ S. R. Hirch). The evil actions of our enemies, then and now, could not and cannot go unchallenged. Shimon and Levi made that clear. Indeed, as the Torah itself declares (Bereishis 34:7) regarding the evil of Shechem and by extension, all the evil designs of our enemies, וכן לא יעשה, such a thing may not be done! Not then. Not now. Not ever.

Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom / Good Shabbos

Rabbi Moskovitz


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You Are Where Your Thoughts Place You

At the end of this week’s parashah, upon Yaakov’s return to Eretz Yisrael, the pasuk notes that he encountered מַלְאֲכֵ֥י אֱלֹקים, angels of Gd (Bereishis 32:2). It goes on to say that when Yaakov saw this, he exclaimed; מַֽחֲנֵ֥ה אֱלֹקים זה וַיִּקְרָ֛א שֵׁם־הַמָּק֥וֹם הַה֖וּא מַֽחֲנָֽיִם, ‘‘This is a Godly camp!’’ So he called the name of that place Machanaim [lit. “Double Camp”] (ibid. v. 3). Our Sages explain that the angels Yaakov and his family encountered were the angels of Eretz Yisrael coming to escort him into the land. The “double camp” (Machanaim) was a reference to two camps of angels; namely, diaspora angels that were continuing to protect him, and these new ones from Eretz Yisrael that were there to escort him in (Bereishis Rabbah 74:17 cited by Rashi).

Ramban (ad loc.), though, notes a difficulty with this interpretation. Yaakov was still very far from Eretz Yisrael. He was to the east of the lands that would eventually be called Amon, Moav, and Edom. It was only after traversing all those lands that he would eventually return to Eretz Yisrael arriving in Shechem (see Bereishis 33:18). If these were the Eretz Yisrael angels, they seemed to have arrived too soon! Ramban therefore argues that these angels were sent to lend support to Yaakov in his upcoming encounter with Eisav, effectively communicating to Yaakov that his group was greater and more powerful than Eisav’s band. The “double camp,” according to this approach was the human camp (comprised of Yaakov and his family), and the angelic camp sent to support him.

In defense of our Sages, Maharal argues that Ramban’s question is in fact “no question at all.” The angels of Eretz Yisrael are not bound to the geographical borders of the land. Rather, their arrival was simply a function of the intentionality of Yaakov. Once Yaakov had parted ways with Lavan (at Gal’eid, see Bereishis Ch. 31), once he left the anxiety and worries associated with Charan behind him, he was able to think differently. He could now fully focus his attention on the journey ahead. He was now truly on the way to Eretz Yisrael, and so from that moment onward the Eretz Yisrael angels were sent to him. They were there to protect the family from any mishap that could have otherwise come upon them due to that travel. The diaspora angels stuck around to protect them from all other non-travel related issues (Gur Aryeh ad loc.).

In other words, once Yaakov’s headspace was in Eretz Yisrael, in a sense he was already there. He may have been hundreds of miles away, but insofar as his thoughts were fixed on that holiest of lands, the Eretz Yisrael angels were already with him, watching over each and every one of his steps.

May those angelic guardians continue to guard over the descendants of Yaakov Avinu, all of our brothers and sisters in Eretz Yisrael. May the chayalim be successful in their mission and return safe and sound, may those in captivity return to the embrace of their families, and may Klal Yisrael around the world – much of whose headspace is surely in Eretz Yisrael, be graced with some of that extra protection as well.

Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom / Good Shabbos

Rabbi Moskovitz

Fri, December 1 2023 18 Kislev 5784