We read this week about what happened to Dinah in the city of Shechem. But it is not at all clear in the written Torah what brought about such a degrading incident, both from the perspective of Dinah and also from the perspective of Yaakov, and Yaakov’s family. Yaakov, after all, was coming from victories over Lavan, over Esav, and a spiritual victory over the malach of Esav, no less! And then the violation of Dinah. Why? How could this have happened? What was the purpose?
And there are also some unusually strange aspects to the story. We read that Dinah went out “to see what other girls [the girls of the city of Shechem] were doing”; and that Shechem, the son of the leader of the city, saw her, was smitten with her, forcibly took her, kept her prisoner in his house, and then decided that he wanted to marry her. This, of course, was a gross violation of the purity and morals of the House of Yaakov; yet Yaakov, upon hearing what happened, “kept quiet until his sons came in [from the fields]”. When they did arrive, they “took over” negotiations(!)(sound familiar? commit a crime, and then demand negotiations!) and conditionally seemed to acquiesce to the idea of “becoming one nation” through intermarrying, with the condition being the city-wide circumcision of all the males of the city of Shechem. The city agreed and did so, whereupon Shimon and Levi destroyed the city on the third day after their circumcision, when the people were at their weakest. (The justice in destroying the entire city for what was apparently only the sins of Shechem [the son], and perhaps his father, is explained in different ways by different mefarshim. For example, Ramban learns that since one of the seven Noachide laws is to set up a court system to mete out justice, and the city failed miserably at invoking a standard of justice with which to punish Mr. Shechem, this actually made the entire city guilty of violating this basic law.)
Yaakov obviously knew that this circumcision idea was a trick, yet he assumed that it was merely a way to rescue Dinah. After finding out that that Shimon and Levi had destroyed the entire city, Yaakov remonstrated with his sons, saying this placed them in great peril from the surrounding nations. To which Shimon and Levi famously declared, “Shall then our sister be treated as a harlot?” Now, we must assume rhyme and reason to this dialogue between Yaakov and his sons. What exactly was the “debate” about? What did Yaakov “say,” and what did the brothers “answer”? And we must remember that in the desert, where each tribe had its own flag with a particular color and a picture, Shimon’s flag pictured the city of Shechem on it — certainly an indication that in the final analysis, Shimon and Levi did not do the wrong thing, and on the contrary, they are lauded for doing what they did! So why did Yaakov give them a rough time? Also, we know that Yaakov’s various life crises led the way for the Jews to use those kochos when they face similar crises; what kochos were supposed to be given to the Jewish people through the story of Dinah at Shechem, which the Jewish people would use to face and triumph over their historical challenges?
The Gemara says that the reason Dinah was violated (from the perspective of this happening to Yaakov and his family) was because Yaakov hid Dinah when he met up with Esav, instead of allowing them to meet! And since he withheld Dinah’s possible positive influence on Esav, he was destined to pay the price when Dinah was violated by Shechem.
Really? Esav was son-in-law material for Yaakov? Even were we to collect all the divrei Chazal about the ability of a wife to influence the household… was Yaakov actually obligated to allow Dinah to be seen, was Yaakov actually supposed to go and just about rehd the shidduch?
Yaakov and Esav represent two different forces in the world. Yaakov represents the force of spirituality, of good, of holiness, of light. Esav is the polar opposite, representing evil, gashmius, materialism, greed, and self-centeredness.
A person who makes a choice to live a life of purity and spirituality has a responsibility to realize that it is also a victorious force in this world, a dynamic force which has within it the ability to overwhelm and win out over the forces of evil. This force is ultimately victorious, and ready to change the world, to conquer the other forces. The other possibility, that the evil will extinguish the good, or that the good will not conquer the evil, is nonsense and dangerous.
When Yaakov decided to hide Dinah, he was making a decision. Chazal are teaching us that part of that decision was wavering about the idea that kedushah will and must conquer impurity. For who knows what the force of good would have accomplished in that encounter with evil? And the consequence of the lack of trying was that the encounter occurred in any event, later, with Dinah and Shechem. And with Yakov unprepared, the evil forces in that case conquered, at least temporarily. Thus Yaakov was quiet, almost as if he was accepting the din shamayim as a consequence of his actions (Dinah had a separate cheshbon as to why this happened to her), and left it to his children to elevate and fix that which he, Yaakov, had neglected to take advantage of.
And the children express the imperative for doing so by stating, “Is then our sister to be treated as a harlot?” If one does not feel that the darkness can be conquered, then the values of that darkness are in danger of worming their way into your life, into your world. “Shall our sister…” in itself demands our holy aggressiveness.
And it is with this koach that so many years later the Chashmonaim, descendants of Levi, went ahead against overwhelming odds, without any pre-knowledge of any sort of miracle that would be performed, and forced the encounter between the forces of good and of evil, secure in the knowledge that the forces of spirituality carry a potency far beyond what they think themselves capable of. And we have a responsibility to use that force, not to shy away from it out of hesitancy and fear.