Thoughts on the Weekly Parshah by HaRav Eliezer Chrysler
Formerly Rav of Mercaz Ahavat Torah, Johannesburg

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Vol. 8   No. 8

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Parshas Vayishlach

Shimon and Levi

The commentaries pose five questions on the parshah of Sh'chem and Dinah, all of which are discussed by the Or ha'Chayim:

1. Unklus translates the posuk "And the B'nei Ya'akov answered Sh'chem and Chamor his father with cunning" as "with wisdom". All they seem to have done is to double-cross Sh'chem and Chamor, in which case 'wisdom' does not appear to be an appropriate description of their deed.

2. On what grounds did Shimon and Levi kill Sh'chem and Chamor, bearing in mind that Dinah was not married and that a gentile does not receive the death-sentence for raping an unmarried girl. Even more difficult to understand is why they killed the inhabitants of Sh'chem, who appear to have done nothing wrong?

3. And even if they did have good reason for killing both parties, why did they start with the inhabitants of Sh'chem, before killing Sh'chem and Chamor, the perpetrators of the crime?

4. By what right did they plunder Sh'chem? Even assuming that they were justified in killing the people, how could they justify taking their money? (This question will remain unanswered for the time being.)

5. Why initially, did all the brothers embark on the plan together, yet when it came to carrying it out, Shimon and Levi seemed to be acting entirely on their own initiative? Even Ya'akov, who also seemed to agree with the initial plan of action, was totally opposed to its actual execution, evident from the fact that he not only rebuked them there and then, but he later cursed them for rash behaviour.


The Or ha'Chayim, explaining Unklus' use of the term 'wisdom', ponts out how in their negotiations with Sh'chem and Chamor, the brothers brilliantly dispelled every vestige of suspicion on the part of Sh'chem and Chamor. He elaborates at length, describing every detail of their negotiations in this light. They achieved this he says, largely through a combination of hard and soft talk; sufficiently hard to convince them that they took the matter very seriously, but sufficiently soft to gain their complete confidence. As we shall see later,in their initial negotiations, the brothers had not the least intention of double-crossing Sh'chem.


The Rambam attributes Shimon and Levi's killing of the inhabitants of Sh'chem to the fact that they failed to take Sh'chem to task for stealing Dinah. Based on the Chazal 'Their warning is their death-warrant' (Sanhedrin 57a), the Rambam contends that gentiles receive the death-penalty for contravening any of their seven mitzvos. And among these, he includes stealing on the one hand, and dinim, which the Rambam interprets as the setting up of law-courts and the punishing of evil-doers (exclusively), on the other.

The Ramban disagrees. If, as the Rambam maintains, the people (and that would include Ya'akov and his sons) were obliged to punish the evil-doers, then Ya'akov should have been the first to punish them. And if he was afraid to do what was right, why did he censure Shimon nd Levi, because they were not?


The Ramban in fact, disagrees with the Rambam on two points: 1. In his opinion, the mitzvah of 'dinim' given to the B'nei No'ach constitutes formulating a constitution comprising the full gamut of civil laws, as well as setting up law-courts in every city and punishing the malcreants. 2. It is only the contravention of the civil laws that they initiate which carries the death-sentence, but not failure to set up law-courts or to punish malcreants. These are positive mitzvos, says the Ramban, and the death-penalty is confined to negative mitzvos exclusively.

Accordingly, it was not for the abduction of Dinah that the people of Sh'chem deserved the death-sentence. They were however, guilty of was the most serious offences, such as idolatry and adultery, like all the Cana'anites of that time, as the Torah testifies in various places in Va'yikro and Devorim.

Nevertheless, the B'nei Ya'akov were not G-d's policemen, and it was not their job to travel the world killing all sinners, the Ramban declares. In that case, they were permitted to punish the men of Sh'chem for their sins, but were not obliged to do so. It is not clear though, what causes the Ramban to think that the Rambam learns it differently.


According to the Ramban then, the of the people of Sh'chem silence (making them accessories to the crime) would have served as the catalyst that goaded Shimon and Levi into action, to destroy the town that deserved to die for their sinful ways. Nor did they consider the b'ris milah that the people had just undergone, sufficient reason to desist from the killing, the Ramban adds, since they had done so purely to flatter Sh'chem and Chamor, without the least trace of religious motivation.

The bone of contention between Shimon and Levi and their father was based on the fact that there was no obligation on their part to punish the Sh'chemites who, as we explained, were not accessories in the abduction anyway. Cosequently, Ya'akov considered their extreme actions untimely and highly dangerous (see Rashi, 34:30). Incidentally, the Rambam too (like the Or ha'Chayim) attributes the death-sentence meted out to Sh'chem and Chamor to the abduction of Dinah, which he considers an act of theft.

The Ramban, who is non-commital on this point, may agree with the Rambam's explanation, or he may also explain it following his line of thought that they were guilty for the numerous sins that they had committed. Consequently, the positive role that Sh'chem and Chamor, unlike the citizens of Sh'chem, had played in the shocking episode, was sufficient justification for revenge - even in the eyes of Ya'akov.


To answer the final question, the Ramban explains that the initial plan was to request that all the townspeople circumcise, which they thought was highly unlikely, in which case they would demand the return of Dinah and leave. And even if the townspeople would condescend to circumcise, this would merely provide the opportunity to take Dinah and go. And it was Shimon and Levi who, on their own initiative, decided to avenge Dinah and wipe out the entire town, an act which Ya'akov considered both rash and irresponsible.


Parshah Pearls

Ya'akov's Distress

"And Ya'akov was terribly afraid and he was distressed ... " (32:8).

Rashi explains that he was afraid that he might be killed and troubled that he might be forced to kill Eisov.

The Targum Yonoson interprets the posuk to mean that Ya'akov was afraid because he had not honoured his father for twenty-two years (whereas Eisov had), and he was troubled.


A novel explanation appears in the Da'as Zekeinim mi'Ba'alei Tosfos. He agrees with the Targum Yonoson's interpretation of Ya'akov's fear, adding that it may well be the merit of living in Eretz Yisroel (which he had lacked all those years) that would stand Eisov in good stead. (However, in light of the fact that to it was to Edom that Ya'akov sent to inform Eisov of his homecoming, and not to Eretz Yisrael, this appears problematic).

And he was distressed, he explains, because Eisov had said that he would kill Ya'akov after his father's death (27:41). So Ya'akov extrapolated that, now that Eisov was on his way to kill him, it must mean that Yitzchok was no longer alive.

That is why Ya'akov was distressed. And, he concludes, that also explains why in posuk 10, he referred to the "G-d of my father Yitzchok", despite the fact that one does not connect the name of a living person to that of G-d (see Rashi there). But if Ya'akov believed that his father had died, the problem falls away.


The Price of Fear

"Two hundred she-goats and twenty males, two hundred ewes and twenty rams. Thirty female and male camels, forty cows and ten bulls, twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys" (32:15-16). Each of the eight words in the first of these pesukim ends with a 'mem', as do the eight words in Pinchos (Bamidbor 29:33) which deals with the Musaf-offering "And their flour-offerings, and their drink-offerings, and their bulls, and their rams, and their lambs in their numbers according to their respective laws".


Because Ya'akov failed to rely on G-d's promise (that He would protect him) and sent Eisov this gift comprising five hundred and fifty animals, explains the Ba'al ha'Turim, his children were required to bring the five hundred and fifty animals each year, comprising the Musaf-offering that was brought every Shabbos, Rosh Chodesh and Yom-tov.

And the eight 'memim' (each hinting at the word 'melech' - a king) also represent the eight kings who ruled in Edom before there was a king in Yisroel.

In similar vein, the Ba'al ha'Turim at the end of the parshah (36:31) explains that these eight kings ruled in Edom before there was a king in Yisroel because of the eight times he referred to Eisov as "my master" (in spite of the prophecy that "the older one will serve the younger one" - Bereishis 25:23).


He was Afraid Because He Was Afraid

In effect, Ya'akov was penalized for being afraid of Eisov, after G-d had promised to protect him (in spite of his fear of having sinned that caused this lack of faith, as Rashi explains in posuk 11).

The Da'as Zekeinim mi'Ba'alei Tosfos goes one stage further (in his second explanation). He explains the earlier posuk "And Ya'akov was deeply afraid and he was distressed" (32:8) to mean that he was distressed because he was afraid of Eisov, despite G-d's promise. According to Rav Eli'ov ha'Kohen (whom the Da'as Zekeinim is quoting) Ya'akov himself realized that his fear reflected a lack of faith, and that is what worried him.


He Touched the Spoon of His Thigh

"And when he (the angel) saw that he was unable to overpower him (Ya'akov), he touched the spoon of his thigh ... " (32:26).

The angel wanted to discover whether Ya'akov was not an angel like himself, the Ba'al ha'Turim explains. He could not conceive how a human-being could possibly contain him, so he felt his thigh to see whether he had the necessary joints that enable a person to sit. An angel never sits, so he does not have those joints.


Alternatively, he deliberately wounded him, causing him to become blemished and thereby disqualifying him from serving as a Kohen. Ya'akov had of course, bought the birthright from Eisov, thereby gaining the right to serve as a Kohen to bring the Korbonos on behalf of his family. (See Rashi, Toldos - 25:31, who attributes Ya'akov's efforts to obtain the birthright from Eisov to the unworthiness of Eisov to serve in that capacity.)

Interestingly, the Medrash describes the precious garments of Eisov (in which Rifkah dressed Ya'akov before sending him in to his father for the b'rochos) as the garments of a Kohen Godol. They were the garments that Eisov, in defiance of the sale of his birthright, retained as a symbol of his status. The angel, Samoel, the guardian angel of Eisov, now attempted to regain the birthright for his charge, by disqualifying Ya'akov from fulfilling the role.


The Miracle

Perhaps, when the Torah records immediately following the encounter with Samoel, that the sun shone and cured Ya'akov of his limp, it is in fact, informing us of a miracle that took place. In reality, that wound caused by the angel was a permanent one. However, after Ya'akov had forced the angel to agree that his father's b'rochoh and the birthright were legally his, G-d followed suit by reversing the damage that the angel had caused Ya'akov. Using the medium of the sun and its healing powers, He reinstated his status as the rightful incumbent of the Kehunah.

And that explains the mitzvah of not eating the sciatic nerve (the location where the miracle occurred), which serves as a reminder of that miracle.


(The Mitzvos Lo Sa'aseh)
Adapted from the Seifer ha'Mitzvos ha'Kotzer of the Chofetz Chayim.

116. Not to commit homosexuality - as the Torah writes in Acharei-Mos (18:22) "And you shall not lie with a man the way of a woman". This warning also applies to the man who is being lain with, because "Lo sishkav" (Do not lie) can also be read "Lo sishochav" (Do not be lain with). At the moment of penetration they are both punishable by stoning (if there was warning), excision (if there was not) and they are obliged to bring a sin-offering (if they committed the sin be'shogeg - without realising that it is prohibited).

This mitzvah applies everywhere and at all times.


117-118. Not to commit a sexual act with an animal or to bring an animal upon oneself - as the Torah writes in Acharei-Mos (18:23) "And do not lie with any animal".

Nor may a woman bring an animal upon herself, either naturally or unnaturally - as the Torah writes there "And a woman shall not stand in front of an animal to rape her". The Torah does not differentiate between a grown-up animal and a young one. And the same prohibition applies to a wild animal and to a bird. In all cases, both the person and the animal are sentenced to stoning, even if no more than penetration took place.

The punishment follows the pattern of homosexuality. However, if the person sinned deliberately, then the animal is always stoned. If he sinned be'shogeg, then it is not punishable.

This mitzvah applies everywhere and at all times.


119. Not to commit incest with one's sons's daughter or with one's daughter's daughter - as the Torah writes in Acharei-Mos (18:10) "Do not reveal the nakedness of your son's daughter or your daughter's daughter". In either case, one is punishable by burning (by means of boiling lead poured down the throat), provided there are witnesses and warning.

The sh'niyos of a son's daughter are one's son's daughter's daughter, and one's son's son's daughter. And the sh'niyos of a daughter's daughter are one's daughter's daughter's daughter and one's daughter's sons's daughter.

This mitzvah applies everywhere and at all times.


120. Not to commit incest with one's daughter, even if she is illegitimate - This la'av is not written explicitly in the Torah, but Chazal derived if by means of a 'kal vo'chomer' and a 'gezeirah-shovoh'. The punishment for transgressing is burning (exactly as in the case of a granddaughter), only for committing incest with one's legitimate daughter be'shogeg, one is obliged to bring two sin-offerings, one for a daughter, and the other for 'a woman and her daughter' (18:17).

This mitzvah applies everywhere and at all times.


121-122-123. Not to have relations with a woman and her daughter - as the Torah writes in Acharei-Mos (18:17) "Do not reveal the nakedness of a woman and her daughter".

Nor may one commit incest with a woman and her son's daughter or her daughter's daughter - as the Torah writes "Do not take her son's daughter, or her daughter's daughter. From the moment that one 'betrothes' a woman, he becomes forbidden to her mother, her mother's mother and her father's mother, her daughter, her daughter's daughter and her son's daughter. He will be sentenced to burning for having relations with any of these six women in her lifetime, but only excision, after her death. Either way, they bring a sin-offering for transgressing be'shogeg. The prohibition only applies if one bethrothes a woman, but after having illicit relations with her, her relatives remain permitted to him. Nevertheless, the sages forbade marrying any of the above women, even after illicit relations with the woman. In the event that one did however marry her, he is not obligated to divorce her.

The sh'niyos of a wife's son's daughter or her father's mother are: her son's son's daughter, her mother's father's mother and her father's father's mother. And the sh'niyos of his wife's daughter's daughter or her mother's mother are: her daughter's daughter's daughter and her mother's mother's mother.

This mitzvah applies everywhere and at all times.


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