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| Jacob was left alone and a man wrestled with him until dawn. Whenhe
perceived he could no long overcome him, he struck the socket of hip… Then
(the man) said “Let me go, for dawn has broken”. He said “I will not let you
go until you have blessed me”… He said to him “Your name shall no longer be
called Yaakov, but Yisrael, for you struggled… and were successful”. The sun
rose for him as he passed Peniel (32:25-8,31).
Who was the man who wrestled with Yaakov Avinu? The Midrash (Bereishit Rabba 77:3) brings the tradition that it was the guardian angel of Esav. The Ramban likewise links the man with Esau and sees the whole struggle in the context of maaseh avot siman le-banim. In this case the B’nei Yaakov would suffer many gruesome outrages at the hands of the B’nei Esav, but every time they would eventually emerge as one nation again.
Consider the following possible additional interpretation. The ‘man’ referred to is the Yetzer Hara in each human being, concerning which the Torah says (as interpreted in by the Talmud, Kiddushin 30b) it desires you, but you can rule over it (Bereishit 4:7). Each individual has his own most powerful Yetzer Hara – be it greed, lust, lashon hara, anger, or not concentrating during tefilla. An attack involves severe spiritual struggle – especially in situations reminiscent of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife or, on a more mundane level, controlling one’s desire to retaliate in anger under severe provocation. If we fit such situations into the above pesukim we get the following:
1. Our first encounter with, and resistance to the Yetzer Hara may be painful and prolonged (the struggle lasted all night).
2. The Yetzer Hara may strike below the belt – for example when a person is made to look foolish for not listening to the gossip or retaliating viciously.
3. The individual may suffer temporarily for not giving in to the Yetzer Hara.
4. The individual who resisted the overwhelming temptation then sees the Yetzer Hara as a weaker party – represented by the man saying to Yaakov Avinu ‘Let me go’.
5. He feels the love of the Almighty and great spiritual reward for not giving in – as shown by G-d through the ‘man’ to Jacob ‘Your name is not Yaakov, but Yisrael’.
6. Any temporary injuries or frustrations suffered will be healed – as the Midrash (Bereishit Rabba 78:4) explains, the sun was mentioned in the narrative as its radiation healed Yaakov Avinu.
Jacob said to Shimon and Levi, “You have blackened me, making me odious amongst the inhabitants of the land, amongst the Canaanites and the Perizites. I have few people: should they band together and attack me, I and my household will perish.”
They said in reply, “Shall he treat our sister as a common whore?” (34:30-1)
The story of the abduction of Dinah by Shechem, the son of Hamor the Hivvite forms a major part of this Parasha. The narrative relates how the rape of Dinah led to Jacob’s sons deceiving the local people: pretending that they were basically friendly towards them, and that they would all benefit from social and economic integration. To this end they successfully persuaded the male population of Shechem to accept their terms of the treaty - requiring all the male population to undergo the very painful procedure of circumcision. During their extreme discomfort, Shimon and Levi rescued Dinah, and in the process, they massacred the entire male population of Shechem – an act that caused deep distress to their father, Jacob.
Rabbi S. R. Hirsch explains the text in the following way. Jacob’s family, which was to become G-d’s standard-bearer on Earth, had to experience a moral outrage on its own flesh and blood right from its beginning. It had to undergo this ordeal so that the world would see its swift and uncompromising reaction – which would reveal the sacred characteristics of its purity. The Torah Nation would not tolerate what might be considered commonplace amongst other people.
The narrative notwithstanding raises several problems, amongst them being:
1. Why was Shechem’s behavior treated more severely than the Torah demands? Shechem raped Dinah. The Torah does not rank the rape of an unmarried woman as a capital offence. It requires the rapist to pay damages, and marry his victim (Deut. 22:29) – something, in fact, that Shechem begged to be allowed to do (34:12).
2. Why did Shimon and Levi kill all the inhabitants – with the sword – instead of just those responsible for the outrage against Dinah?
3. Jacob did not condemn the actual massacre, but he focussed on what other people further away (not Shechem’s people - the Hivvites; but the Perizites) would think about him, and do to him.
4. What sense can be made of the following? Despite what had happened, only a few years later, Jacob’s sons were grazing his own sheep in the pastures of Shechem (37:12) – of all places! At the time Jacob lived in Hebron – a good three days journey to Shechem on donkey-back...
5. Some three centuries later the Israelites returned as a nation to conquer the Promised Land. Joshua built an altar to G-d on Mount Ebal, and the ceremonies of accepting the Torah were re-enacted on both Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal – the two mountains of Shechem (Joshua 8:30-5). Yet Shechem – unlike Jericho and Ai – was not captured, nor was any attempt made to do so.
A look at a few of the details contained in the narrative suggests clues to resolving the above difficulties.
It seems at the outset that there was more to the story than the rape of Dinah – serious as that was. The underlying issue was not the rape of Dinah per se, but something more fundamental: the climate of Avodah Zarah – idol worship, that allowed such immoral behavior to take place and be condoned. This is expanded below.
The Torah records the nature of Jacob’s first encounter with Shechem. It contains two important characteristics. Firstly derech eretz: he conducted business with the local people in an honorable, respectful way – exemplified by his purchase of a field from Shechem’s father, ‘for a hundred kesitah’ (33:19) – as Rashi explains, a sound internationally respected currency. Secondly – Torah – Avodat Hashem: he built an altar of worship to G-d (33:20), and dedicated it to His having been with him at all times (Rashi ad loc.) Thus the two basic elements of Torah – bein adam lamakom (between Man and G-d), and bein adam la-chaveiro (between Man and Man) were revealed by Jacob, (over and above the Seven Noachite Laws) exclusively to the people of Shechem. This may seem a rather extreme conclusion to draw, but it must become more plausible in the light of the following below.
When Jacob’s family fled from Shechem after they slaughtered the inhabitants, the Torah records the following:
Jacob commanded his household and all that were with him: “Remove the alien idols that are amongst you and purify yourselves…” …They travelled on. The fear of G-d was on the cities around them and they did not pursue the sons of Jacob (35:2,5).
This passage implies two points: that idol worship was still part of Shechem at the time of the massacre, and that they immediately afterwards accepted G-d to the degree of not taking revenge for the act of Jacob’s sons.
Had they accepted G-d through Jacob’s revelation, the ensuing events would have been rather different. The population would not have tolerated Shechem’s rape of Dinah – a young woman of such a distinguished family. They would have at shown some degree of national shame. It seems that they rejected the Noachite Laws and Jacob’s ‘revelation’. Instead they used their own moral code – based on Avodah Zara, to justify Shechem’s action.
Thus, the actual massacre was under the spirit of the law of the Ir Hanidachat – the Doomed City (Deut 13:12-18). As the Talmud deduces from the text, a city only gets that status where its own inhabitants lead the majority of its people astray. In such a case, the Torah commands to “destroy all the inhabitants of that city with the sword… in order that He will show you mercy and make you a numerous people...”
However legally justified the massacre may have been, Shimon and Levi acted from the wrong motives – their rationale for the massacre was their feelings of personal outrage (34:13,27), rather than zeal to uproot the underlying Avodah Zarah. The latter should no longer have been part of the culture of Shechem, for reasons discussed above. Because the publicized reason (rape) for the extermination of the people was contrary to Torah teaching, Jacob saw the Torah – his Divinely inspired way of life - as having being grossly misrepresented by the impetuousness of his two sons. That is why he feared that his life’s work of spreading the Divine Truth would be blackened as the incident became common knowledge of distant people, who were unacquainted with the spiritual privileges of the people of Shechem discussed above.
Jacob’s fears were not realized. Through Divine intervention, the Fear of G-d was on the surrounding cities, and they did not show any hostility to Jacob’s family. It would follow that by then the act was recognized for what it was – Divine ordained justice against an Ir Hanidachat – to serve as a lesson to other cities. Thus G-d turned the act of Shimon and Levi into a Kiddush Hashem (santification of G-d’s name).
Following the slaughter, the new Shechem took heed of its ‘revelation’. That civilization accepted the influence and teachings of Jacob, and in its own way accepted the conditions to be part of the Israelite people – the disciples of Jacob. For that reason, Jacob’s brothers were happy to shepherd their flocks in Shechem rather than closer to Hebron. Shechem was the place where they felt most at home, because Jacob’s influence was at its strongest there. And that was the place where G-d commanded the Israelites to affirm the Torah (Deut. 27:1-8).
It comes out that when the Israelites entered the Promised Land under Joshua, they linked up with their own spiritual kinsmen – the people of Shechem - who had already received the Torah in a different form through Jacob.
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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