Parenting is a terrifying tightrope walk demanding a delicate balance of granting autonomy and providing support. The words ‘son’, ‘daughter’ and ‘father’ recur 31 times in the 31 verses of chapter 34. Apparently, the awful events of the chapter revolve around parents and children, and especially, what can happen when parents are run by their children, by providing too much autonomy, or too much support.

Yaakov and Chamor, the two fathers who cast themselves into supporting roles in the story, personify each extreme. On the one hand, parents can grant too much autonomy to their children, letting them be the masters of their own fate, make their own decisions and their own mistakes, and thereby let their children’s decisions, informed by passion, unfettered by the careful measuring of consequences, determine events. This is Yaakov, who allows Dinah to wander unaccompanied in an unknown city (contrast this with the precautions taken by Avraham and Yitzchak in Egypt and Grar), and who does not utter a single word until the very end of the chapter, leaving it entirely up to his sons to determine the reaction to Dinah’s rape. On the other hand are parents who can’t relinquish their ownership over their children’s wellbeing, but who provide for them based on the children’s own sense of their needs. This is Hamor, the dedicated father who has named the city after his son, who will allow his entire town to undergo “minor surgery” in order to satisfy his son’s infatuation. Rather than help his son, the text emphasizes that Hamor thus infantilizes him.

Shimon and Levi commit the massacre in Shechem, and ultimately they will be cursed for it, but it is two well-intentioned fathers who create the circumstances which enable it. Frightening food for thought for all those tightrope walkers out there…

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This is (hopefully) a daily series of short reflections in English on the daily chapter of Tanach in the (wonderful, wonderful) 929 Project. The initiative, and the ideas and opinions expressed here, are my own. If you haven’t heard of 929, you can learn more at 929.org.il