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Channeling Our Fire (Vayishlach)

In this week’s Parsha, we are told of the horrific episode concerning Dinah, Yaakov’s (Jacob’s) daughter. Shechem, the son of Chamor (Hamor) the prince, sees Dinah and desires her. Shechem abducts Dinah, rapes her, and then has the audacity to ask Yaakov for permission to marry her. Naturally, Dinah’s brothers are incensed and outraged at the news of this heinous act. Yaakov’s family responds to this marriage request by instructing Shechem to have all the males of his city circumcised. Should this condition be met, they explain, they will be happy to give their sister to him for marriage and will also allow for the mingling and intermarriage of Yaakov’s entire family and the community of Shechem.

In his desire for Dinah, Shechem appeals to the men of his city to circumcise themselves, and they ultimately agree. However, it is all a ruse. The males of Shechem are weakened in the aftermath of their circumcisions, and that’s when Shimon and Levi, two of Dinah’s brothers, strike. They attack the city and kill all the male inhabitants, including Shechem and his father Chamor.

The commentators differ in their explanations of why Shimon and Levi were permitted to act in such a way, or if they were permitted at all. Nevertheless, what is clear from the following pesukim (verses) is that their father Yaakov is not pleased with Shimon and Levi’s response. He rebukes them strongly, to which they reply, “Should he treat our sister like a harlot?”

Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky (the late Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Torah Vadaas) observes that this response of Shimon and Levi is left unanswered. One might be tempted to say that after Shimon and Levi defend themselves, Yaakov accepts their action;  we do not see Yaakov arguing with them. Yet, in Parshas Vayechi (49:5-7), Yaakov rebukes Shimon and Levi, and curses them –because of their deed, their descendants will be scattered across the Jewish people. Clearly, Yaakov remained displeased, but this begs the question – why didn’t he rebuke them immediately?

Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky explains that perhaps something deeper occurred when Yaakov chose not to respond initially. When the brothers asked, “Should he treat our sister like a harlot”, Yaakov understood the raw and sincere pain the brothers felt about their sister’s violation. As we know, Dinah had nine other brothers, but only Shimon and Levi felt her pain deeply enough to act against the perpetrators. While Yaakov may have objected to their actions, he was able to sense that they had acted in accordance with the humiliation they felt on behalf of Dinah. Understanding they acted out of genuine love for their sister, Yaakov chose not to respond at that time, and rather waited for the end of his life to express his feelings.

Rashi explains the meaning of Yaakov’s curse. Scattered around the world, Shimon and Levi were to become the teachers and scribes of the Jewish people. Explains Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky, this “curse” was in fact the response to the brothers’ strong emotions expressed in our Parsha. The brothers truly felt the pain of a fellow Jew- their sister- and acted in a harsh way. Individuals who have the capacity to care so deeply about others surely have the strength and conviction to travel city to city, year after year, and teach the Torah to the children of Israel.

While Yaakov may have disapproved of their retaliation, he was able to sense the emotional depth that lay behind it. He instructed his sons to use this to teach Torah to the nation of Israel. Their descendants were to channel this fire.

From here, we can see the greatness of Yaakov as a father and educator. He instructed his children not to hide or suppress their internal motivations, but instead to harness these strengths in the pursuit of teaching the ways of G-d.

We can learn from Yaakov that instead of neglecting, ignoring, or using our strengths in the pursuit of other goals, there is a better way. We can channel our individual traits in the service of G-d, thus continuing the legacy of our forefathers.

About the Author
Ari Walfish was born and raised in Toronto. After graduating high school, Ari spent several years learning in Yeshivos in both Israel and America. Ari earned an MBA from Emporia State University and is currently learning in a Kollel in Yerushalayim.
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