Clarifying Completeness- Recent Global Violence and Parshat Vayishlach

Less than thirteen years ago, life in the United States felt like Cloud Nine, almost detached from the rest of the world where wars were being fought and terrorist attacks were being perpetrated. Existence was simply about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. On September 11, 2001, the USA rejoined the real the world of global wars that fought on the home front as well, and while this feeling lasted for a while, things eventually returned to their detached normalcy. Recently, things have once again taken a turn for the worse as random acts of violence began to erupt throughout the country; a shooting in a movie theater in Colorado last year, killings in Sandy Hook Elementary School almost eleven months ago, and more recently, shootings in the Garden State Mall in Paramus, New Jersey, and in Bryant Park in New York.  While there were thankfully no casualties in the two recent incidents, the false sense of security that many feel in the United States is beginning to fade again, but this time for more scary reasons. Twelve years ago, the metaphoric bubble-bursting was perpetrated by terrorists in the name of global Jihad- now, these attacks seem to be increasingly random with very little motive linking them, making them even more unpredictable and intimidating. While many will use this an opportunity to crawl under their beds and wait in the fetal position until salvation comes, the Jewish People have an inherent obligation to look beyond themselves for a deeper meaning in these menacing incidents. Luckily, we need look no further than our weekly parsha (Torah reading) for inspiration.

Our parsha opens with the story of our forefather Yaakov’s reunion with his estranged brother Eisav. Tensions are high as the parties approach each other, but after Yaakov finds encouragement from a battle with a “man” and earns a new title, he confronts Eisav and they part in peace. Then we read:

 וְיַעֲקֹב נָסַע סֻכֹּתָה, וַיִּבֶן לוֹ בָּיִת; וּלְמִקְנֵהוּ עָשָׂה סֻכֹּת, עַל-כֵּן קָרָא שֵׁם-הַמָּקוֹם סֻכּוֹת.

And Yaakov traveled to Sukot and built a house there and built his flocks Sukkot (lit. ‘pens’), therefore he called the place Sukot.

 וַיָּבֹא יַעֲקֹב שָׁלֵם עִיר שְׁכֶם, אֲשֶׁר בְּאֶרֶץ כְּנַעַן, בְּבֹאוֹ, מִפַּדַּן אֲרָם; וַיִּחַן, אֶת-פְּנֵי הָעִיר.

And Yaakov arrived shalem (lit. complete) at the city of Shechem in the land of Canaan, when he came from Padan-Aram, and he encamped before the city. (בראשית לג:יז-יח)

It is well-known that the text of the Torah does not mince words, leaving us to wonder about some of the unusual and redundant wording in our sources: What is the meaning and significance of the word shalem in the context of our story? If Yaakov had clearly already settled in Sukot before moving on to Shechem, why was it necessary to say that at Shechem he had “come from Padan-Aram?”

Rabbi Moshe Nachmanides (Ramban), in his extensive commentary on the Torah, comes to the rescue with a mind-blowing position. He answers that the best way to understand the exact wording of our passuk is through remembering the context of our text. Yaakov, after successfully avoiding any casualties from his encounters with Lavan and Eisav, had settled in Sukot, located on the East Bank of the Jordan River. He had escaped a scary situation with little to no damage (Rashi [Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, another popular commentator on the Torah] very eloquently relates the situation to someone who “walked through a cage with two lions and managed to escape alive”), and he had built himself a nice property. But, he knew he wasn’t in the clear yet- while Eisav and Lavan had promised peace, they truly were comparable to lions, and could have changed their mind at any point and decide to attack. Since Yaakov was living in Sukot, located “east of Sihon’s land,” he was very close to Haran (Lavan’s land) and Seir (Eisav’s land), lending credence to this concern. However, once Yaakov made the move to Eretz Canaan, he felt much safer being further away, and only then was he able to rejoice in his “completeness” now that he had finally finished his “journey from Padan-Aram.” While this explains the seemingly unnecessary words in our passuk, we still don’t understand exactly why Yaakov feels better once he makes it back to Canaan. Luckily, Ramban explains at the end of his commentary:

ועד היותו בארץ כנען לא שקט לבו… שזכות הארץ תצילהו, ולכן אמר עתה שבא שלם אל ארץ מגורי אביו, כי הצילו אלוהים בדרך מכף כל אויביו.

Until he (Yaakov) came to Canaan, he was not able to relax (lit. his heart silenced)… [because once he made it to Canaan,] he had the merit of the land to save him, and therefore he was only called shalem once he made it back to the land of the dwelling of his forebears, because then he truly knew that G-d had saved him from his enemies. (רמב”ן שם)

It is a well-known fact in Judaism that the land of Israel has a higher level of hashra’at haShechina (Heavenly supervision) than any other place in the world. Rabbi Yissachar Shlomo Teichtel, in introduction to his authorative Religious Zionist work Eim Habanim Smeicha, ties together several ideas to prove the inherent connection between the Jewish faith and the Land of Israel. Towards the beginning, he quotes a midrash which teaches that at the beginning of time, G-d appointed guardian angels to watch over all of the lands of the world, except for Israel, which G-d personally supervises. From this somewhat symbolic teaching, Rabbi Teichtel concludes that Israel has been and always will be on a higher level of hashra’at haShechina than anywhere else in the world, much as, in a modern office setting, workers who are seated closer to the boss will generally be more productive, and the most productive worker will usually be the one whose neck the manager is always “breathing down.” With this in mind, we can understand exactly why Yaakov felt so much safer once he was back in Israel proper- he knew that he was under G-d’s direct supervision, and with this, nothing bad could happen, and therefore he truly felt “shalem” once he was settled by Shechem in Israel proper.

While this idea is very interesting, it is somewhat impractical as the story immediately following this passuk is the one of Dina, Yaakov’s daughter, being raped by Shechem, the head of the so-named city. Even though Yaakov had the hashra’at haShechina factor going for him, he was seemingly still open to attacks. So, why then did Yaakov feel safer in Israel proper than abroad?

I would like to suggest that the answer to our quandary lies in the type of violence that Yaakov was afraid of. While Yaakov was settled in Sukot, he had made peace treaties with his enemies Lavan and Eisav- he wasn’t a threat to either of them, and he theoretically shouldn’t have feared from an organized attack from them. Instead, Yaakov was scared of a different attack, more akin to the attacks seen recently in the US- an act of passion, not one of premeditation. Many of the followers of Lavan and Eisav, after seeing their leaders “go soft” on Yaakov, could have gotten angry with this unexciting outcome and decided to take out their feelings directly on our ancestor through an unprovoked attack. With Yaakov within rock-throwing distance from both Seir and Aram, this was far from a remote possibility. Once Yaakov entered Eretz Canaan, he knew that he would have some unfriendly neighbors- he may have even realized that his party’s presence might even seem like a threat to the Canaanite residents. He could have foreseen that this would lead to them attacking him, but yet, this didn’t scare him as much as the possibility of a more random attack near Sukot- he felt “shalem” because even though he was stepping out of the lions’ cage into the donkey’s pen, at least he had G-d’s personal supervision.

However, if we think about it, Shechem’s attack on Yaakov seems to be the definition of a crime of passion- he sees Dina, assaults her, and becomes emotionally attached to her. This seemingly is exactly the same type of random attack that Yaakov had been afraid of in Sukot- why, nonetheless, is he better off in Canaan proper?

If we look at how Shechem explains the situation to his townspeople, it becomes apparent very quickly that what was initially a crime of passion becomes turned into something much more devious. Once Shechem and Hamor make a deal with Yaakov, Shechem has the onerous task of convincing his entire city to go through the painful procedure of Brit Milah. At this point, he suddenly becomes all business:

הָאֲנָשִׁים הָאֵלֶּה שְׁלֵמִים הֵם אִתָּנוּ, וְיֵשְׁבוּ בָאָרֶץ וְיִסְחֲרוּ אֹתָהּ, וְהָאָרֶץ הִנֵּה רַחֲבַת-יָדַיִם, לִפְנֵיהֶם; אֶת-בְּנֹתָם נִקַּח-לָנוּ לְנָשִׁים, וְאֶת-בְּנֹתֵינוּ נִתֵּן לָהֶם. אַךְ-בְּזֹאת יֵאֹתוּ לָנוּ הָאֲנָשִׁים, לָשֶׁבֶת אִתָּנוּ–לִהְיוֹת, לְעַם אֶחָד:  בְּהִמּוֹל לָנוּ כָּל-זָכָר, כַּאֲשֶׁר הֵם נִמֹּלִים. מִקְנֵהֶם וְקִנְיָנָם וְכָל-בְּהֶמְתָּם, הֲלוֹא לָנוּ הֵם; אַךְ נֵאוֹתָה לָהֶם, וְיֵשְׁבוּ אִתָּנוּ.

These men are shalem with us- let them settle in the land and do business there, because the land is big enough for them. Let us take their daughters for wives and let us give them our daughters. But, this will only work if, to unite, every male in our city is circumcised as they are. [Isn’t this small pain worth it, for] their cattle and possessions will be ours? Let us agree and they will dwell with us (בראשית לד:כא-כג).

Here, the mysterious word shalem makes a reappearance, this time in the context of Yaakov’s children being a peaceable group. Shechem, in his desire for Dina, makes a proposal to his people: “Let them settle the land- there’s plenty of room for them anyway, we won’t be missing out. Go along with their silly Brit Milah request, and then, we can assimilate them into our culture and take over their riches.” All of the sudden, a random attack on an innocent girl takes on a more sinister theme, one that, I believe, is in line with the types of attacks seen in the modern day State of Israel. It’s an attack that is part of a bigger strategy- to take over the Jewish People’s property in Israel and run them out of the land. Even in our days, when the occasional attack in Israel seems to be only of a personal nature, we must realize that, when it comes to the Land of Israel, everything goes back to national issues and  nothing is just personal or random. Yaakov Avinu, coming from a place where he was quite afraid of an attack of passion that could come from anyone any time, must’ve felt more safe once he entered Canaan, knowing that at least he knew who his enemy was, and therefore the passuk describes him as “shalem” only once he made it to Shechem “from Padan-Aram.”

This explanation of Yaakov’s personal fears is also an important lesson as well for World Jewry, as they continue their lives in the Exile without a clue where the next attack will come from. In the world’s eye, the State of Israel does not seem to be a particularly safe place- there are constant terror attack threats, the remote possibility of having to run for shelter on a moments’ notice, and many other worries. However, one concern that is not present in the Holy Land is one of random violence- everything, from Molotov Cocktails in Judea and Samaria, to a solider being stabbed on a bus in Afula (ה’ יקום דמו), has an underlying reason and can usually be predicted and prevented. Beyond this, we must also remember that while there are no open miracles in 2013, there is without a doubt a higher level of divine intervention in Israel, and anyone with a head for statistics would definitely define the disproportiantely high amount of thwarted attacks and off-target missles as miraculous. Unfortunately, this is not nearly as apparent anywhere else in the world, and the lack of hashra’at haShechina in the United States is starting to take its toll. Shootings that lack purpose, and random “copycat” acts of violence are becoming more and more commonplace with no pleasant end in sight. For this reason, it behooves us to remember the lesson of Yaakov Avinu’s mindset as he lived his temporary life in the Exile (Sukot) before making the final move into Israel (Shechem)- that we are not truly safe, and we cannot and should not feel 100% “shalem” until we’ve completed our own journeys from Padan-Aram and fulfilled G-d’s call of “שׁוּב אֶל-אֶרֶץ אֲבוֹתֶיךָ וּלְמוֹלַדְתֶּךָ; וְאֶהְיֶה, עִמָּךְ- Return to the land of your fathers and your beginning, and I will be with you there.” (בראשית לא:ב). With G-d’s help, we will all complete this journey while we are still “shalem,” and we will all merit His personal protection as we fulfill the dream of ancestors, settling our yerusha (inheritance) just as our forefather Yaakov did so many millennia ago.

About the Author
Born and raised in Teaneck NJ, Tzvi Silver moved to Israel in 2012 after catching aliyah fever while learning abroad. Tzvi is now pursuing a degree in Engineering from the Jerusalem College of Technology, and works on the side as a contributor for local newspapers in the New York Area. Tzvi's interests include learning Torah, rabble-rousing, and finding creative ways of mixing the two.
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