Yitzchak Ginsburgh
Head of Gal Einai Institutes, authority on Kabbalah and Chassidut

Dinah’s Assault and its Remedy

The gravest incident can bring a change for the better
and even the most painful trauma can be healed…

“Dinah, daughter of Leah, whom she bore to Jacob, went out to see the daughters of the land. And Shechem, son of Chamor the Chivite, the prince of the land, saw her and he took her and lay with her and assaulted her.”[1]

This tragic episode relating to Jacob’s daughter, Dinah, can be approached from two different angles. Either it can be viewed from the perspective of the people involved in the act, or it can be viewed from God’s Omniscient perspective.

From our earthly perspective, rape is one of the cruelest, most unforgivable acts that demands that the victim be rescued from her assailant. In this context, Dinah’s brothers, Shimon and Levi, took her attack to heart and adopted an extremely severe approach. The Lubavitcher Rebbe[2] emphasized that from an educational perspective there are some things that are so sanctified that their desecration touches the very essence of the soul, which is above all reason. Despite Jacob’s criticism, this fraternal act of self-sacrifice to avenge their sister’s honor is an example with which we should identify.

However, what happened once the episode was over? Shechem and Chamor could no longer interfere—nor any of the city’s residents—and Dinah returned home to her family. Any act of violence leaves the victim with a deep scar on his or her soul, and a broken spirit that is difficult to heal. Indeed, the sages[3] teach us that after meting out justice on the City of Shechem, Shimon (the older of Dinah’s two fraternal saviors) did not suffice with polishing his sword and returning it to its sheath. He took sincere care of his younger sister by marrying her (this was permitted before the Torah forbade marriage between siblings[4]). In her desperate moment of need, with no idea how to deal with her pain, he endeavored to alleviate her misery.

Elevating Fallen Sparks

The way to truly heal a wounded soul is to transcend the mundane and rise to a higher perspective. Shechem’s act was an atrocious deed, but the inner dimension of the Torah reveals that there is a Divine purpose hidden even in such an act. The Arizal[5] taught that although no one at the time was aware of it, somewhere deep down in Shechem’s mean, contemptible soul hid a holy spark that needed to be released from its prison and elevated to a new level. This spark could only be extracted by contact with Dinah, as alluded to in the phrase, “His soul clung to Dinah, Jacob’s daughter.”[6] The good element of Shechem’s soul escaped and clung to Dinah’s soul, so much so that it became attached to the holiness of the Jewish People.[7]

With his spiritual insight, the Arizal revealed Dinah’s reincarnations throughout the generations. Amongst others, Dinah was reincarnated as Abigail, wife of Naval the Carmelite, who King David married after Naval’s demise. Later she was reincarnated once more as the wife of the evil Tineius Rufus, who converted to Judaism and subsequently, married Rabbi Akiva (as his second wife).

The underlying theme in all Dinah’s incarnations suggests that her task is to pass from the hands of someone evil to someone righteous – from Shechem ben Chamor to her brother, Shimon; from the drunken Naval to King David; and from the evil Tineius Rufus to Rabbi Akiva. Each transfer further clarifies and elevates the sparks that were captured and concealed in the depths of the impure shells.

Since they contain an element of Divine insight, the data sources of the Arizal are indisputable. However, the dangers of misinterpreting his teachings must be made clear. Any benefit that may be gleaned from plummeting into the depths of sin can only be understood retroactively and cannot legitimize instigating such acts with prior intentions (as some would mistakenly believe, misleading others to follow them in the name of “Kabbalah.”)

Three Types of Refining

One type of God’s service is the “service of clarifications” by which holy sparks that were previously intermingled in mundane or impure realms are rescued from their fate to return to holiness. There are three principal methods by which we can refine these sparks:

The first method is achieved completely à priori, when an individual consciously deals with mundane matters with the intention of choosing to do good, thus refining reality through his actions. In its perfected state, this is the service of the righteous, who perceive every act they do―even when it does not directly involve doing a mitzvah or refraining from sin―as an opportunity to refine reality. For example, every morsel of food that is eaten by such a righteous individual is consumed with the intention of clarifying the holy spark that is in the food, i.e., God’s word that vitalizes it,[8] and to elevate that energy by using it in his service of God. In this method of service, the righteous individual is in complete, conscious control; he initiates the act and shapes reality to bring it to its desired goal.

The second method of clarification happens when I find myself in an involuntary situation. For example, I arrive somewhere for a business meeting and make a blessing on a cup of coffee there. At the time I am unaware that my entire journey was Divinely ordained so that a spark that was trapped there would be refined or elevated by me making a blessing ―a fact that may only be revealed when my soul reaches heaven. This is how the Ba’al Shem Tov[9] interpreted the verse, “And you shall go to the place God, your God, will choose.”[10]

One should realize that one’s travels from place to place are not one’s own initiative, but because one is being led from Above, the intention being “to have His Name dwell there” – i.e., to disseminate holiness in that location.

This can be achieved unintentionally by any Jew. It is good to always be aware of this teaching of the Ba’al Shem Tov, and to live in the comforting knowledge that no matter where I happen to be, I can always achieve something positive through my actions.

The third method is as we have seen with Dinah, when an individual unwittingly falls into an adverse situation. God’s intention to refine the world remains applicable under all circumstances. In Dinah’s case, she was forcefully assaulted against her will. In other situations, people may fall into sin, God forbid. Even though their sin is through their own erroneous choice, their act has a hidden purpose of which they are unaware (nonetheless, they are held responsible for their own actions and must account for them). This is a difficult concept to grasp (and, as above, we must take care to remain within the boundaries of Torah law). This is the “terrible plot upon mankind”[11] that God weaves for us humans, which includes all our downfalls. Ultimately, “No-one banished shall be banished [eternally].”[12] Every fall that we may experience ultimately directs us to a fallen spark that can be rescued and elevated. Perhaps we will only recognize its purpose when Mashiach comes.

In our generation, the Lubavitcher Rebbe stated that the service of clarifications has ended.[13] In our context, this means that the first level (consciously clarifying reality by the righteous) has ended. Our current task is to involve ourselves more with the “service of unifications.”  We should not make an issue of consciously refining reality. It is still good to have in mind that we eat to receive energy to serve God with joy (which elevates and refines the food). We should aspire to observe the verse, “Know Him in all your ways.”[14] However, in general, our consciousness should be directed towards a different goal altogether—the goal of bringing the final redemption by uniting the mundane world in which we live with the Divine world.

The second type of clarification mentioned above also plays a less significant role. We no longer need to travel to the ends of the world to recite a blessing. The world has become one big global village, and everything is readily available, wherever we happen to be.

The most difficult clarifications, achieved by first falling into sin, have not yet ended. The Divine “terrible plot” continues until we reach the happy end. May it come soon!

Extricating the Spark

How can we incorporate these teachings into trauma therapy?

The knowledge that even the most terrible fall has a purpose is “first aid” for the tortured soul that has undergone such a trauma. Knowing that whatever happens is Divinely ordained, elucidates the event and offers some comfort. Every tragic episode is just one piece of the great puzzle put together in Heaven. The Arizal would tell people their exact rectification in this world according to their soul-root. Divine knowledge such as that is beyond our scope. The Ba’al Shem Tov guided us with the principle of simple faith. The knowledge that whatever happens to me is for the best and for my own personal benefit can sometimes alleviate the pain.

For this healing power to penetrate our souls, and not just serve as a topical pain-killer, we need to understand Shechem’s father, Chamor (חַמוֹר), whose name means, “donkey.” The inner dimension of the Torah reveals that this donkey is more significant than is apparent at first glance.

At the beginning of the parashah, Jacob said, “I have oxen and donkeys.” The sages[15] teach us that Jacob’s oxen refer to Mashiach, son of Joseph. His donkeys refer to “Mashiach son of David.” Jacob’s cattle were holy oxen and his donkeys were, as well.

In contrast, there are oxen and donkeys of the impure husks. Chassidut explains that an ox represents heat and explosive power (think how wary one needs to be of standing in the path of a seething ox), whereas a donkey expresses coldness. The Talmud[16] states that a donkey is always cold, even at the height of summer. Like a stubborn donkey that cannot be shaken from its routine way of life, the donkey-like character of the impure husks manifests as apathy and cold indifference to everything that happens, even when it is truly evil. This was the case with Chamor. He callously ignored Dinah’s rape by his son. Moreover, he expected Jacob to acquiesce to her becoming Shechem’s wife.

In contrast, the holy donkey reflects positive stoicism. Like a disciplined donkey that carries its yoke without complaint,[17] this trait allows us to bear everything that God confers upon us with equanimity and in awe of God.

In our context, positive indifference means accepting all that happens to me by submitting to God’s will, without becoming overwhelmed by the raving emotions that threaten to engulf me. By looking at everything from a cool, rational perspective that allows me to detach myself from the upsetting event itself, I can learn to look at it from a more elevated perspective. Obviously, victims of assault will find it exceedingly difficult to relate with indifference to what has happened. They require a righteous individual, a truly virtuous “therapist,” who will assist in extricating them from the catastrophe and begin the healing process. That righteous individual also needs to be somewhat donkey-like in his ability to show indifference towards what happened. Should he allow his sympathy to engulf him, he too would be overwhelmed by the crisis and would be ineffective in assisting the victim. Under these circumstances, the ability to view calamity in a cool, calm and collected fashion is the manifestation of the therapist’s true compassion, which will eventually bring comfort to the aching heart that weeps before them.

Mashiach ben David is “A pauper riding on a donkey.”[18] He will complete this rectification, bringing healing and comfort to every tortured soul and bequeathing them with the true and comforting sense that all their downfalls were for the absolute best. “No evil descends from Above.”[19]

Image: By Edvard Munch – National Gallery of Norway, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69541493

[1]        Genesis 34:1-2.

[2]        Likutei Sichot 5, p. 150. See also our essay in Hebrew, “Dinah’s Brothers” in Malchut Yisrael vol. 3.

[3]        Bereishit Rabah 80:11, “[Dinah] said, ‘How can I deal with my disgrace?’ Until Shimon swore to her that he would marry her,” as Rashi interprets.

[4]        See the commentaries on Rashi Genesis 46:10 (Re’em etc.)

[5]        See Arizal, Likutei Torah, Parashat Vayishlach; Kehilot Ya’akov, “Kosbi” etc. The Arizal explains that Dinah also had an undesirable part that was reincarnated with her. This was the part that separated from her and clung to Shechem ben Chamor. Thus, she was rectified.

[6]        Genesis 34:3.

[7]        The Arizal pinpointed this hidden spark as the soul of Rabbi Chanina ben Tradyon, one of the greatest Tanaim, and one of the ten martyrs who were killed by the Romans. This is alluded to in the words, “The land was broad-handed” (וְהָאָרֶץ הִנֵּה רַחֲבַת יָדַיִם; Genesis 34:21), in which the letters of “broad” (רַחֲבַת) are the initial letters of Rabbi Chanina ben Tradyon (רַבִּי חֲנִינָא בֶּן תְּרַדְיוֹן)

[8] See Deuteronomy 8:3. See also Parashat Eikev.

[9]        The Yom Yom calendar, 18th Elul. See also, the words of the Ba’al Shem Tov quoted in Maor Einayim, Parashat Vayakhel, on the verse, “From God the steps of man are established, and his way does He desire” (Psalms 37:23).

[10]       Deuteronomy 14:25, 26:2.

[11]       Psalm 66:5.

[12]       II Samuel 14:14.

[13]       Discourse of second day of Rosh Hashanah 5747; see also, our Hebrew volume, Ma’ayan Ganim Bereishit pp.18ff. See also above in Parashat Toldot.

[14]       Proverbs 3:6.

[15]       Midrash Tanchuma Vayishlach 1.

[16]       Shabbat 53a.

[17]       As in the verse, “Issachar is a pack donkey etc.” (Gen. 49:14).

[18]       Zachariah 9:9.

[19]       Tanya, Igeret Hakodesh 12.

About the Author
Rabbi Ginsburgh was born in S. Louis, Missouri in 1944. He initially pursued an academic career in mathematics and philosophy, later studying Torah under the guidance of several great sages–most notably, the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Rabbi Ginsburgh made Aliyah to Israel in 1965. His familiarity with mathematics, science, philosophy, psychology and music has enabled him to lecture throughout Israel, relating the ancient wisdom of Torah to many currents trends in academic thought and art.
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