Finally, Jacob and his tribe find a home and set up camp outside the city of Shchem. Just when things begin to stabilize, the Torah says, “And Dinah went out to see the girls of the land.”
Dinah might have said she wanted to check out the competition. But the commentators say she also wanted to be noticed. And she was. Soon,the favorite son of the city came around to Dinah’s tent. Shchem, the suitor, brought around a bevy of girls with instruments and called on Dinah to come out and play.
When she relented, Shchem took over. He brought her to his place, raped her repeatedly and then claimed he loved her. Shchem’s father told Jacob of Dinah’s captivity and his son’s marriage proposal. The father, Chamor, which means donkey in Hebrew, tried to put his son’s crime in the best light: This will be a great marriage, Chamor says. You’re nobility and we’re nobility.
“Bright lights, big city, they’ve gone to my baby’s head. I tried to tell my woman, but she wouldn’t believe a word I said.” The famous bluesman Jimmy Reed sang that in 1961. But wait a minute, this is our patriarch Jacob, who worked 14 years for Rachel and Leah, pure as the driven snow.
That’s right. It happens to every family.
Why did Dinah leave home? Rabbi Chaim Ibn Attar, known as the Or Hachayim, gives three reasons. 1. DNA. Dinah’s mother left all dolled up to grab Jacob before he made it to Rachel’s tent. Like mother, like daughter. 2. Dinah was the only girl among Jacob’s children. How much Solitaire can you play until you’ve gone out of your mind with boredom?
The third reason is that Shchem had seen Dinah when she went to the city. From then on, he never stopped bothering her. He had heard about the beautiful daughter of Jacob and became infatuated. Once, he saw her bare arm, unheard of in biblical times. He rounded up his girlfriends to fulfill Dinah’s wish to see the “girls of the land.”
Could this tragedy have been avoided? The sages say yes. The Midrash explains that Jacob was being punished. Only weeks earlier, Jacob’s brother Esau visited and was introduced to the patriarch’s family. The exception was Dinah. She was locked away. Jacob was scared that his evil brother would be smitten with Dinah and want her in marriage. It was bad enough being Esau’s brother, but his father-in-law as well?
So, the Midrash says, Shchem the idolater came around, replacing Esau, the Jew, as the suitor. Esau was circumcised; Shchem was not. Esau would have asked Jacob’s permission for his daughter’s hand. Shchem first forced herself on little Dinah, then tried to make a deal.
The Torah and Talmud have frequently told of the power of the Jewish woman to influence her Jewish man, regardless of his beliefs. The devout Jewish woman is infused with binah, or understanding, grasping the big picture. They have seen what their husbands did not. All of the matriarchs possessed this quality as well as the wives of Moses and David. The man might be the head. But the woman is the neck, and she can turn the head any which way she chooses.
The most fascinating example was Akiva Ben Yosef, the aging shepherd who hated the rabbis of the Second Temple and wanted literally to kill them. Akiva was on the bottom rung of Jewish society — poor, uneducated and the son of a proselyte, He watched the beautiful Rachel, the son of Israel’s richest man, from afar. But Rachel noticed him and his potential. She approached the stunned Akiva and finally said she would marry him. Her condition: He must learn Torah from the same rabbis he wanted to kill. Akiva said yes and the rest is history.
Dinah was never given that chance. So, she just got up and left. She was probably no more than 10 years old. It changed her life and that of her family forever. Dinah’s brothers, Shimon and Levi, killed Shchem and just about everybody else in the city. But Dinah remained just as lonely. In some ways, she was the precursor to all the women denied the opportunity by their families to choose and instead diverted to disastrous marriages.
Britain’s Princess Margaret of Windsor was 22. The love of her life, Peter Townsend, was 38. She was single; he was divorced with two children. Margaret’s sister, Queen Elizabeth, and mother were against the union, joined by the prime minister and parliament. The military sent Townsend to Brussels so he couldn’t see the princess, warned that she would be stripped of her title. They succeeded in breaking up the couple. Three years later, Margaret married a photographer that ended in an acrimonious divorce. She spent the rest of her life in a haze of pills and alcohol.
There is plenty to learn from Dinah: the importance of modesty; the need to educate and inspire our daughters; the dangers of boredom. But there is one lesson that is not as obvious. And that is the need to trust the instincts of our children, particularly in the matters of the heart. Like us, they will make mistakes, including major ones. But their hearts will not be suppressed. When denied, however, they will simply embrace the most convenient and worst option. Parents know a lot but they don’t know the need for love in anybody but themselves
Dinah was scarred by Shchem. She never found a suitable mate outside the family. In the end, her brother Shimon married her and produced a child. The Talmud says that Shimon promised Dinah marriage after she refused to leave the city of Shchem and return to her family humiliated. The Torah did not identify her as Dinah, rather “the Caananite woman.” Dinah’s son ended up being a prince of the tribe of Shimon and killed when he openly consorted with a Moabite princess. Tragedy begets tragedy.