The First Zioness

Since it’s my bar mitzva portion, I’m quite partial to this week’s reading, Parashat Vaychi (Genesis 47:28-50:26). It’s far more poetic and fast-paced than its predecessors as it describes Jacob’s passing. However, the final chapter does drag a bit, as it painstakingly describes the funeral arrangements. But when you learn it by heart, you start to notice some interesting twists in the text.

So Joseph went up to bury his father; and with him went up all the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his house, and all the elders of the land of Egypt, as well as all the house of Joseph, his brothers, and his father’s house. (50:7-8)

And after he had buried his father, Joseph returned to Egypt, he and his brothers and all who went up with him to bury his father. (50:14)

The Torah states that “his father’s house” went back to Canaan to bury Jacob — who would that be? His brothers are mentioned; “the house of Joseph,” presumably his sons, are mentioned as well, so who could this be? And why, when they go back to Egypt, do he and his brothers return, but not “his father’s house”?

At least one view in the Midrash argues that Jacob did in fact have a child who died in Canaan, unlike Joseph and his brothers: their sister Dinah.

And the Rabbis say: Simeon took [Dinah] and buried her in the land of Canaan. (Genesis Rabbah 80:11)

He buried her in the Land of Canaan, for it was there that she died; aside from her, none of Jacob’s children died in the Land of Canaan. This is why she is referred to (46:10) as “the Canaanitess.” (Mattenot Kehuna, ad loc.)

There is no doubt that Dinah went down with her brothers and her father to Egypt, as she is one of the 70 souls counted. However, alone among them, she returns to Canaan at some point. The most logical point would be after the death of Jacob. Indeed, Dinah’s return after Jacob’s passing would be a lot less perplexing than her brothers’ decision to remain in exile in Egypt.

This may explain a famous biblical enigma: when Joshua conquers the land, he defeats the kings of 31 city-states, but Shechem is not among them. If Dinah returns not just to Canaan, but to Shechem, site of her greatest trauma, it would go a long way towards explaining why Joshua never needs to reconquer the city.

This midrashic view would make Dinah the first to return to the Land of Israel from national exile. The idea that Jacob’s family maintains a physical connection to the Land is extremely significant. Indeed, in every subsequent exile — Babylonian, Persian, Edomite (Roman) — there is always a remnant. We might say that since the day Jacob was renamed Israel, there has never been a day that the Land of Israel was devoid of the People of Israel.

Aunt Dinah, as it were, kept the light on for us. It’s only appropriate that Israel’s capital has finally named a street after her.

About the Author
Yoseif Bloch is a rabbi who has taught at Yeshivat HaKotel, Yeshivat Har Etzion and Yeshivat Shvilei Hatorah and served as a congregational rabbi in Canada. He currently works as an editor, translator and publisher. As a blogger and podcaster, he is known as Rabbi Joe in Jerusalem.
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