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עשה תורתך קבע – אמור מעט ועשה הרבה

Parshat VaYishlach: Dina – From afterthought to central character

Posted by rabbiart on November 29, 2014

This Shabbat that just passed I had the honor of reading Rev’ii, the fourth aliya.  In this aliya we are in the middle of birthing.   Zilpah, Bilhah and Leah are popping out sons at an average of about one every three verses. Each birth is accompanied by a naming, and an explanation of the name.  Once we get to Rev’ii the action slows down a bit, as Reuven goes out into the fields to collect some  דוּדָאִים (du’da’im), (usually translated as mandrakes). After some negotiation over the mandrakes, resolved by deciding that Leah will get to sleep with Jacob, the birthing continues apace.  In 30:17 Issachar – son #5 of Leah – is born, named and explained.  Two short verses later Zevulon – son #6 – is born. Then without preface, explanation or follow-on remarks, we read verse 21.

וְאַחַר, יָלְדָה בַּת; וַתִּקְרָא אֶת-שְׁמָהּ, דִּינָה

(It is as if the text reads oh, by the way) afterward, she had a daughter, and she named her Dina. An afterthought, one daughter among the sons.

The story then continues with the opening of Rachel’s womb and the birth of Joseph. The parshah ends with Lavan and Jacob parting ways.

Flash forward to this coming Shabbat. After Jacob and Esau resolve their relationship (perhaps), Jacob settles the family, and Dina goes exploring. Her little trip will have quite the impact on the brothers, and on relationships with the local inhabitants.  She encounters Schem, the son of Hamor.  Schem rapes Dina, and afterwards falls in love with her. Hamor comes to negotiate with Jacob, but he has decided to keep quiet וְהֶחֱרִשׁ יַעֲקֹב .  Instead, his sons spoke for him. They proposed a mass circumcision, which they did not anticipate being accepted.  On the third day,  Shimon and Levi commit mass murder, killing all the men of the town, an act we today would surely call terrorism. Jacob’s silence until now is puzzling.  Why didn’t he take charge? What did he think of the brothers’ demands? Is this the outcome he wanted? In the aftermath Jacob speaks. He complains to the brothers that they have caused trouble for him. He does not say what they did was wrong!

Flash backward now to events of the summer just past in Israel. In the town of Rishon LeTzion  Mahmoud Mansour and Morel Malka were getting married. Protests ensued and hateful things were said. Why? Because Morel had decided to adopt Islam, and thus to some was betraying the Jewish people.   At least new President Reuven Rivlin  got it right, commenting “Not everyone has to share in the happiness of Mahmoud and Morel – but everyone has to respect them.”  Fortunately, there was only a lot of yelling and screaming and no actual killing, so perhaps have come some way from Biblical times. But in Israel as around the world, we all have a way to go in subduing our prejudices.

Would that we live in a time when we all want to share unreservedly in each other’s happiness.


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