Sunday, January 10, 2010

Dina and Shechem revisited (again)

I have had some interesting responses to the podcast/post on Dina and Shechem, and I wanted to share some of my further thoughts on the matter. Much of the following thoughts came as a result of discussions I had with my wife as well as my sister. I also thank TQ for bringing up this question again.

On my facebook page, Odelia posted the following:

Why would Dina need to be punished (raped) to atone for Ya'akov's possible sin? How does that resonate with the Jewish concepts of Individual Responsibility and subsequent Reward and Punishment? Dina seems to be related to as a pawn, rather than an individual with her own responsiblities, past, present and future. Note, that in the Parsha, there are no comments or reactions stated as being initiated by Dina herself and even in the commentaries (excluding the Ramban) no mention is made of her individual experience. There are many strong female figures in the Tanach that are directly qouted and discussed. Why is Dina so marginalized?
(Odelia - living in NY - got your podcast from friend in Israel)

Here are my thoughts:

In order to understand what happened, we need to look to chazal to try to make sense of it, and find the missing pieces of the puzzle.

The first question we need to ask is if Yakov's prevention of Dina marrying Esav was the only cause of this story. It seems clear from the commentaries that there was more to it than just that. The Torah starts out the story by saying "ותצא דינה בת לאה אשר ילדה ליעקב לראות בבנות הארץ" - Dina the daughter of Leah, who was born to Yakov, went out to see the girls of the land. Since the Torah could have left out the fact that she was the daughter of Leah, the commentaries understand that there is significance to the Torah's making such a mention. They say that just as Leah was a "יצאנית" - someone who went out clothed provocatively, so too Dina went out this way, because she inherited this aspect of Leah's personality. Interestingly, when Leah went out in this way, it was to greet Yakov in order to tell him that she had 'bought' the right to be with him from Rochel in exchange for the duda'im. Dina, however, used this mida in the wrong place, in order to look good to meet other girls. It seems that this was part of the reason that she was abducted by Shechem.

At this point I think it wise to keep in mind that we are moving from ideas with solid basis in the meforshim into thoughts that are a little bit more 'out of the box.'

It is significant that the Torah also describes Dina as the one 'who was born to Yakov.' I think it is safe to say that just as the Torah mentions Leah here in order to teach us that there is a connection between Dina and Leah that was a prelude to the story, there is also a connection between Dina and Yakov that is a prelude to the story.

When trying to think what connection there is between Dina and Yakov that would have led to the story, I think we can look to the very question we started off with, which was, Why should Dina be punished for the fact that Yakov didn't let her marry Esav? The way the meforshim describe this (based on the medrash) is that Yakov placed Dina in a box so that Esav would not see her. I think that in order for Yakov to put Dina into a box, it would not be possible without her acquiescence. Furthermore, Rashi points out that when the brothers came to release Dina from Shechem, she refused to leave until Shimon promised to marry her. Dina could just as easily have said that she would not leave until she married Esav, which was the whole reason for the story in the first place. It is clear that Dina was of the same mind as Yakov in regards to not wishing to marry Esav.

This point can be strengthened further by noticing that there was someone else who did not want to marry Esav. Dina's mother, Leah, had cried many tears in order that she be able to marry Yakov instead of the evil Esav. This antipathy toward Esav would seem to have been imbued in Dina from both sides - her mother and her father. This could also be hinted to in the very connection that we mentioned before between Dina and Leah. The יצאנית (going out) aspect of Leah was specifically used to come into a relationship with Yakov, the pinnacle of her desire not to marry Esav. Dina inherited the יצאנית aspect which also was combined with a desire to stay away from the clutches of Esav. In the end, she asks to marry Shimon, not Esav.

Another point that we can address is, Do we ever find that children are punished for the sins of their parents? On the surface, it would certainly seem that the answer should be that children are not punished in this way. But actually, the Torah says the exact opposite - there can be a punishment for children up to three or four generations. If so, the question is then, Why? Why should a child be punished for no sin of his own? The answer is that a child is only punished for a parent's sin, as our chazal say, if the child continues to commit that sin himself!

It's important to realize that when a person is punished for a sin, it is not a retribution from Hashem, as if Hashem is angrily responding to a misdeed. In reality, what happens is that the sin creates a stain on a person's soul, a certain darkness that envelops him and needs to be removed. The difficulty that a person undergoes as a result of his sin effectively removes the stain and brings back the light of Hashem that was taken away as a result of the sin.

On a deeper level, what this really means is that the child is an extension of the parent, and in a certain sense they share an aspect of their souls. The result of this is that there is another opportunity for the child to rectify the stain that was brought about by the parent, preferably through the child's Teshuva - returning to the proper path and removing the stain that way. If the child does not do so, then the stain will be removed through other means - יסורין, difficulties.

Bringing it back to Yakov and Dina, we saw that Dina had certain aspects that she inherited from her parents that needed to be rectified in herself, and thus, while we say that there was fault in Yakov that resulted in the story, in truth, that very lack was to be found in Dina herself, and it was incumbent upon her to rectify the matter herself.

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