The Abduction of Dinah and Swords of Iron
“We should have carpet-bombed the whole place immediately after the massacres took place on Simchat Torah (October 7, 2023). We could even have used bunker buster bombs and wiped them out once and for all! We had the whole world on our side then. What an opportunity! But we blew it. If only we had acted like Shimon and Levi! They did the right thing. But our government? What a disaster.”
Although paraphrasing his words somewhat, that’s essentially the essence of what someone told me a few weeks ago.
We’re familiar with the story (Bereshit 34). Dinah bat Leah went out to ‘see the daughters of the land.’ Shechem ben Chamor, a prince of the land, saw her, abducted her and violated her. News made its way back to Yaakov. Discussions were held between the two families as to how to make a marriage between Shechem and Dinah kosher, and how to make of the two populations one people. The entire male population of Shechem agreed to take upon themselves the mitzvah of brit milah as a token of their intent and commitment. However, while they were recovering from their surgery, Shimon and Levi went into the city, slaughtered all of the males, plundered the city of its wealth, captured the women and children, and rescued their abducted sister, Dinah.
Many questions have been asked about this tragic episode, and we can’t cover them all in this short article. However, consider the following. Why didn’t Yaakov take the initiative to rescue Dinah? After all, she was his daughter. Further, if you read through the story carefully, you will notice that Yaakov was oddly silent throughout all of the negotiations. He didn’t say anything. That is, not until the very end of the story when he said the following to Shimon and Levi after they returned from the slaughter (34:30): עֲכַרְתֶּם אֹתִי לְהַבְאִישֵׁנִי בְּיֹשֵׁב הָאָרֶץ בַּכְּנַעֲנִי וּבַפְּרִזִּי וַאֲנִי מְתֵי מִסְפָּר וְנֶאֶסְפוּ עָלַי וְהִכּוּנִי וְנִשְׁמַדְתִּי אֲנִי וּבֵיתִי (You have brought trouble upon me to make me stink among the inhabitants of the land, among the Kena’ani and the Perizzi; and I, being few in number, they will gather against me and strike me, and I and my house will be annihilated). Now that’s quite a reprimand. Nevertheless, Shimon and Levi had a response (34:31): הַכְזוֹנָה יַעֲשֶׂה אֶת־אֲחוֹתֵנוּ (Should he treat our sister like a harlot?). And so ends the account.
The argument is that Yaakov was weak, passive, disconnected from reality, maybe even in shock, and thus incapable of acting responsibly. The fact that he didn’t argue with Shimon and Levi is offered as proof that in the end, he acquiesced and agreed with them. After all, ‘silence implies consent’, right? Not only that, but didn’t Pinchas ben Elazar rise up and take matters into his own hands by executing Zimri ben Salu and Kozbi bat Tzur when they acted disgracefully in the sight of the entire nation, and wasn’t he praised for his actions (Bemidbar 25:6-15)? Further, wasn’t Shaul ha-Melech told to wipe out Amalek (men, women, children, babies, and animals), and wasn’t he criticized for not doing so (Shemuel Aleph 15)?
Let’s start with Pinchas. Was his behavior like that of Shimon and Levi? What motivated Pinchas to do what he did? It was his zeal for G d, Hashem testifying of his actions (Bemidbar 25:11): הֵשִׁיב אֶת־חֲמָתִי מֵעַל בְּנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּקַנְאוֹ אֶת־קִנְאָתִי בְּתוֹכָם וְלֹא־כִלִּיתִי אֶת־בְּנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּקִנְאָתִי (He turned away My wrath against B’nei Yisrael when he zealously avenged My vengeance among them, so that I wouldn’t consume B’nei Yisrael in my vengeance). Hashem repeats it again two verses later, in His explanation why He gave him an everlasting kehunah (25:13): תַּחַת אֲשֶׁר קִנֵּא לֵאלֹהָיו וַיְכַפֵּר עַל־בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל (Because he was zealous for his G d, and he made atonement for B’nei Yisrael). On the other hand, what do we read about Shimon and Levi? Nothing is mentioned about their zeal for Hashem. Rather, we are told in Bereshit 34:7 that they (and possibly all of the brothers) were very angry (וַיִּחַר…מְאֹד) about what happened to their sister. Now, zeal is not the same as anger. Not even close. They were not acting to defend the honor of Hashem. The best that we can say is what they testified about themselves, that they were acting to defend the honor of their sister. So the question is, Should an entire male population be wiped out to defend the honor of a sister who was raped?
As this is a halachic question, one’s feelings aren’t particularly relevant. The Rambam unequivocally states in the Mishneh Torah that under the laws governing B’nei Noach, the entire population of Shechem deserved death. How come? B’nei Noach are obligated to set up courts of justice, and if they fail to do so, they are liable to the death penalty via beheading. Since Shechem kidnapped Dinah and the entire city was aware of it and didn’t do anything to bring him to justice, they were all liable (see Hilchot Melachim u’Milchamot 9:14). So according to the Rambam, rape has nothing to do with it in and of itself. The issue is kidnapping and a failure to bring the perpetrator to justice. The Ramban, on the other hand, goes to task with the Rambam, and strongly disagrees with him. We won’t bring down his arguments here because they are lengthy, but for those who are interested, see his commentary to Bereshit 34:13. Our task here is not to debate the subtleties in their arguments and try to decide who is ‘right’. We leave this up for those qualified to do so. Rather, we simply ask, Do we think we are greater than these two giants of Torah that we can resolve the dispute and pasken the halachah today as it pertains to the massacres that took place on Simchat Torah? Is our wisdom so deep? This debate has not been conclusively decided for centuries, and we think that we can bring down psak?
What about Shaul ha-Melech? Didn’t he lose the kingship because of his refusal not to wipe out Amalek? Yes, he did. His actions were considered rebellion against G d. But let’s compare the cases. Shaul was given a specific command in the form of כֹּה אָמַר יְיָ צְבָקוֹת (Thus says Hashem of Armies…) from the prophet Shemuel (Shemuel Aleph 15:2-3). What about Shimon and Levi? No prophet. No command. No כֹּה אָמַר יְיָ צְבָקוֹת. They didn’t even ask their father, the Tzaddik of their generation! In that sense, they are more like Pinchas in that he didn’t ask permission for what he did. But we already covered his case and learned that we can’t actually compare Shimon and Levi to Pinchas because he acted with zeal whereas they acted out of anger.
Let’s now return to Yaakov’s lack of a rebuttal after Shimon and Levi justified their actions by citing Shechem’s treatment of Dinah. What did Yaakov really think? He was unconvinced by their argument. How do we know? Because, in the end, on his deathbed, he rebuked them for their actions. And his rebuke was very severe (Bereshit 49:5-7): שִׁמְעוֹן וְלֵוִי אַחִים כְּלֵי חָמָס מְכֵרֹתֵיהֶם׃ בְּסֹדָם אַל־תָּבֹא נַפְשִׁי בִּקְהָלָם אַל־תֵּחַד כְּבֹדִי כִּי בְאַפָּם הָרְגוּ אִישׁ וּבִרְצֹנָם עִקְּרוּ־שׁוֹר׃ אָרוּר אַפָּם כִּי עָז וְעֶבְרָתָם כִּי קָשָׁתָה אֲחַלְּקֵם בְּיַעֲקֹב וַאֲפִיצֵם בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל (Shimon and Levi are brothers, stolen weapons [klei hamas] are their swords. Let my soul not come into their secret counsel, let my honor [i.e. my soul] not be united with their assembly, because in their anger they killed a man [Rashi: Chamor and the people of Shechem] and with their self-will, they hamstrung a bull [Rashi: Yosef]. Cursed be their anger for it is fierce, and their wrath for it is severe; I will divide them in Yaakov and disperse them in Yisrael). “But he only cursed their anger”, someone will say. True. But seriously, put yourself in their shoes. Would you really want to be on the receiving end of this harsh rebuke and justify yourself by saying that he only cursed your anger?
Let’s take a look at a few of Rashi’s comments to this passage. First, he says (49:5) that Yaakov called Shimon and Levi brothers because they acted in unison בְּעֵצָה אַחַת עַל שְׁכֶם וְעַל יוֹסֵף (in the plot against Shechem and against Yosef). Second, he explains the phrase כְּלֵי חָמָס [klei hamas] as something that is stolen or usurped from another. Who is this other? It is none other than Esav: אֻמָּנוּת זוֹ שֶׁל רְצִיחָה חָמָס הוּא בִידֵיהֶם מִבִּרְכַּת עֵשָׂו הִיא זוֹ אֻמָּנוּת שֶׁלּוֹ הִיא וְאַתֶּם חֲמַסְתֶּם אוֹתָהּ הֵימֶנּוּ (This is the profession of murder, acquired by theft [hamas] in their hands, it is from the ‘blessing’ of Esav, it is his profession, and you stole it from him [i.e. you are hamasniks]). So according to Rashi, Shimon and Levi did not act out of justice. He called their killings murder, not judicial executions. Apparently, the Rambam would disagree. So why did Yaakov only curse their anger? Why didn’t he just curse them? Rashi says that it is similar to what Bilaam said (Bemidbar 23:8): מָה אֶקֹּב לֹא קַבֹּה קֵל (How can I curse when G d hasn’t cursed?).
In summary, Shimon and Levi’s actions are likened to the behavior of Esav, a man who made a profession out of murder. And since their actions are comparable to those of Esav, they are clearly not in the least comparable to those of Pinchas. Not only did they act without outside counsel regarding the matter of Shechem, they were also the ones who conspired to kill Yosef. And if that’s not bad enough, they were both denied a tribal inheritance in the land. True, Shimon was given a number of cities, but they were within the tribal inheritance of Yehudah, and those cities were for the most part in the Negev (not exactly choice land). Levi was denied a tribal inheritance altogether and had to rely on ma’aser and other gifts from the other tribes for their physical sustenance. Although they were given a number of cities that they could call their own, those cities were scattered throughout the ancestral lands of the other tribes. Further, many years later, Moshe didn’t even mention Shimon for a blessing along with all the other tribes in Parashat V’Zot Ha-Berachah (see Devarim 33). He completely omits them! How come? Some have suggested that it was because of the incident involving Zimri (who was a prince from the tribe of Shimon) and Kozbi. But if so, why would Moshe punish the entire tribe by not giving them their own blessing because of the actions of one man? Hmm. Isn’t that what Shimon (and Levi) did in the matter of Shechem, that they punished the entire city because of the actions of one man? Maybe. This is the dispute between the Rambam and the Ramban. In the end, these things don’t sound much like a reward for their supposed ‘righteous’ actions against the inhabitants of Shechem.
So why didn’t Yaakov rebuke his sons right after they slaughtered the male inhabitants of Shechem and took the women and children into custody? Perhaps it is because he knew that his sons were not in a position to hear his rebuke. They were too angry. And when rebuke is delivered to those who cannot hear it, it weakens their souls. It’s like taking a stick and poking it around in a pile of garbage. If the garbage had been left alone, the bad odor may not even have been detected, but now that the person poked around in it, he stirred up the stench and made matters much worse.
In conclusion, much of the world has now turned against the State of Israel, and the Jewish People in general, regarding the conduct of the war against Hamas. We have become a stench to most people in the world. In the matter of Dinah, this seems to be exactly what Yaakov was trying to prevent. He said so himself (Bereshit 34:30): עֲכַרְתֶּם אֹתִי לְהַבְאִישֵׁנִי בְּיֹשֵׁב הָאָרֶץ (You have brought trouble upon me to make me stink among the inhabitants of the land). And this explanation may be the reason behind his silence. He may have been trying to figure out if there was a way to avoid him and his family becoming a stench to everyone around. We will never know if he would have found a way because Shimon and Levi took matters into their own hands. Nevertheless, we should learn from Yaakov.
Silence is better than Monday morning quarterbacking the war.