Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Vayishlach- When Torah Doesn't Have the Answer- Maybe There Isn't One


Vayomer Ya’akov el-Shimon v’el-Leivi a’khartem oti l’hav’isheini b’yosheiv ha’aretz ba’k’na’a’ni uva’p’rizi va’ani m’tei mispar v’ne’esfu alai v’hikuni v’nishmadti ani uveiti. Vayomru hakhzona ya’a’she et-achoteinu?
And Jacob said to Shimon and to Levi, “You have troubled me to make me odious to the inhabitants of the land: to the Canaanites and to the Perizzites, and I being few in number; they will gather against me and smite me, and I shall be destroyed, I and my house.” But they said, “As a harlot should he use our sister?”
Jacob is furious with Shimon and Levi. He is not incorrect. Their actions were beyond unacceptable in the ancient world. Jacob is the leader of his people. It was not uncommon that marriage was formed first from an abduction. He sees an opportunity to form a solid alliance. He looks beyond the moment to a future. Shimon and Levi’s actions could undermine the ability of the entire tribe to remain in the land they were given by God. The covenant required the actions of a people who could lay claim and maintain that claim.
But they said, “As a harlot should he use our sister?” To Shimon and Levi, that a man whom they saw as an uncircumcised heathen, could steal away their beloved sister was unconscionable. Perhaps Jacob saw only Dinah bat Leah, a girl who would need a marriage. Shekhem is wealthy and devoted. He “loved her and spoke comfortingly to her.” He is willing to pay whatever it takes to marry her. He could suit her well. Shimon and Levi do not see this. Perhaps they see a continuation of the disdain with which their own mother had been treated, both by her family and by Jacob.
The language of the text is in itself confusing. In the words of the text: Shekhem sees her. He takes her. He lies with her, and he humbles her. Dinah’s voice is absent. We have no way of knowing her mind. Rape is a crime of power and control. Was this action beyond her consent? There are those who read a seduction instead. She is dishonoured and humbled in that Shekhem does not seek her father’s permission first. It is not the way of marriage in Jacob’s tribe, but Shekhem does not seem to try to control. His heart clings to her so steadfastly he and his father are not only willing to convert themselves, but to convert their entire people. Is this the act of a rapist? Rabbi Moshe Reiss, a modern commentator, reminds us that Jacob kisses Rachel the first time he sees her, also unacceptable in their society. Maybe Jacob sees beyond the act to the feeling beneath. Furthermore, with a mother who never receives a kind word from her husband, would Dinah not wish to go with a man who does speak kind words of love? The only other description of rape in the Tanakh is the rape of Tamar by Amnon (2Samuel 13:14, 18). Amnon uses force to overpower Tamar. There is hatred. After raping her, he banishes her from the house in her torn clothes.
The story ends here. The Torah has no answer. Jacob is not wrong. The actions of Shimon and Levi were abhorrent. But neither are they wrong. There is no justice. The story ends tragically with permanent damage to the relationship between Jacob & his sons, and Dinah disappears from our narrative. It is unfulfilling and dissatisfactory. It is a story with which we are left to struggle eternally.