Dvar Torah delivered by Mike Garmise on Shabbat, 17th Kislev 5777, 17th December 2016
One of the bloodiest and cruelest stories of the Torah appears in this week’s parsha. Dina, Yaacov’s only daughter, goes out to find some other female friends (remember, she had 12 brothers). She is espied by Shechem, the son of the prince of the city of that name, he abducts her, rapes her and then falls in love with her and wants to marry her. His father the prince, Hamor, conducts negotiations with Yaacov’s sons because Yaacov just can’t. Hamor offers a tempting proposal. Let Dina marry Shechem, and then all of your daughters can marry our men and our daughters can marry your men, and we will be one big happy family, living together, doing business together. Everyone will benefit.
The two brothers who lead the negotiations are Shimon and Levi, the full brothers of Dina. Well, they say, we have this thing about foreskins. They are abhorrent to us. If all of the males of your city will undergo circumcision, we can accept your proposal. Hamor, who is an honorable man (in this story), convinces his townspeople to undergo circumcision – he explains that they will be able to make a lot of money trading with these Jacobites, in exchange for a little skin.
On the third day after cutting, when all the males are suffering greatly, Shimon and Levi go to town and slaughter Shechem, Hamor, and all the males in the city. They take the livestock and everything else of value as booty. Yaacov is shocked, and fearful that the surrounding Canaanites will kill them. What, Shimon and Levi say with contempt, would you let them make your daughter a whore?
Our politically correct sensibilities today are horrified by this deed. How could they! Why did they! Kill a whole city? Some will say they deserved it, those rotten Canaanites. Others will say Shimon and Levi were out of order. And what about Dina? Perhaps she really loved Shechem. Shouldn’t she at least be asked what she wants?
But arguments about the fit between the crime and the punishment miss the point. From the time of Avraham, this fledgling religion tried to set itself apart from Canaanite culture. Avraham settled in this land, yet he called himself a foreigner living here. He commanded Eliezer to bring Yitzhak a wife from another country. Under no circumstances was Yitzhak to go back there. You need a woman from somewhere else (who does not have a personal support system in the country). Only in this way she can follow the precepts we consider important.
Esau was a dutiful son to Yitzhak in all but one thing. He married Canaanite women, which upset Yitzhak and Rivka. When Rivka thought of Yaacov also marrying a Canaanite, she said, “Why bother living?”
Thus, when Hamor, the father of Shechem, makes this great offer to Yaacov – come, let’s intermarry freely and all of us will thrive – Yaacov can only shudder. So why didn’t he conduct the negotiations with the rapist’s father? His thinking was: I can’t accept it but I can’t fight it. There are too few of us and too many of them. So he left it to his sons, who had no scruples about killing off a city. Yaacov was terribly upset by the resulting massacre, and in his final blessing to Shimon and Levi he lashed out at them in no uncertain terms. But underneath it all, perhaps he was also relieved that he had been taken off the hook about making such a monumental decision.
Rabbi Ari Kahn points out that the sons’ action was a total travesty of the principles practiced by Avraham. You remember that Avraham negotiated to save the city of Sodom, the embodiment of evil, if only ten innocent people could be found in the city. Shimon and Levi destroyed a whole city because of the evil act of one person.
From the snippets of news I read and hear (I told you I can’t take more than five minutes of it), we seem to be sliding, actually freefalling, toward Shimon and Levi at their worst. No, we won’t go out and massacre a whole city, yet. But there are worrisome signs. I am talking more about the legislative actions that are leading us there, proposals that are being directed against ANYONE who thinks differently. Not only Arabs. Jews. Not only secular Jews but traditional Jews.
A bill has been proposed to prevent non-orthodox prayers at the Kotel and six months’ imprisonment for those who dare to pray there. The government is working on legislation to limit what academics can say in class to their students. The Communications Minister is afraid of free press. The Ministry of Education is rewriting history books. They are also making it illegal to invite speakers to school who might present opinions contrary to those approved by the Ministry. The government wants to appoint unqualified politicians instead of professionals to actually run the ministries. I won’t even mention the skirt-measuring debacle at the Knesset.
Ladies and gentlemen, we are fast becoming a state that even banana republics would be ashamed of. The question is why are so few people upset by these developments? Perhaps they’re afraid to speak out. And if they agree with the government, don’t they realize it’s only a matter of time until the next stage is reached? Think Turkey.
Yaacov’s sons did what they felt they had to do, under the circumstances. Yaacov himself never came to terms with it. He was Yaacov, Yisrael, and he had principles that guided him, even if they occasionally led to small-scale conflict.
Please understand, we can support a right wing government and its general policies. This isn’t about Amona and Arabs and one or two states. This is about us, our homes and our lives. About the principles we thought were the bedrock of our country. If we hold our principles dear, the time has come to fear for them, or one day soon, when we find the legislative guns pointed at our heads whether we are right, left or anywhere, there won’t be anyone else to stand up for or with us. Shimon and Levi will have gotten their revenge and defeated Yaacov.