The Power to Transform

Double Mitzvah Jewrotica Parsha

Written by Sender Rozesz. Sender Rozesz is a practicing attorney with a background in Jewish pluralistic education for adults. The views reflected in his columns represent his own personal views, and are not intended to reflect the views of any organizations, institutes or associations with whom he may be affiliated. For more Double Mitzvahs by Sender Rozesz, check out A Woman’s Vow, Sexual Motive, Choose Your Own Spouse, The Post-Honeymoon Journey, A Wise and Understanding People, The Blessing of Fertility, Abominations, Coitus Interruptus, Sexual Struggles,The Unspeakable Language of Passion, Cut vs. Uncut, The Silence of Bitterness, Sex and the Holiest Day of the Year, Shifting Beds and Sex in the Sukkah,Sex…In the Beginning, A Sexual Reboot, She’s My Beautiful Sister,Kosher Incest?, How They Met, Male-Female Intercourse, and The First Kiss.

Rated PG-13

There is a Midrash that states that each of the twelve tribes was born with a twin sister. If they were, those sisters are not mentioned anywhere in actual text of the Torah; they existed solely in the shadows of Midrashic interpretation. The tribes did have at least one sister, however. The first girl whose birth is recorded in the Torah – for her own sake, not simply to provide context for some other story or event (such as the news that Abraham received regarding Rebecca’s birth) – is Dinah.

“And afterwards, she bore a daughter, and she named her Dinah.” Genesis, 30:21. And what a fascinating woman she turned out to be! Leah’s seventh and final child, Dinah was, for all intents and purposes, the only girl in the family, and her character haunts this weeks Torah portion, Vayishlach.

As Jacob prepared to finally meet his brother Esau after having been away for 20 years, uncertain of how this encounter would go, “he arose during that night, and he took his two wives and his two maidservants and his eleven children, and he crossed the ford of [the] Jabbok.” Genesis, 32:23.

“Eleven?” Rashi asks.”Where was Dinah, his twelfth child?” Rashi concludes: “He put her into a chest and locked her in, so that Esau should not set eyes on her. Therefore, Jacob was punished for withholding her from his brother- [because had he married her,] perhaps she would cause him to improve his ways-and she fell into the hands of Shechem.” So Jacob traveled with his four wives, eleven sons, and one box, in which he kept his only daughter.

How old was she? The texts of Chapter 30 of Genesis, would seem to place that Dinah’s age at about seven years old (recall that, at least in biblical times, seven was considered to be the age of great beauty, as the Midrash says regarding Sarah: “when she was twenty, she was like a seven-year-old as regards to beauty”).

Jacob was punished, however, for concealing Dinah from Esau.

Being married to Esau was a scary prospect. Dina’s own mother, Leah, cried bitterly when she thought that she would end up being Esau’s wife, while her younger sister, Rachel, married Jacob. That’s one the explanations for why her eyes are described as being “weak.” See Rashi, Genesis, 29:17. Indeed, she was willing to trick her husband into marrying her and her sister just to avoid that fate. Rachel, too, was at one point fearful that she might end up as Esau’s bride due to her barrenness, and was relieved when she finally gave birth to Joseph, knowing that now her marriage to Jacob was secure. See Rashi, Genesis, 30:23. Neither Leah nor Rachel, however, were criticized for seeking to avoid a life with Esau.

Dinah was different, though. Apparently, Dinah’s power was such that she had the potential to be an overwhelmingly positive influence on Esau. Thus, exposing her to Esau would have created an opportunity that Jacob should not have passed up. (You may recall from a couple of weeks ago that Rebecca orchestrated Jacob’s receipt of Isaac’s blessing because she understood that it would be necessary for Jacob to refine Esau, in order to unlock Esau’s true potential.)

There seems to have been no doubt in any one’s mind that Dinah’s beauty would catch Esau’s eye. The question was only whether her beauty was an asset or a liability. To Jacob (as, I imagine, to any father), her beauty would put her in harm’s way, and attractive the interest of a hateful ruffian. To G-d, however, Dinah’s beauty was merely the pretty wrapping covering her much more significant assets. We may never know whether Jacob’s mistake was that he underestimated Esau’s depth and potential for refinement, or that he underestimated his daughter’s charisma.

Jacob stops on the outskirts of Shechem on his way home, “Dinah, the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to look about among the daughters of the land.” Genesis, 34:1. On this verse, Rashi comments: “‘The daughter of Leah’? And not the daughter of Jacob? However, because of her ‘going out’ she was called the daughter of Leah, since (Leah) too was in the habit of going out, as it is said: ‘and Leah went out toward him’ (And concerning her, they devise the proverb ‘Like mother like daughter.’)

Hmmm. Leah “went out toward him” to let Jacob know that he was hers for the night; that she had purchased a night of intimacy with him from Rachel in exchange for her flowers. Yet Dinah was not going out seeking a sexual liaison; in fact, the Torah clearly states her purpose: “to look about among the daughters of the land.” So what is the similarity between their “goings out”? Leah is largely applauded – and was rewarded – for her enthusiasm in seeking Jacob’s bed. Indeed, her “going out” is seen as a way to head off any awkwardness or discomfort that Jacob might otherwise have experienced had he initially showed up to Rachel’s tent and then been turned away. So Leah’s “going out” is seen as the exercise of initiative, enthusiasm, and an indication of her proactive compassion.

Dinah, too, “went out”. Restless (and fresh out of a box), the only sister to eleven brothers, she sought to wield her own considerable powers for good, by engaging the other girls in the area. In this, she was like her mother: outgoing, compassionate, and with a strong desire for goodness.
Then tragedy hits.

And Shechem the son of Hamor, the Hivvite, the prince of the land, saw her, and he took her, lay with her, and violated her. And his soul cleaved to Dinah the daughter of Jacob; he loved the girl and spoke to the girl’s heart. And Shechem spoke to his father Hamor saying, “Take this girl for me as a wife.”
Genesis, 34:2-4.

What Dinah went through is horrible beyond words, and had both immediate and far-reaching consequences for her entire family. It seems to have destroyed Jacob; once he hears of Dinah’s rape, we no longer find him taking initiative as the patriarch of the family. That role appears to be shift to his young and zealous sons. Dinah’s brother’s Simeon and Levi would forever be marked by their reaction to Dinah’s rape: the killing and plunder of all of Shechem. And we don’t hear from Dinah again (other than that she accompanied her family to Egypt in Genesis, 46:15).

However, even from her nightmare of an experience, we can see Dinah’s power.

Initially, Shechem “saw her, took her, lay with her, and violated her.” The rapist saw her physical beauty, and exploited it. This is something that he was likely accustomed to, as the male prince of a heathen and immoral culture. He saw women as instruments for his own gratification, used them, abused them and discarded them. Indeed, Rashi explains that the additional words “and he violated her” means that he sodomized her, without regard to her pain.

But in the midst of his unforgivable vileness, he met Dinah. Not just the pretty wrapping, but the real Dinah – the Dinah that might have transformed Esau. And she transformed him. Suddenly, “his soul cleaved to Dinah…he loved the girl and spoke to the girl’s heart.” This was not typical for the rapist. One does not go from seeing women as mere objects of pleasure to seeking a deep emotional connection. Suddenly, he finds respect for Dinah; he asks his father to formally seek her hand in marriage, offering to pay whatever dowry might be demanded. Shechem was no Esau; he didn’t have the holy heritage and mission of Abraham’s family. He didn’t have the deep well of spiritual potential that Esau had. Whatever discomfort may have been felt when Simeon and Levi killed the ordinary citizens of Shechem, there are no such reservations regarding the fate of Shechem himself. He got what he deserved.

Yet even he was fundamentally changed by Dinah; by the first woman to “go out” – “out” beyond her family, beyond her tent, beyond her home. “Out” to change the world. Is there a more destructive and traumatic experience than to be sexually raped, physically violated? Yet even while in the throes of her most vulnerable and raw moment, Dinah demonstrated her transformative power; a power that has become the heritage of every Jewish woman.