Parsha Vayishlach: Who’s In the Kitchen with Dinah?

“They killed Hamor and his son Shechem with the edge of the sword, and took Dinah from Shechem’s house, and went forth.” (Gen.34:26)

A tragic story of abuse, misplaced affection and revenge explodes onto the scene before us in this portion of scripture.

Dinah, the only named and chronicled daughter of Jacob in the Torah, “went forth” to see “the daughters of the land” (Gen.34:1). Was she looking for trouble? Did she invite the unwarranted advance of Shechem, through her alluring and seductive behavior?

Hardly, according to the sages. Rashi compares Dinah to her mother Leah in this respect, suggesting that her “going out” was of noble intent, with the intended purpose of friendly relations; to make a positive, peaceful connection with others. He refers to her as an “outgoer”. In today’s vernacular, we would call her “social”, and “outgoing”. We would even say she was “self-confident”.

The results of her journey to “see the daughters of the land” were not what she expected. She catches the eye of a young, local prince, who forces her to lay with him.

What follows is a drama of nearly mythical proportions. Hamor makes (what would appear to be) a respectful, sincere plea for Dinah’s hand in marriage to his son, claiming that Shechem truly loves the girl and wishes to marry her, and in like manner suggests a union of his people with Jacob and the rest of his clan.

Sure, the circumstances of the relationship between Dinah and Shechem may not be ideal, he implies, but after all, all is fair in love and war, and if can all come to some mutual agreement, everyone wins. You (Jacob’s family) will have access to their women, and they (Hamor’s clan) will have access to Jacob’s wealth. The question at this point, the text seems to suggest (at least from Hamor’s perspective) is the consent of Dinah and her family.

But the sages don’t view Hamor’s proposition favorably. According to them, she was both lied to, and forced physically to consent, and then mentally/emotionally tortured by Shechem. Far from viewing the young man as being an over-zealous suitor, he is viewed the same way that Levi and Simeon view him: as a violator.

What Shechem did, regardless of his feelings for Dinah, was rape. It was abuse.

There are two streams of thought that I will explore here, in regards to this.

First, the concept of Dinah’s dignity and reputation are a chief focus of the passage. The brothers are as incensed at the violation of family honor, as they are about the feelings of Dinah. What if Dinah really did have an emotional attachment to the young man? Would that be relevant? The answer is no. In the role of advocate and protector, her brothers wanted justice against a man who violated and defiled their sister.

Did Simeon and Levi have the right to take this revenge? The Torah suggests a strong no, they didn’t. At the end of Jacob’s life, when he is giving his prophetic blessings over his sons, he does not recount this event favorably:

“Simeon and Levi are brothers; their swords are implements of violence. Let my soul not enter into their council; let not my glory be united with my assembly; because in their anger they slew men…” (Gen.49:5-6)

However, make no mistake, what Shechem did was rape and abuse.

In the midst of our culture’s sudden awareness of sexual harassment issues, let’s not allow ourselves who are trying to follow Torah to politicize the issue. Women are humiliated when they experience sexual exploitation. Rape is merely the final, destructive step of the exploitation that has already begun beforehand. As religious people in our culture, we need to educate our young men, not in order to guard themselves against accusation, but to treat the opposite sex with such dignity and deference that they enhance and elevate the dignity and self-worth of women. The ethic must go beyond “avoiding accusation”, and must transcend the boundaries of what’s necessary and “go beyond the letter of the law”.

Showing respect and honor to women is a lost art in our culture. A woman, like Dinah, who innocently “goes out to meet the daughters of the land” should have confidence that the men of the culture will protect her and she should not fear what may happen to her.

Sadly, this is not the case. So, when a woman has been violated, or claims to have been so, the correct response is never to cast doubt upon her character or to suggest that “she must have done something to bring this upon herself”. While there may indeed be instances where this is the case, the Torah ethic is that the men are responsible for her safety, and if she has been violated, it is not her fault.

But this leads to a second, far more subtle line of thought. And the second point I wish to make…

What happened to Dinah afterwards? One legend in the Talmud suggests an interesting proposition, and one which has significant implications to Jewish/Gentile relations, and the “violations” inherent with Jewish assimilation and also with Gentile conversion and the gospel of the apostles.

It is definitely worth noting that Simeon and Levi required the men of Hamor’s clan to become circumcized in order to be accepted by Jacob’s family and to have the hand of Dinah. Their sister is a prize that Shechem wants. To gain the prize, they must become like Jacob’s family, and be circumcized, according to the terms proposed by Dinah’s brothers.

However, what Shechem’s family doesn’t know is that even if they do this thing, they will still not be accepted, but judged. This is because they have already violated the terms of the family by violating their sister. So, it’s a ruse. A ruse that is in response to a deception that has already been perpetrated upon their sister, according to the view of Dinah’s brothers.

Circumcision is a rite of passage for conversion to Judaism. But the act of becoming circumcized does not, in itself, mean anything unless there has also been an inner transformation of the heart and an acceptance of the “yoke of the Torah”. Paul speaks of this in Romans:

“For all who have sinned without the Law (as non-Jews), and all who have sinned under the Law (as Jews) will be judged by the Law; for it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified. For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law unto themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts….” (Rom.2:12-15)

The current craze within the Messianic movement to pretend to be Jewish, even going so far as to claim Jewish identity, though one is not legally Jewish, does not usually have the intended effect upon the brothers of the Master. Many believe, further, that by simply observing some Jewish practices and learning some Hebrew that they are ingratiating themselves with the Jewish people. Yet, if the intent behind doing so is to impress the Jewish people into reevaluating Jesus, the end result is usually the opposite of what is hoped for. Rather than opening a path which bridges the gap between faith in Yeshua and the normative Jewish world, it actually creates animosity and breaks down trust.

Much like the reaction of Dinah’s brothers, the seemingly disingenuous attempt to “convert” Jews to the Christian faith is overshadowed by the horrendous violations of the community which have happened to the Jewish people on the part of Christianity through history, and continue to happen in the theological expressions evident even after folks have taken on Torah practice. Issues such as the Church’s teachings on salvation, its view of Rabbinic teachings and tradition, church dogmas such as Trinity, and so forth, are often not addressed, even while these same people claim to be “Torah observant”. This is not often taken into account by those who seek to draw near.

More importantly, the heart of following Torah is not wearing Hasidic dress, following Rabbinic ordinances or speaking Biblical Hebrew. It is the ethics, morals and worldview which matter, not the outward “trappings”.

Further, the real mystery to the whole affair is that “acting Jewish” or “pretending to be Jewish” is an entirely unnecessary practice for one to merit the World to Come, since there is already, within Torah and Oral Law, a path for righteous Gentiles to accomplish this. This is not only taught by the apostles of Yeshua (see Acts 15 and the epistles of Paul), it is also taught within the Jewish oral tradition. A passage in the Talmud which is related to our Torah portion illustrates this.

“Some say that Job lived in the days of Jacob and that he married Dinah, the daughter of Jacob.” (Bava Batra 15b, Koren Steinsaltz edition)

The passage in the Talmud goes on to compare the beauty of Job’s daughters with the licentious behavior of the people of the land in Jacob’s and Job’s day. It portrays Job as a righteous man and explains the debate among the sages as to whether Job was Jewish or Gentile. This dispute was present because Job is presented in the Bible as having achieved righteous status before God, because of his piety and his faith. The question of the righteousness of Gentiles before God is always fascinating in Jewish thought, because it is at one and the same time acknowledging that righteous people exist outside of Israel, while also seeking to validate an ethnocentric Jewish view of righteousness. This discussion in the Talmud perfectly illustrates this tension.

The discussion goes on to compare Job with Abraham, and equates Job’s faith to that of a Gentile version of Abraham’s faith before God.

“And the Lord said to the Satan: Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on earth, a perfect and an upright man, one who fears God and turns away from evil?” (Job1:8). About this Rabbi Yochanan says: That which is stated about Job is greater than that which is stated about Abraham. As with regard to Abraham it is written: “For now I know that you fear God” (Gen.22:12), with regard to Job it is written: “A perfect and an upright man, one who fears God and turns away from evil” (Job 1:8). …The verses relate what then occurred: “Now there was a day when his sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their eldest brother’s house, and there came a messenger to Job, and said: The oxen were plowing, and the asses were feeding beside them” (Job 1:13-14). The Gemara asks: What is meant by (this verse)? Rabbi Yochanan says: This teaches that the Holy One, Blessed be He, gave Job a taste of the World to Come, when plowing and harvesting will take place at the same time.” (IBID)

Consider this explanation from biblical scholar, Dr. Craig Keener, on this subject:

“When we speak of the gospel of the kingdom, or the good news of God’s reign, it helps us to think about what early believers, for whom the Bible was the Septuagint — the Greek translation of the Old Testament — would have thought of. In Isaiah 52, God announces that he’s going to restore his people, and he says, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who bring glad tidings, saying to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!'” And it’s said to be good new of peace… So it’s good news of God’s peace, it’s good news of God’s reign, it’s good news that God is saving his people, that God is acting on behalf of his people to bring in righteousness and justice in the world. And there is a consummation that we look forward to with that. But we understand that a bit differently than many of Jesus’ contemporaries did, because we also know that the kingdom comes in two stages, because the King who is yet to come and consummate his kingdom has already come; the Messiah has already come. The firstfruits of the resurrection, that we anticipate in the future, the firstfruits have already happened. So, because Jesus has already come, the kingdom is “already, not yet,” and we already have a foretaste of God’s activity in the world. In fact, the signs and the wonders that Jesus was doing. There’s coming a day when there’s going to be no more sorrow, there’s going to be no more pain, God’s going to heal everything, but, already, when Jesus came the first time, he gave us a sample of that, a foretaste as he was healing people and doing his marvelous works. They were a foretaste of something that we’ll experience more fully in the kingdom in its fullness.”  http://thirdmill.org/answers/answer.asp/file/43200

This evaluation by the Talmud upon Job is based upon the righteousness of Job, as we find in the text of Job itself:

“And he said: I came naked out of my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord. In all this Job sinned not, nor did he lay reproach on God” (Job 1:16-22)

Unlike Shechem and his family, Job’s devotion to God was genuine, and stood the test of affliction. It was not based on a sudden inflamed passion or impulse. Job’s righteousness came from a life of proven devotion, not a rash decision to undergo circumcision in order to gain the favor of the Jewish people.

Shechem was willing to undergo the rite, but only because he sought to gain something that he otherwise could not have, according to the stated terms of the brothers. According to Paul and the Jerusalem Council, there is no benefit for a Gentile to pursue conversion to Judaism in order to “gain benefit.” For all of the benefit they needed is already achieved by obtaining Christ himself.

Torah is an inner work, and a life-choice that a Gentile can achieve, in status, by pursuing righteousness, and not be seeking Jewish identity.

That is the point of the Jerusalem Council at its heart: A Gentile who forsakes idolatry and immorality because of their genuine devotion to the One True God is as righteous as an observant Jew.

The Talmud illustrates this truth by connecting Job to the story of Dinah in the Torah. Interestingly, in Jewish legend, Levi is considered to be 13 years old at the time of this story. It is based on this story, no less, that the official time of Bar Mitzvah is established. Why, one asks? Because Levi needed to make an adult moral choice concerning how he would respond to this family crises.

Ironically, even while this event illustrates the type of adult choices that mark the passage from childhood to adult responsibility, it also illustrates what’s wrong with the current Jewish attitude towards the righteous of the nations.

Perhaps no subject is more controversial in messianic or Jewish circles today than the question of ‘Who is a Jew?’  It is highly debated, both within and without the Jewish world. The question is front-loaded with theological freight and back-loaded with a variety of sensitive and touchy considerations.

Needless to say, at this late moment in this commentary, I cannot address that topic, nor, may I add, am I qualified to do so in any case. Yet, it strikes me that the irony of this issue in relation to this parsha is too rich to ignore entirely.

It is necessary to acknowledge the righteous of the nations as inheritors of the World to Come.

If there is ever to be healing between the Christian and Jewish world, than certainly it will be important to address and fix the Replacement Theology which has severely violated and “raped” the Jewish people of her dignity through the centuries. It has caused great pain, and this pain must be first acknowledged, and then dealt with head-on, before sincere dialogue can be engaged in.

However, in like manner, for the Jewish world to circle the proverbial “wagons” against the Christian church, who, for all of Her shortcomings still represents the righteous Gentiles who have turned from idolatry, is unwise and not condoned by God.

Like Simeon and Levi before them, the Jewish people must stop throwing “the baby out with the bathwater”, and be willing to follow the example of Dinah, who in confident, innocent fashion, was willing to “go out” and establish relationship with the “daughters of the land”. Even though history would suggest otherwise, it is not okay to assume the worst and to draw swords against the Messianic Jewish movement, specifically, or against the Church in general.

As we have seen in the Torah itself, this approach results in rebuke and a loss of blessing.

Rather, what is more prudent is to seek out the righteous of the land, and embrace them, and not allow the evil inclination to win the day.

Shalom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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