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

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. Continue reading

The Originalist

The Originalist

Today Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was memorialized in an elaborate funeral mass in Washington, D.C.  Having watched the majority of the event on television, including the sermon, I was struck by the Catholic Priest’s statements concerning the Justice’s eternal soul:  “He was not yet perfected, but we will join with his family in continuing to pray for his soul that he will be perfected, since we know that no one ascends to heaven unless they have been made perfect.”

Huh?  What did he say?

This was a seminal moment for me, in context, and illustrates a stark contrast between the teachings of the Catholic Church and the Protestant Church.  “Sola Gratia”, meaning: by grace alone, is one of the five core tenets of the Reformation.  Yet, when you survey Catholic doctrine, you learn that the Catholic Church also teaches salvation by grace, just as the Reformers do.  Contrary to what one may surmise from the words of the priest at Mr. Scalia’s funeral, the Catholic Church does not teach that one “deserves” eternal life through “earning” it.  However, they do teach that the grace of God is imparted in “stages”, resulting ultimately in the perfection of the individual, even if that person’s soul must spend time in purgation before this occurs. Continue reading