VaYishlah 5777 December 17, 2016

D'var Torah

The reunion of Jacob and Esav is an artfully crafted drama in which the reader is carried from the suspenseful anticipation of war through the surrealistic struggle between angel and man to the fearful embrace of long separated brothers.  It hardly seems appropriate to follow the narrative’s uplifting denouement with the regrettable tale of the seduction of Dinah and her father’s angst over the entire affair and its bloody consequence.  Yet that is precisely the order of the Torah text.  How might this be explained?

The medieval commentators do not address the issue at all but the Midrash suggests two possibilities.  According to Rabbi Yehudah bar Simon (Bereshit Rabbah 80:4), Jacob was guilty of excessive confidence – especially after his successes against Laban, the angel, and his brother Esav.  He believed that there was no problem he could not overcome.  Thus the story of Dinah follows to warn that not even a man of Jacob’s competence is inure from the problems of parenthood.

Alternatively, the Midrash imagines God castigating Jacob for even thinking that his beautiful daughter might be abuse by his wayward brother.  Since Jacob wrongly thought the worst of his brother and feared the worst for his daughter, his punishment was her seduction by a pagan.  Hence the story of Dinah follows after the reunion with Esav.

While not addressing the textual issue, the noted philosopher George Santayana provides an interesting insight.  He writes: “Skepticism, like chastity, should not be relinquished too readily.”  Santayana wants to say that maintaining our doubts is neither bad policy nor bad judgment.  It is through our doubts that we are led to truth.  Once we lose our doubts, it is like the loss of chastity: a condition from which we can never recover.

Accordingly, the Torah vividly contrasts the skepticism of Jacob who remained unsure of his brother’s motives (and therefore refused to accompany him to Edom) with the chastity of Dinah that was lost too readily to a man who “spoke to her heart” (Genesis 34:3).  The message, therefore, is keep hold of your doubts and keep hold of your chastity for both are crucial for leading a religious life.


Words to Live By

What lies behind you and what lies ahead of you pales in comparison to what lies inside you.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

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