His brothers went to pasture their father’s flock in Shechem.
In retrospect, choosing a different destination would have been a good idea.
Just as tragic events seem to cluster around special calendar dates (e.g.
Tisha B’Av), they also come back to visit certain places. Perhaps G-d
operates this way so that this regularity helps us discern the Hand of
Providence in those events. When HKBH arranges that unhappy occurrences take
place at special locations and times, He helps us focus on His role – and
therefore on the message He wishes to convey to us.
Shechem is one of those places. It is not a happy place in our memory,
but one fraught with difficulty. Here it was that Dinah was abducted;
here the brothers sold Yosef into servitude; here Rechovom would tear a
united Jewish monarchy in two.
Seen from Hashem’s perspective, bringing all the actors together at Shechem
increases the poignancy of the drama that would unfold there. At the same
time, we can detect a different theme that unites several important episodes
that happened in Shechem, and that associate it with a positive value.
Shechem may have been the place to which Dina was abducted and violated, but
it was also the place that Yaakov’s family first stood together against a
threat to one of them – a threat, moreover, to their fledgling efforts to
teach the world to substitute purity for barbarism. We can and should
admire the determination of Shimon and Levi to take risks to protect the
honor of one of their kin, even while we keep in mind Yaakov’s criticism of
them for the way they went about their rescue effort.
When the rest of the brothers gathered now in Shechem, their purpose was
similar. If they banded together to assist a single member of the family in
crisis, all the more so should they unite to ward off a threat to the honor
and independence of all of them! In their minds, the dreams that Yosef
freely shared with them spoke of arrogance and megalomania. They believed
that they had to unite to stop him.
Human freedom had, as of late, become an evanescent commodity. Not too long
ago, it seemed, Nimrod had invented the notion of kingship, which meant
subjugating others to his will. So many of the cousins of the shevatim were
living their lives under the thumb of the alufim and kings of Esav’s
extended clan. Under the rule of tyrannical despots, individuals had become
expendable bricks in an edifice to glorify the name of dynasties.
Avraham’s campaign to recognize the One G-d took place against the backdrop
of the declining value of the individual. Commitment to the G-d of Avraham
meant not only a different way of serving the Deity, but a different way of
looking at Man, created in His image. Emunah in Hashem brought with it an
appreciation of the nobility of Man, and a conception of human society
predicated upon freedom and equality.
Yosef’s dreams, his seeming pretentiousness, struck them as dangerously in
the spirit of the usurpation of power they observed around them. Not only
were their personal liberties at risk, but the message and mission of the
Abrahamic family was jeopardized. What could be done?
The brothers somehow came to Shechem, where they had participated in a great
act of fraternity in protecting the honor of their family. The very location
offered them encouragement to find some way to thwart what they saw as grave
and mortal danger.
Ironically, their determination to hold on to their freedoms, albeit
misplaced in regard to Yosef’s intentions, seems to have charted a path for
their descendents. Hundreds of years later, those descendents gathered
together in an attempt to protect their liberties. They sought to impose
conditions upon Rechavam, who wished to rule over them.
Once again, the place they chose for this meeting was Shechem!
1. Based on the Hirsch Chumash, Bereishis 37:12
2. Sanhedrin 102A
3. Bereishis 34:2
4. Divrei HaYomim 2 10:1