By Rabbi Aron Tendler
The Passions OF Youth
"The student motivated by the desire to know the truth, and act on the truth,
is fearless in the face of challenge or criticism."
The story of Dina, Shechem, Shimon and Levi has been the source of
enormous controversy and Lashon Harah. Biblical critics use this episode in
the lives of the Shevatim - tribes to depict the brothers as rash, vindictive,
and barbaric. Their conspiratorial nature in planning and executing the plot
against the city of Shechem, and eventually Yoseph, is used as further proof
of the Shevatim's less than noble characters. Their massacre of the entire
city, rather than just punishing Shechem who had perpetrated the crime against
Dina, revealed the brothers' lack of judicial process and moral stature.
(Yakov's criticism of his sons following the massacre and at the time of his
final blessings, (Parshas VaYichi) is presented as proof that Yakov agreed
with the Biblical critics. However, the truth about the brothers, their
actions, and Yakov's criticism is a whole different story.
This week's Parsha begins in the year 2205. Yakov was 97, Reuven -13,
Shimon - 12, Levi - 11, and Yoseph and Dina - 6. The story of Dina's abduction
and Shechem's punishment took place the following year. Following the massacre
of Shechem, Yakov criticized his sons for endangering both the safety and
moral standing of the family.
Without question, Shimon and Levi were wrong for doing what they had done.
However, why they were wrong had nothing to do with their lack of judicious
acumen. Yakov criticized them for not conferring with him and challenging
their own feelings, before acting on them.
The system of Halacha is founded on the student - teacher relationship.
Our responsibility is to do our best to ascertain G-d's will in any given
situation. Some cases are addressed directly in Halacha, and many others
require the thoughtful and scholarly analysis of the Talmid Chacham, Posek,
The student motivated by the desire to know the truth and to act on the
truth is fearless in the face of challenge or criticism. In fact, he welcomes
it! Shimon and Levi failed themselves and their family when they did not first
confer with Yakov. They should have presented their pain, passion and plan to
the truth of Yakov's scrutiny and comment. Yakov, who is described as the
paragon of truth, would have taught his sons what to do with their outrage. He
would have shared with them the benefit of his wisdom and encompassing far
sightedness. Remember that Yakov was the master strategist who had bested the
likes of Lavan and Eisav. Without doubt, he would have known what to do with
Shechem. He would have known the best way to confront the absence of moral
conscience that characterized the city and society of Shechem. Yakov would
have taught the city of Shechem to accept responsibility for their complicity
in the crime against Dina.
Yakov's criticism of Shimon and Levi was directed at their immature and
limited response to an otherwise complex ad potentially dangerous situation.
Even after Yakov explained the long range and immediate consequences of their
actions, they responded with the simplistic self-centerdness of their
immaturity and passion. "What else could we have done? Are we to allow our
sister to be treated as a harlot? (34:31)
Yakov's blessing to Shimon and Levi as he lay on his deathbed was intended
as directive, not just critical. Shimon and Levi had displayed enormous
devotion and courage in defending the honor of the family, even if it was
misguided. Yakov's "blessing" of Shimon and Levi was intended to direct that
same devotion and courage into constructive channels. As the Pasuk says, "Into
their conspiracy I will not enter, with their congregation I will not join."
(49:6) Because they did not first seek Yakov's advice and direction, he would
not have anything to do with their actions. However, if Yakov's teachings and
truth would direct their passion and strength, they would be indispensable to
the nation's survival.
Copyright © 1998 by Rabbi Aron Tendler
and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation,
Valley Village, CA.