Monday, November 18, 2013

a contrarian view of the Dinah story

Rashi in last week’s parsha quotes from Midrash that Rachel’s death during childbirth was a direct result of Ya’akov’s curse that whoever took the terafim of Lavan should die.  Ibn Ezra (31:32) is very critical of this idea.  He points to the fact that we are told early in Sefer Shmuel that the wife of Pinchas, Eli’s daughter-in-law, died in childbirth when the aron was taken by the Plishtim. Ibn Ezra challenges us: if we are going to point to Ya'akov's curse as the cause of Rachel’s death,  whose curse do we point to as the cause of Eli’s daughter-in-law’s death?

Maharal comes to Rashi’s rescue with a yesod in how we look at the Avos/ Imahos.  You can’t compare, writes the Maharal, a story in Nach with a story about the Imahos.  We all do enough wrong things and our lives are so far from the ideal that we should probably wonder why anything goes right for us, not why things go wrong.  Characters in Nach may have lived far more perfect lives than ours, but even they did not reach the level of the Avos and Imahos.  If something bad happened, its a fair assumption that somewhere along the way some wrong was done.  The same assumption cannot be made about the Avos or Imahos.  To the contrary: our baseline assumption, unless we know otherwise, must be that the Avos and Imahos were models of perfection, free from sin. If we read that something tragic happened to Rachel Imeinu, something that deviated from perfection, it demands an explanation.

Maharal echoes the same idea in Parshas VaYishlach.  Rashi tells us that because Ya’akov hid Dinah in a box away from Eisav, he suffered her being abducted by Shechem (why Dinah should suffer because Ya’akov did something wrong is a good question, but not my topic).  The story of Dinah’s abduction demands a reason – it cannot be a capricious event that just “happened” to Ya’akov Avinu because things just don’t “happen” to the Avos by chance or stroke of bad luck.  If there is a deviation from normal life, it means there was an abnormal deviation or flaw of character that caused events to turn out that way.
The Maharal obviously is far to the opposite extreme of the modern trend of trying to humanize the Avos and Imahos and attribute to them human frailties that we all suffer. 

Since I mentioned the episode with Dinah, I want to just discuss one point with respect to her responsibility for what happened.  Rashi comments on “VaTeitzei Dinah bas Leah” (34:1) that Dinah is connected specifically with her mother Leah because Dinah mimicked Leah’s behavior.  Just as Leah ran out to greet Ya’akov, so too, Dinah ran out into the world to see other young ladies.  The lesson some choose to learn from here is that Dinah was guilty of straying outside the home to see what was going on in the outside world – a lack of tzeniyus – and as a result she got what was coming to her.  Many well meaning Moros end the lesson at this point with the charge, “Let that be a lesson to you young ladies!”

I doubt that those teaching this lesson intend to convey that rape or abduction is the fault of the victim, but that does seem to be the subtext of the message.  They would counter that of course the attacker is at fault, but had the victim not been outside, not been dressed in a certain way, not been hanging out in certain places, things might have turned out differently.  I don’t know if that is a good enough answer (see my wife's post here).

In light of the Maharal, something else should be bothering us here.  Dinah’s behavior was, according to Rashi, a reflection of Leah’s behavior.  If Dinah was at fault in going out, then it means that Leah was at fault as well.  Not only are we being critical of one of the Imahos (and Dinah), but we are doing so for behavior which G-d rewarded: as a result of Leah’s going out and showing her desire to be with Ya’akov she was blessed with Yisachar!  Look at the Chasam Sofer’s  reaction: “Chalilah v’chalilah she'yazkir Leah hatzadekes l’genai… Rachmana nitzlan m’hai da’ata!  …Mevu’ar u’mefursam she’haysa yetziya kodesh l’Hashem v’kacha yetzi’as bitah.”  G-d forbid that we should attribute moral failing to the righteous Leah – may G-d protect us from such ideas!  Just as it is obvious and well known that Leah’s going out was for a holy reason, so too was Dinah’s going out.

I won’t hide from you that if you read the rest of the Ch”S he does assign some blame to Dinah.  However, he does not portray her as some wayward child who was looking for an escape – i.e. a modern American teenager.  That’s not how to view the Imahos or Dinah.  One can have the purest intentions l’shem shamayim, as Dinah did, and still err. 

The Lubavitcher Rebbe goes a step further.  As mentioned earlier, Rashi tells us that Dinah’s abduction is a punishment to Ya’akov for his having hid her in a box to protect her from Eisav.  The implication is that he should have allowed Dinah to marry Eisav, as she could have inspired his teshuvah.  We see from here the tremendous power Dinah had to be makareiv others, even an Eisav.  Her going out to see the “bnos ha’aretz” could and should be interpreted as a kiruv mission, similar to the way Sarah and Avraham ran outreach programs.  Rashi draws our attention to the parallel between Dinah and Leah’s behavior not to attribute blame – Rashi already told us that Ya’akov himself, not Dinah, was the one who deserved blame for placing Dinah in a box -- but rather to stress the positive in Dinah’s actions, that just as Leah went out with the purest motives l’shem shamayim for a positive end, so too did her daughter Dinah.
When read in that light, the moral of the story is not never to leave home because of the risks involved or the lack of tzeniyus in doing so, but to the contrary, to utilize one's ability for kiruv and outreach.  The moral failing in the story belongs to Ya'akov for witholding Dinah from Eisav and restricting her ability to make more of a difference in the world.

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