Thursday, November 30, 2017

Dinah in the box

1) Last week we discussed why Ya'akov is blamed for sticking Dinah in a box to keep her away from Eisav while Leah gets credit for not wanting to marry Eisav.  Isn't that a double-standard?  Indeed it is, answers the Darkei Mussar -- G-d judges each of us by the yardstick appropriate to our own abilities.

Still, it's hard to understand what the expectation was for Ya'akov and Dinah.  My wife pointed out that Eisav was at this point an old man well over 90 with multiple wives.  Dinah was just a little girl.  Would she really be able to influence him to do teshuvah?  Was it fair to Dinah to put her in that situation and risk her exposure to Eisav?  (My wife knows that I read the Midrash as just using the text as a springboard to teach us a didactic lesson.  Whether the details like age fit exactly is not so important, as the point is the moral we are supposed to draw.) 

R' Shach and R' Shteinman both suggest that the Midrash does not mean that Ya'akov should have given Dinah to Eisav as a wife.  To the contrary -- Ya'akov did the right thing in keeping Dinah away.  What Ya'akov is being taken to task for -- and I don't know a better way to put this -- is for not giving a krechtz when he did it.  In other words, the fact that Ya'akov had a mitzvah to protect Dinah from Eisav given who Eisav was should not have prevented Ya'akov from feeling pain at what he had to do and at least pausing a moment to deliberate over it.  There should have at least been a moment when Ya'akov had a shikul ha'da'as about the situation.

This is a tremendous vort.  It's not enough to do the right thing -- you also need to know what attitude you have to have while doing it. 

2) The gemara in Chulin has a machlokes R' Yehudah and Chachamim whether the isur of eating gid ha'nasheh applied to Ya'akov's children or whether it became obligatory on Klal Yisrael only after mattan Torah.  The Rambam in Peirush haMishnayos sets down a general rule: we are not bound by the mitzvah of milah because Avraham did it; we are not bound by the issur of gid ha'nasheh because Ya'akov was told not to eat it.  The parshiyos that tell us about these mitzvos and issurim give us historical background, but the only reason we are bound to keep mitzvos is because they were given to us by G-d at Sinai.

Sounds simple, but it actually seems to fly in the face of a gemara.  The gemara (Horiyos 8b) has a hava amina that the first commandment given to Klal Yisrael is the isur avodah zarah, as that was the first of the dibros we heard at mattan Torah.  The gemara challenges and rejects this hava amina, as we know that there were 10 halachos already given pre-mattan Torah at Marah: 7 mitzvos bnei Noach + dinim, Shabbos, and kibud av.   We had a bunch of commandments that we heard before the isur avodah zarah. 

According to the Rambam, the gemara's question makes no sense.  What we were told at Marah should be no more binding than what Ya'akov was told about gid ha'nasheh or what Avraham was told about milah.  Those instructions don't become "mitzvos" until repeated at mattan Torah.  The first commandment given to Klal Yisrael should indeed have been the isur avodah zarah, as that was the first thing we heard at Sinai!  

I should save this for Parshas Beshalach, but b'kitzur, we see from here that Marah is not just another set of pre-mattan Torah laws like milah, or like gid ha'nasheh -- Marah is actually the start of mattan Torah.  

Bli neder maybe we will come back to this in Parshas Beshalach.  See the Masa'as haMelech of R' Shimon Moshe Diskin on the Rambam.

3) Rashi in our parsha famously quotes (33:4) "halacha b'yadu'a she'Eisav sonei Ya'akov."  Ksav Sofer asks what the "yadu'a" means here -- how do we know it?  It has to be telling us something beyond that it is a "halacha," as that's what the previous word says.

When Rivka sent Ya'akov away to Lavan's house, she told him, "V'yashavta imo yamim achadim ad asher tashuv chamas achicha."  (27:44)  The very next pasuk continues with what seems like a repetition: "Ad shuv af achicha mimcha..."  Ksav Sofer and others explain that there is a actually a big difference between the two phrases.  "Tashuv chamas achicha" means Eisav will no longer be angry.  "Shuv af achicha MIMCHA" means you will no longer be angry at Eisav.  How others feel about us is often a reflection of how we feel about them.  Rivka was hinting to Ya'akov that the best way to stop Eisav from feeling anger and resentment is for Ya'akov to get rid of his own negative feelings toward Eisav.  

Our Rashi can be interpreted in the same light.  "B'yadu'a" means we know it to be true because we can feel it.  Our feelings toward Eisav are to some degree a reflection of Eisav's feelings toward us.  We only need to look inside ourselves, to our own feelings toward Eisav, to have some idea of what Eisav's feelings toward us is.

(That is not an excuse for feeling hatred for Eisav because as Rivka said, the change can start with us and then spread to Eisav.)


  1. applying 3) to 1), we can infer that Eisav would have given a krechtz before (mis)treating Dinah like his other wives; if the hairbrained one would not have hesitated, Ya'akov would not be "taken to task"

    2) mitzvah mi'Sinai? pasuk 32:33 reads as if gid ha'nasheh was a minhag that eventually became binding (reads like a biblical source, a precedent, for that very transition)

  2. Remember this?

  3. #1- Yes that is a famous comment on the midrash, but my issue has always been: how we do know something like this, that he did not feel bad when "closing the box"? It's a supposition on top of a supposition/Midrash going off of a unclear diyuk in the words - ? It seems like a stretch for me ...