Silent Deliberations

We should learn to react with humanity.

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Provided by the Jewish Theological Seminary, a Conservative rabbinical seminary and university of Jewish studies. Reprinted with permission of the Jewish Theological Seminary.

"Too often the strong, silent man is silent only because he does not know what to say, and is reputed strong only because he remains silent." This indictment, spoken by Winston Churchill, initially reminds me of our patriarch Jacob. We read this week one of the most disturbing stories contained in the Genesis narrative--the abduction of Dinah. As our parashah tells us, Dinah was the daughter of Leah and Jacob, sister to Shimon and Levi.When she went out one day to meet the other young women of the land, the local prince, Shekhem, abducted her. Upon hearing the news of this violation, Jacob reacted as we never would have supposed a father would--with silence.

Jacob and Shekhem Make A Deal

Juxtaposed with Jacob's reaction, is the angry response from Dinah's brothers. After abducting her, Shekhem fell in love with Dinah and wished to marry her. When Shekhem came to Jacob to plead his case, the parashah tells us that the brothers answered him, "cunningly, with deceit" (Genesis 34:13). Speaking for their father, they struck a bargain with Shekhem:If he convinced every single male in his land to circumcise themselves, then he could have their captive sister's hand in marriage.

Rabbeinu Bahya, a 13th to 14th century commentator from Spain, stated in his commentary on Vayishlah, that the brothers had no intention of letting Dinah marry this man. They planned, instead, to wait until the third and harshest day of pain after circumcision, when the men of the city would be weakest, and take their sister back from her captivity. This plan, however, morphed into a deadly act of vengeance.

The Revenge of Shimon and Levi

When Shimon and Levi went to release Dinah, something went drastically wrong. The brothers entered the home of Shekhem, and then crumbled into an emotional fury. They displayed a lapse of faith in God, who bestows righteousness and compassion, and in a moment of filial loyalty, stepped over aline that snowballed into wrath, rage and vehemence. They killed each and every male in the city and then turned their swords against Shekhem and finally his father.

Rabbeinu Bahya, continuing his commentary on this parashah,states that Shimon and Levi's rampage was not simply a momentary lapse in judgment; rather, that their actions were premeditated. They justified their revenge by holding the entire town's men responsible for the abduction of Dinah. After all, had they not stood idly by as an injustice was done?

Despite these justifications, we cannot endorse their fit of rage, their emotional disregard for compassion and humanity. We must define their actions as a gross injustice, a crime and an embarrassment. Humanity is our gift from God. Though, sometimes we may forget our humanity and respond with vengeance, but vengeance is an instinctive emotion, not tied to our God given gifts.

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Rabbi Marc Wolf

Rabbi Marc Wolf is assistant vice-chancellor of The Jewish Theological Seminary