This week we continue the story of Joseph and his brothers and we read the following verse about Jacob’s lineage: “These are the sons of Leah to whom she gave birth with Jacob in Paddan Aram together with his daughter Dinah.” (Genesis 46:15) We are taught that there is no extraneous language in the Torah and that every word is chosen precisely to convey an intended meaning or meanings. Rabbi Shira Stern draws attention to the wording of this passage and notes that Dinah, Jacob’s daughter, is described here as bat Ya’akov, the daughter of Jacob, but earlier in the Torah she is referred to as bat Leah, the daughter of Leah. This leads Rabbi Stern to ask why? What has changed that Dinah is now the daughter of Jacob and not of Leah. She provides this answer.
In between the two descriptions, Dinah is raped. Her attacker, Shechem, then seeks to marry her and approaches Jacob and his sons for her hand in marriage. The sons trick Shechem and murder all the men in his community as revenge, not for Dinah’s rape, not for the pain and torment she has suffered but because he made a “mockery of Israel” (Gen 34:7) They did not feel compassion for their sister but rather they were concerned about their own reputation. Rabbi Stern suggests that Leah, Dinah’s mother, was similarly unresponsive to her daughter’s pain and suffering and instead angry with her for what happened and she turns away. The only one who did not chastise Dinah, who stood with her in her pain and her silence was Jacob, and so Dinah shifts from being the daughter of Leah to the daughter of Jacob, the one who was able to see her for who she was and embrace her, love her and help her to heal.
In 2005, 1,181 women were murdered by an intimate partner. That’s an average of three women every day. Of all the women murdered in the U.S., about one-third were killed by an intimate partner. Too often the reality of domestic violence is shrouded in secrecy and silence. Its victims, like Dinah, are not seen or heard and they suffer from the violence perpetrated against them as well as the reactions of the people around. They are blamed, accused, not believed. People do not want to get involved, they turn away, pretend they do not hear. The statistics are horrifying.
Much of the underreporting is connected to a fear or concern about the reactions of others. Victims do not feel supported or safe to bring the perpetrators of these crimes to justice. It is our responsibility to help them all to be daughters of Jacob, to be seen, heard and healed with our words, our actions, our support and understanding.