The rape of Jacob’s daughter Dinah by Shechem and subsequent verses (Bereshit, chapter 34) is one of the most disheartening episodes in the entire Torah. Shechem takes Dinah by force and violates her. Hamor, Shechem’s father, speaks with Jacob and Jacob’s sons, and suggests that their tribes intermarry, an act which will permit Jacob and his tribe to move freely in Shechemite territory. Jacob’s sons are so outraged by Shechem’s act that they will only accept this agreement if the Shechemite males circumcise themselves. The Shechemites assent but three days later, Dinah’s brothers Simeon and Levi set upon the Shechemites and slay each male, while the rest of Jacob’s sons plunder and pillage the town.
We seek deep meaning from Torah’s words, and yet this episode in our parashah leaves us wondering about so many things. The behavior of the Shechemites, Jacob, and Jacob’s sons is downright abominable. Shechem accepts no direct responsibility for his action; he is consumed only by his apparent love for Dinah. Jacob’s sons are rightfully incensed but turn into unsanctioned vigilantes hell-bent on exacting revenge. And Jacob is silent, until the very end of the chapter, when he expresses his fear that Simeon and Levi’s crusade will impact negatively on his own circumstances.
Even more troubling is the subject of Dinah herself. Where is Dinah’s voice in this narrative? What did Dinah think and feel? Who comforted her after such a frightening episode? Sadly, shockingly, we never hear from Dinah. She speaks not a single word in the entire chapter, or throughout the Torah. In fact, we might suggest that Torah seems far more concerned with explaining the needs and actions of the men around her, instead of recording the suffering, battered voice of one of God’s children.
What can we learn from such an episode? We must begin by acknowledging the harrowing truth, a hard fact to swallow indeed, that such a terrible tale, laden with so many painful moments, is included among the stories of our people’s most sacred literature. Further, we cannot change the past, we cannot change Torah, but we can continue to learn and grow from our text. Sometimes, this means learning what not to do. We cannot be silent to the needs of “Dinahs” in our world or silent in general. And we cannot respond to violence with violence.
This year Massachusetts will commemorate “White Ribbon Day” (March 1, 2012). White Ribbon Day began in 1991 in Canada, when a group of men organized a special gathering on the second anniversary of man’s massacre of fourteen women in Montreal. In 1999, the United Nations declared 25 November as International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Over the past twenty years, men have shown their support for this campaign by donning white ribbons, and swearing never to commit or condone any act of violence against a woman.
It is fitting that we read Parashat Vayishlach, including Dinah’s story, around the end of November and the beginning of December. Dinah’s story reminds us, albeit painfully, that our world is not yet complete. Truly, we cannot afford to model the silence, the complacency, the passivity and the shocking indifference of our ancestors. Women who suffer acts of violence are our mothers, our wives, our sisters, our daughters, and our friends. Torah calls upon us to respond, to stand up and make a difference, to support those among us who are in need, insuring that we will not stand idly by while our neighbors, our loved ones, bleed. Shabbat Shalom