Jewish Assimilation: How Do We Manage the Influences Around Us? | Aleph Beta

How Do We Manage The Influences Around Us?

How Do We Manage The Influences Around Us?


Daniel Loewenstein


In Parshat Va’etchanan, the Israelites are forbidden from intermarrying with the Canaanite nations when they enter the land of Israel. While the rationale for this commandment may seem straightforward, its language echoes another story of a foreign nation, namely the story of the brutal mistreatment of Dinah in Genesis.

What do the Canaanites and Shechem have in common? Join Daniel Loewenstein and Beth Lesch as they re-examine these two narratives and explore the Torah’s understanding of Jewish assimilation and how to both work with and manage the values of the foreign nations around us today.

Watch more: Grappling With The Rape Of Dinah


Daniel: Hi everyone and welcome to Parsha Lab. I'm Daniel Loewenstein.

Beth: And I'm Beth Lesch.

Daniel: And we are so excited to be bringing you our latest episode about Parashat Va'etchanan. Just before we get started, a quick reminder to subscribe to our podcast on your favorite podcasting app and if you are already subscribed, if you'd like to rate us that would be great because when you give us five stars then it helps other people find us too.

So Beth, do you know the Hebrew word for marriage?

Beth: The Hebrew word for marriage? I think of nisu'in as being the Hebrew word for marriage.

Clues in the Hebrew Definition of Marriage

Daniel: Right and nisu'in is the term we find in the rabbinic writings to describe the last phase of marriage when husband and wife finally are finished with their engagement period and are allowed to live together as husband and wife. Is that a biblical word?

Beth: Nisu'in. I don't think so because I think whenever the Bible talks about marriage it either talks about a man being lakach a woman – taking a woman – or it uses the root chatan – to describe people joining together in marriage.

Daniel: I love that you said that. I think you're right that usually we find "yikach ish ishah," a man takes a woman. We also sometimes find this description of something to do with marriage using the word chatan, like l'hitchatein or hachotein. But what is a chotein?

Beth: A chotein – I know we find the word chotein to describe Jethro at the beginning of the Book of Exodus and, I think, there it basically means father-in-law.

Daniel: Right which is interesting. The root chatan doesn't necessarily justify to the relationship between a man and a woman, but also between the families of people who are married.

Beth: Right. In other words, a man and a woman become united in marriage and then all of the people that then become joined to one another – all of the extended family members – they too are sharing a link. Therefore, the word that we use to describe them is based on that original – that original marriage.

Daniel: So I think actually that it's not based on the original marriage, but that the word chotein or l'hitchatein actually means merging families. I want to show you why I think that. Okay?

Beth: Okay. I hear that. Let me try to understand where you're going with this.

The Meaning of "Marriage" in Hebrew... Intermingling?

Daniel: Well, what I mean to say is that l'hitchatein is never used to mean a man and a woman specifically coming together, but rather the man's family and the woman's family coming together.

Beth: I see. Does that mean we might even find it in the usages where there is no actual marriage taking place, just some kind of joining of families or is the implication that every time it's used there is a man and a woman joining in marriage at its core, but the emphasis is on the linkage of the families?

Daniel: So I'll let you be the judge of that. Let's open up Parashat Va'etchanan and I think you'll see what I'm talking about. In Devarim, Perek Zayin – in Deuteronomy, Chapter 7 – we're given a law that tells us that when we enter the Land of Israel there will be all these Canaanite nations there and we're forbidden from being mitchatein with them.

So in Verse 3 we're given the following command:

"V'lo titchatein bam," do not mitchatein – whatever that means – with them or amongst them,

"bitcha lo titein liv'no" don't give your daughter to his son,

"u'vito lo tikach liv'necha," and don't take his daughter for your son.

Beth, what do you make of that in terms of the meaning of l'hitchatein?

Beth: Well, I don't know Daniel. I have a lot of questions about this verse. Tell me where you're going with this. Tell me what you're thinking.

Daniel: The way I make sense of this verse is that the second part is really an explanation of the first. Right? "Lo titchatein bam," don't marry amongst them or with them, meaning "bitcha lo titein liv'no u'vito lo tikach liv'necha," there shouldn't be free flowing marriages between everyone's children.

What's interesting is that the verb of l'hitchatein is actually not a very common verb, in the Torah, at all. I'm not sure if I know all of the uses, but at least, I think, the first three. One is in Genesis, one is here and then one is in Joshua. In all of them they discuss this, sort of, free flowing intermingling between peoples.

For instance, in Genesis, the context there is the story of Dinah. Do you want to remind our listeners about the story of Dinah?

Beth: Yeah, yeah, of course. So the story of Dinah which we hear about in Genesis, Chapter 34, she's a daughter of Leah, one of the youngest of Jacob's children. The text tells us that she goes out to see the daughters of the Land. So she goes out, she has an encounter with this guy, Shechem, who's a member of another nation – the Chivi people – and Shechem is taken with her. He has a sexual encounter with her. It's not clear is he seducing her, is this rape? But in the end after the encounter he has his heart set on marrying her and he sends his father on a mission to go to talk to her father so they can ask for Dinah's hand in marriage.

Daniel: Right and when Chamor, Shechem's father, gets to Dinah's family so he makes the following offer. He says "t'nu nah otah lo l'ishah," give Dinah to my son as a wife. "V'hitchatnu otanu b'noteichem titnu lanu v'et b'noteinu tikchu lachem." The same language and we will marry amongst each other, your daughters we can take for ourselves and our daughters you can take for yourselves. This sort of, again, free flowing exchange of people in marriage.

Also, later on in the Book of Joshua, Joshua in his, sort of, farewell speech at the end of the book anticipates the Children of Israel straying from the right path and he mentions that he's concerned that they will intermarry and again: "V'hitchatantem bahem u'v'atem bahem v'heim bachem," you will come amongst them and they will come amongst you. Again, this, sort of, sense of intermingling of peoples.

I just think it's interesting that, sort of, contrary to the common contemporary use of the word l'hitchatein which basically refers to marriage between two people, the Torah uses the word l'hitchatein really to mean a mingling of peoples.

Beth: Daniel, this is interesting thinking back to some of my history and sociology classes, from college, thinking about how the institution of marriage has evolved throughout the generations. To simplify things you can think about really two different kinds of marriage. You can think about a utilitarian marriage and you can think about a romantic marriage. A romantic marriage is the kind that we're familiar with. A man and a woman fall in love with one another and whether their families agree or their families disagree they decide to get together, they make a home and they figure out where the spending's skipping. That's a romantic marriage. That's the kind that we go to the movies to see.

However, there's another kind of marriage and my understanding is that it's a kind of marriage which was a reality for a lot of human history and that's a utilitarian marriage. Where it's not because the two people love each other, it's because there's some benefit that the parties, including their wider family circles, are going to be able to reap from their union. It makes think of the Fiddler on the Roof's song, "Do You Love Me?" Right?

You know, these two people who join together in marriage. He took care of her for all those years, she made him dinner for all those years and now 50, 60 years later...

Daniel: The love was from the afterthought.

Beth: Exactly. After 50 years of my putting dinner on the table for you and bearing your children do you love me? I want to know because it wasn't stated outright necessarily, you know, under our chuppah (marriage ceremony).

So the interesting thing is that the Torah seems to transcend these categories. The Torah doesn't, the love stories or rather the marriage stories that we get in the Torah, don't fall neatly into one of these two categories. On the one hand, what you're describing seems to be more of this utilitarian form of marriage, an institution, but we also hear a lot about love and love seems to be the impious for a lot of the earlier marriages in the Torah. So I'm not sure what to make of that.

Daniel: Uh, yeah. It's interesting, in the Shechem story it almost seems like the love of Shechem is the driving motivator for the marriage and the utilitarian benefit of the union of peoples, if that's what it is, is sort of the dowry or the selling point to convince the family of Jacob to agree to it.

Beth: I think you're right about that, which makes me wonder was that in fact a selling a point or if it wasn't why would Chamor have thought that it would have been a selling point to Jacob?

Daniel: Great. I think we're actually going to get to talk about that, but first before we do that let's go a little bit further in Va'etchanan, in Chapter 7, in Deuteronomy. I know you already saw this parallel language of "V'lo titchatein bam" and "v'hitchatnu otanu," and also the following clauses of "b'noteicheim titnu lanu v'et b'noteinu tikchu lachem," this sort of mingling of families. I think, we're actually going to find a couple of other parallels in these two sections of texts. So let's keep our eyes open for those.

Beth: My eyes are open Daniel.

Daniel: Awesome. So in Verse 4, in Chapter 7, in Deuteronomy we get the following. "Ki yasir et bincha mei'acharai v'avdu elohim acheirim," for if this intermarriage situation happens then your sons can be let astray, away from Me – meaning away from God – and wordship foreign deities, "v'charah af Hashem bachem v'hishmidcha maheir," and Hashem's wrath will burn and he will destroy you quickly.

"Ki im koh ta'asu lahem," this is what you should to them instead, "mizbichoteihem titotzu," you should destroy their altars, "u'matzeivotam t'shabeiru," and destroy their mounds– different kinds of altar or worship place – "v'asheireihem t'gadei'un," and destroy their asheirah trees, which are another kind of foreign worship, "u'fsileihem tisrifun ba'eish," and burn their idols. "Ki am kadosh atah laHashem Elokecha," you are a holy nation to God, "b'cha bachar Hashem Elokecha," God has chosen you, "lihiyot lo l'am segulah mikol ha'amim," to be his precious nation from all of the nations, "asher al p'nei ha'adamah," that are on the face of the earth.

So there's one more piece that I wanted to get to in Chapter 7 here, Verse 7. Actually, Beth, do you think you could read Verse 7?

Beth: Verse 7; "Lo meirub'chem mikol ha'amim chashak Hashem bachem vayivchar bachem ki atem hame'at mikol ha'amim." So it's not because you are so much greater in number than all the other peoples that Hashem loves you, that Hashem chose you. In fact, you are smaller. You're the fewest of all the peoples.

Daniel: Right and the next verse says that it's actually just because God loves you and He is keeping the oath that He made to your forefathers, but it's not because you're so populace. Now, does that remind you of anything in the Shechem story?

Beth: Let me take a look and see.

Daniel: While Beth is taking a look I just want to do a little quick recap. What we read here was number one the prohibition of intermarriage, of giving your daughters to the sons of the foreign nation or taking their daughters for your sons. Then we also read about the command to destroy all of the altars and idol worship, et cetera, that are in the Land and then we read this, sort of, I think non sequitur about how God did not choose us because we're very populace, but in fact we're actually very small.

Beth: Ah, Daniel, I think I see what you're getting at. I'm looking at Verse 30, but before we get there, I think, let's catch up our listeners what happened in the intervening verses of this story, before we get to this point.

Intermingling and the Story of Shechem

Daniel: Right. So we know that Chamor has come to Yaakov, to Jacob and his family to ask for Dinah's hand in marriage for his son and he proposes this, sort of, mingling of the families. Meanwhile, Dinah's brothers are incensed about what happened and they deceitfully propose this offer to Chamor. They ostensibly accept the idea, but say that in order for us to be able to join your family, so to speak, for our families to be merged and for you to take Dinah home to be Shechem's wife you all need to get circumcised.

Then, after Chamor agrees and goes back and tells everyone hey, guys, we're going to get circumcised and then we're going to join this family and it's going to be great and it's going to be a great business proposition for us. Everyone does it and then when they're all in pain, recovering from the circumcision, two of Jacob's sons go and basically kill the entire city in vengeance for what Shechem did to their sister.

Beth: Exactly and that brings us to Verse 30. Simon and Levi go out and they do this deed and they come home and their father, Jacob, confronts them and he says to them "Achartem oti," you've troubled me, "l'havisheini b'yoshvei ha'aretz b'Cnaani u'vaPrizi," you have made me hateful to the inhabitants of the Land, to the Canaanites, to the Parazites, "v'ani m'sei mispar," and I am few in number, "v'ne'esfu alai v'hikuni," they are going to gather themselves against me and they're going to strike me, "v'nishmaditi ani u'beisi," I and my house are going to be destroyed.

In other words, you – Simon and Levi – have acted impetuously, they acted without thinking. You've gone out and you've made trouble with this nation which is much greater in number than we are and much stronger than we are and now that you've gotten them riled up and angry at us, I'm just sitting here; I'm just waiting for them to come and destroy me.

Daniel: Yeah. So Beth, you see here, just like you said, in Verse 30 we have Jacob being concerned that he's few in number just like we had in Deuteronomy where God says hey, I didn't love you guys because you're big because you're actually very few in number.

Beth: Yeah. You know, Daniel, this is really interesting. I mean, I'm just at the outset of the theory here, but I think that the story you're showing us, in Genesis, might help us to explain what seemed like a non sequitur; what seemed like a jump in Deuteronomy between Verse 5 and Verse 6.

In other words, what's the link between the idea of yes or no intermarrying with other nations and being few in number? Is that where you're going with this?

Daniel: That is where I'm going with this, but before we get there I want to show you what I think is one more link as well.

Beth: There's more here. Okay.

Daniel: I think so.

Beth: Okay. All right. Tell me where to look.

Idols from the City of Shechem

Daniel: Sure. So if we go to Chapter 35, in Genesis. In the aftermath of this whole sorted affair with Shechem and Chamor and the murder of the city where Jacob is critical of what his sons did and his sons are adamant that they fought for the honor of their sister; so God tells Jacob to pick up and move, go somewhere else and there's this sort of fascinating unexpected thing that happens.

"Vayomer Elokim el Yaakov kum alei Beit El," so God says to Jacob rise up and go to Beit El, "v'shev sham va'asei sham mizbei'ach laKeil hanir'eh eilecha," dwell there and make an altar there to the God Who appears to you, "b'var'chacha m'pnei Eisav achicha," as you're running away from Esau – which was the story that preceded this one. "Vayomer Yaakov el beito," so here's what Jacob says to his household, "v'el kol asher imo," and to all those with him, "hasiru et elohei haneichar asher b'tochichem," get rid of all of your idols or all of your foreign gods.

Beth: Wait, wait, wait a second. Who's he talking to? Who are these household members of his who had foreign gods in their midst?

Daniel: Well, so that's an excellent question. I know that at least some of the commentators explain that when Jacob's sons destroyed the city of Nablus they actually took a lot of spoils and included in the spoils were idols. So it wasn't necessarily that they were worshiping idols, but maybe they were. You know, it's not so clear from the text.

Beth: All right. Keep going.

Daniel: Either way, so get rid of them. "V'hitaharu v'hachalifu simloteichem," clean yourselves up and if you look at the following verse they actually do it. They remove all the foreign gods and Jacob buries them. Then in Verse 5, "Vayisa'u," so they traveled, "vayehi chitat Elokim al he'arim asher s'vivoteihem," and the fear of God was upon all the cities that surrounded them, "v'lo radfu acharei bnei Yaakov," and the family of Jacob was allowed to flee and no one chased them because the fear of God had landed on all of these cities that presumably otherwise would have wanted to take revenge for what Jacob's family did to Nablus.

Beth: Right. This is interesting. Stop me if I'm rushing ahead, but I'm wondering if part of the geopolitical reality is that a nation that's looking out for its own welfare, in the ancient world, has to intermarry with other nations as a form of making alliances, as a form of making friends and insuring its own welfare.

A nation like Israel that stands out and says we're not going to engage in that is at a severe disadvantage, is really vulnerable in a very acute way. It's almost as if that nation is, instead of marrying with others it's married to God. Therefore, to make up for its vulnerability God needs to come out and put His fear on all the people in order to protect them.

Daniel: I think that makes a lot of sense. Is there a way that you're connecting to that to the section in Deuteronomy?

Married to God

Beth: Well, I'll tell you. I don't have it 100 percent yet, but when I'm looking at Deuteronomy, yeah, I think that part of what God is saying to the people is don't intermarry and don't be fearful that because of your not intermarrying that you're going to be at a geo-political disadvantage. That the other nations are going to develop negative feelings towards you and are going to attack you because you've never been great in number. You've been few in number since the beginning and that hasn't stopped me from protecting you all this way.

You were few in number when you left Egypt, you were few in number when you encountered and routed the Emorites and their two kings and you're still few in number now. So you don't need to engage in this derech hateva, natural way of the word, in order to get ahead of the nations. I'm your husband. That's how you get ahead, so to speak. I get ahead for you.

Daniel: So Beth, I'm not so sure about God being the spouse piece of it, but I think everything else I'm totally seeing eye to eye with you about the temptation to form alliances for, you know, safety in that political climate back in the ancient Land of Canaan. But, we sort of jumped out with this theory before we spoke about the other parallel I wanted to show you.

This piece I mentioned to you at the beginning of Chapter 35 is all about getting rid of idols. I think we also have that in that section in Deuteronomy.

Beth: Oh, oh, of course. If you go back to Deuteronomy and you look at Verse Number 5 then one of the instructions that God gives to the people is that we're supposed to break down their altars, break down the pillars into pieces, you know, any kind of idolic representation we're supposed to completely destroy. That's the same exact thing as what Jacob told his sons to do back in Genesis.

Daniel: Exactly. So I think what you're seeing these three parallels between these stories here. One, about the possibility or rejecting the possibility of intermarrying and mingling families; two, about getting rid of idols and three, about being few in number, in a concern about being few in number.

Beth: But Daniel it's not just that; there's something else really cool here that I just discovered. Which is back in Genesis: Who was the nation that proposed intermarriage to Jacob?

Daniel: I think you mentioned before that it was the Chivi people, right?

Beth: Okay. Now, do you see the word Chivi come up anywhere here in Deuteronomy?

Daniel: Oh, yeah, in that first verse in the chapter. The Chivi is one of the nations mentioned specifically as one of the nations that you're going to be confronting.

Beth: Isn't that cool and it's actually not just the Chivi. The verse says, "v'haC'naani v'haPrizi, v'haChivi." Now, go back to Genesis. Go back to the...

Daniel: That's right because when Jacob is afraid of reprisals he specifically mentions that he's afraid of reprisals from the Canaani and from the Prizi which are also mentioned right there. Wow. Look at that.

Beth: Very cool.

Daniel: Anyway, Beth, so I have a theory that I want to suggest and I know that you already have spoken about the geo-political climate and the temptation of making alliances. I have a theory that, and it's something that we do a lot at Aleph Beta, which is we look at laws that are given later in the Torah and we see them as, sort of, commentaries or correctives to earlier stories in the Torah.

By way of introducing my theory, I want to ask you: There's definitely this sort of contentious debate between Jacob and his sons in this whole story of Shechem, about what the right thing to do was, right? So what was it? What was the right thing to do in that situation?

Shechem comes with Chamor and Dinah has been defiled and he wants to make this treaty and this merging or peoples, what would have been the right call?

Beth: Maybe the right thing to do, Daniel, would have been to ask Dinah what she thought.

Daniel: What makes you say that?

Beth: So I'm thinking about, I'm thinking about these insights that you've drawn out from Deuteronomy and I'm convinced that one of the instructions to the people of Israel is that you don't need to go around putting your religious observance, putting your commitment to God at risk, leveraging it for the sake of getting ahead with the nations.

God isn't saying you can't be geo-political, you can't make alliances, you can't be in the world of politics. I think He is saying if it's ever going to endanger your adherence to my law then I want you to stay far away from it. There is no evidence that Jacob was tempted by this offer of Chamor's to intermarry and intermingle and have this kind of more robust family connection, but I don't think that that should have been an attraction for him. There's no need for Israel to engage in that kind of alliance.

In which case, the only question is there's a woman and there's a man and the man has expressed that he loves the woman and wants to be with her so I'd like to know if she wants to be with him?

Daniel: Beth, I hear you, but I don't think that offer was ever on the table. That wasn't what Chamor offered to Jacob.

Beth: It's true. Chamor comes and he says we want Dinah to be Shechem's wife and we want to marry with you and we want not just for this to be an isolated case of intermarriage but for this to be a precedent that there should be many more going forward. We want to live with one another and we want you to do business within our borders.

It's true that he extends all of that as a kind of package offer, but it's not so clear to me that Jacob couldn't have just picked and chose what he wanted. Meaning, the question is why did Chamor put that on the table? Was it because it was important to him or was it because he thought it would appeal to Jacob? And if the latter then Jacob could have said, you know what, my daughter seems interested in your son too. The two young kids are smitten, let's let them run off together into the sunset and, as for us, thank you so much for your kind offer, but we're really happy being settled where we are on this land that was promised to our forefathers. Happy trails to you.

Daniel: Yeah, Beth, I hear it. I wonder how Chamor would have reacted to that offer. I still think that inevitably, especially because of the tribalism that existed back then, there still would have been some sort of custody battle, you know, in terms of whose family belongs to whom. If you're not going to mingle families that means that Shechem is going to be joining the children of Jacob or is Dinah going to be joining Shechem and then the children of Jacob will be giving her up?

Beth: It sounds like the latter would be happening, that's how I would imagine it.

Daniel: Right and I'm not so sure that Jacob was quite ready to do that. Maybe the prospect of merging families would have been more tempting than losing someone completely.

Beth: That's the upside of merging families? When I hear merging families, I imagine that the in-laws are sitting together at the same Thanksgiving table, but you're saying merging families means that neither parent has to break ties with their child. Because even though a marriage is taking place, the married couple is not moving definitively into one or the other family. They're remaining in both.

Daniel: I think so. I mean, I can't be sure, but that's the sense I get. There's some sort of fluidity now. Anyway, we're sort of entering a lot of interesting possibilities here and I think that they're all worth exploring, but the one thing that I wanted to suggest is that – and there are a couple of assumptions of what I'm going to say so, you know, feel free to attack them mercilessly – but, I think, that both Yaakov's sons, Jacob's sons and Jacob made a mistake in the way they approached the situation here.

The Boundaries of Jewish Assimilation and External Influences

Daniel: I think that that mistake is illuminated in the section in Deuteronomy. Which is, on the one hand, you know, when you're faced with the prospect of these nations that seem to be bigger than you and more powerful than you, you're fearful for what's going to happen. So one the one hand, it is tempting to want to make treaties and intermarry for the sake of peace and the sake of security and even though you did correctly say that there's no explicit evidence that Jacob was ready to intermarry, but it definitely seems to be that he was more on that side than on the side of starting a war. That's why, I think, maybe that was where he was leaning.

Beth: Okay. I see that. At the very least I agree that Deuteronomy is giving us commentary on this story and it's telling us you shouldn't need to accept that offer. Don't go running after alliances in intermarriage with other nations.

Daniel: Right because I know your small, but being small is not a reason to be afraid. Jacob seems to say that we are small and therefore I'm afraid and Deuteronomy seems to be saying that's inappropriate. That's not something that you should be thinking about. That shouldn't be on the table.

Beth: That's right. Now, let's talk about the opposite case. How do you see Deuteronomy as giving us a commentary that says ah, but you shouldn't need to run out with sword when the other nations are down at their worst and take them with guile?

Daniel: So this part is a little bit subtle and I'm not sure that I exactly have it fully worked out yet either, but I think that the commentary here is that piece about the foreign gods. Which is that it could be tempting to look at the scary nations that surround you as people to make a treaty with, but it could also be tempting to look at them, let's say, as an economic opportunity. Like, destroy them but destroy them for game, right? Conquer them and acquire their knowledge and acquire their culture and dominate them and make them your own. But when you do that there's a risk there also because then you bring the elohei neichar into you, back as part of your spoils.

In other words, don't join with them in peace and don't join with them as conquerors either. Right? Complete rejection. I think that might be what Deuteronomy is trying to say because, on the one hand, we're told don't marry them; on the other hand, we're told to destroy everything, don't keep anything for yourself either and don't worry that you're small you've always been small.

I think, maybe, that was part of the problem of what Simon and Levi, those two sons of Jacob, did; was that they saw an opportunity to despoil the city of Nablus in retaliation for what they did to Dinah and maybe the appropriate response wasn't to intermarry, but it wasn't to despoil either. It was, sort of, to indicate firmly that we reject you. Maybe in war, maybe not in war. Certainly in the context of Deuteronomy when we're conquering the Land of Israel war is necessary, but in a way that is a complete rejection of the culture without appropriation of anything.

Beth: It's interesting. So you're saying, you're reading of the story is part of their primary motivation in waging this little war was that they saw all the spoils – the Chivi had a lot of stuff – and they said this is the perfect opportunity for us to take revenge. We're going to go in there and we're going to kill them all and we're going to take all their stuff and now they'll know better than to try to mess with us.

Daniel: Yeah. That's, I told you that I was making some assumptions in my theory, and that's definitely one of them. That's just to add one more evidentiary point here. If you'll notice when Jacob's family travels and the fear of God is on all of nations surrounding who don't take revenge and leave them alone. It's only after they, sort of, relinquish the spoils they took. Right? It's only after they bury those elohei neichar, after they remove all the foreign influences that they had appropriated from the people that they vanquished.

Beth: Interesting. In other words, I don't know if from what I'm saying is what you're saying is a nuance apart – so you can tell me – but God is really telling us to be careful about two things when he speaks to us in Deuteronomy. One thing is don't love the other nations too much such that that love blinds you and leads you away from Me. But also don't hate them too much such that that hate blinds you and leads you away from Me.

You're, sort of, saying maybe it's an open question what God thought of what Simon and Levi did, but at the point that they ended up coming home with idols in their hands and rings on their ears it's clear that they had gone a step too far. Whether the step too far was the beginning of the plot or the step too far was the assumption of the spoils, it's clear that that was somehow a problem because that already borders on idolatry. It's the opposite danger. It's the opposite threat of intermarriage.

Somehow, they ended up with idols in their hands because they were trying to do the opposite of intermarriage.

Daniel: Right. I really like the way you're putting it now.

Beth: We've left open this question of well, did God approve or disapprove of the original plot, right? If they had, if Simon and Levi had gone through the whole shebang with okay, circumcise yourselves and then they've gone home and they'd honor themselves and they'd happened upon these weak men in the aftermath of their circumcisions and they had slaughtered everyone, but not taken a single spoil what would God have thought of that? What would Jacob have thought of that?

Daniel: Right. I think we know Jacob would have thought of that, but the God question is a good question.

Beth: And at the moment, it's an open question, but I also can't help but wonder if the Torah is giving us its own commentary on that as well. Meaning, first of all we know that the way the Torah describes their proposition is that they speak to Chamor b'mirmah.

Daniel: Yeah, yeah. Deceiving.

Beth: Because mirmah we hear really in only, I think it only comes up in one other place in the Torah. Mirmah is what happens with Jacob and Esau. So mirmah is terrible guile that leads to horrible consequences.

You know, Rabbi Fohrman has a lot of Torah about how all of the, that the weals and woes of the Children of Israel really spin out from that initial case of deception, that initial mirmah. Of course, Jacob being someone who understands the danger of deceit and who sees its consequences so he's maybe particularly upset at what his sons did. They're abusing Hashem and Hashem's covenant in their anger, in their desire to take revenge.

Daniel: You're saying because they're weapon-izing the idea of circumcision.

Beth: Exactly. I mean, Hashem had come to their grandfather and had said Abraham, I'm going to give you land and I'm going to give you children and there's this one thing that I want you to do in return and specifically you're supposed to do it to show that you adhere to my ways. Simon and Levi take that and, as you said, they're using it as a weapon.

Daniel: And there's definitely some sort of irony in the fact that in corrupting it they end up bringing home idols.

Beth: Exactly. They took this sign, which was supposed to be a symbol of their adherence to God and they wielded it in a way which was inappropriate and they used it for the sake of war and they used it in the service of their own hate and as a result they come home with idols in their hands. Several hundred years later God tells us when Chamor comes to you and he makes a proposal and he asks for your daughter's hand in marriage don't be blinded by love, but don't be blinded by hate either. Keep your eyes only on the prize and the prize is adherence to Hashem's laws.

Daniel: Yeah and I just want to say again that I really like the way you're putting it. What I do think, I definitely walk away from this thinking about, is sort of a very, very heavy emphasis of being aware about foreign influence and being very conscience of the way that it can creep up directly and also indirectly. And how you need to be very careful about taking a stand about who you are and not letting any foreign influence steer you away from God.

Beth: I share that Daniel. I see where you're coming from with these stories that's leading you to that conclusion. You know I have to tell you that I'm walking away with something a little bit different which is that I'm still a little floored that the children of Jacob, in their zeal for God, end up with idols in their hands. That's really scary to me. That image is really scary to me and it just makes me wonder when else we, in our lives, in our contemporary lives, out of supposed zeal for God end up with idols in our hands?

Daniel: Beth, I hear your perspective also and I think that you definitely give me a lot to think about and you've given our listeners a lot to think about also. Thank you so much for exploring this with me.

Beth: Thanks for the roller coaster through Israelite history.

Daniel: Anytime, Beth. Thank you all so much for listening. We love comments. Please e-mail us at Also, if you have not subscribed yet please go right on ahead and if you haven't given us a rating yet give us those five stars and more people can get access to this. We look forward to next time.

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