Grappling With The Rape Of Dinah
Dinah, Shimon, Levi, And The Children Of Leah
The rape of Dinah is one of the most disturbing stories in the entire Torah. Dinah – Jacob’s only daughter – is forcibly taken by Shechem, and is raped and abused. In a creepy turn of events, Shechem falls in love with her and asks Jacob for her hand in marriage. But Dinah’s brothers, Shimon and Levi, have other plans. They engineer a shocking deception that ends in the bloody slaughter of Shechem and his people.
Dinah's rape is a disturbing story, the kind that usually gets “skipped over” in school – but at Aleph Beta, we’re not much for “skipping over” even the toughest of stories. In this chilling video, David Block and Imu Shalev face the rape of Dinah head-on, asking tough questions and scouring the text for answers. In doing so, they uncover a “story within a story”: a trail of clues that gives us a brand-new insight into the larger family story that this episode was part of, and what this experience may have meant to Dinah, her brothers, and her father.
For more on Shimon and Levi’s response to the rape of Dinah, see Rabbi Fohrman’s audio series, Abraham’s Journey.
David: Welcome to Parshat Vayishlach. We left off last time in a pretty satisfying place... After Jacob deceived his father and brother, he tasted what it feels like to be on the receiving end of deceit. At the beginning of Vayishlach – our parsha – Jacob reconciles with his brother.
Immanuel: And it seems that everything's resolved. Jacob's turned himself around. He's now in the position to carry on his father's and grandfather's legacy – to become a model of positive values and to teach what it means to be in a relationship with God.
The Jacob story could theoretically stop here – a happy ending. But it doesn't. Something interrupts the continuation of the legacy… something hijacks the happy ending.
And that's the strange and difficult story of Shechem and Dinah.
The Difficult Story of Dinah's Rape
It's a story that people don't really like to talk about… because it can be a bit… uncomfortable to face what really went on; and because of that, many people either gloss over it or don't teach it altogether – but we are going to do our best and face it head on.
David: This week on the Parsha Experiment.
Immanuel: Hi, I'm Imu Shalev.
David: And I'm David Block.
Immanuel: And welcome to the Parsha Experiment. All right, let's bring up our 20-second parsha recap.
- Jacob prepares to meet with Esau.
- He gets into a wrestling match with an unnamed being, and Jacob's name changed to "Israel."
- Jacob meets Esau, they embrace, and eventually, they each go their separate ways
- Then we have our story of Dinah and Shechem.
- Jacob gets a few more prophecies, and with the birth of Benjamin, during which Rachel dies in childbirth.
- Isaac dies, and we get the generations of Esau.
David: Before we jump into the Dinah story, we want to acknowledge the difficult nature of this subject matter. We at Aleph Beta are committed to telling the honest story from the Torah. We don't want to gloss over it because it is a hard thing to talk about. We put a lot of thought into how to tackle this story in a way that is sensitive to Dinah as a person and true to the Torah we see in her story.
Immanuel: If there are any times when we refer to Dinah's rape quickly, know that we are not trying to cover anything up, devalue what happened to her, or in any way undermine that she is a survivor of rape.
What Happened to Dinah and Shechem?
David: Here's what happens. Dinah is out walking when Shechem – the city's prince – rapes her… He ends up falling in love with her, so he and his father, Hamor, the king, approach Jacob to arrange a marriage between them.
The brothers then do something that's pretty tough to swallow. They say, "We'll give you Dinah if you and your whole city get circumcised." Surprisingly, the whole city agrees, and on the 3rd day after the circumcision, when the people are weakest, Simeon and Levi come into the city, kill every male – including Hamor and Shechem – and rescue their sister Dinah.
Jacob is furious – why did you do that?? Now we're going to be hated in our neighbors' eyes, and they'll try to kill us. Simeon and Levi respond: Should we allow our sister to be treated like a harlot?
The Big Questions in the Story of Dinah and Shechem
Immanuel: Wow – this is a very, very disturbing story. There are a bunch of things that are troubling, but here are two "big-picture questions." First of all, who was right?? Was Jacob right that this was the wrong thing to do? Or were Simeon and Levi right – the massacre was justified after what Shechem did to Dinah? The story just ends without any sort of resolution. The text eerily leaves us in the dark.
David: Second, we just learned about the resolution to Jacob's epic story, and we would expect to see a continuation of his legacy but suddenly we have this story of Dinah, Simeon, and Levi – people who have not been crucial parts of the story until now. Why are we hearing about this, and why now?
Immanuel: Let's take a look at the text of the story together. As we read, ask yourself: where have we heard these themes and words before?
Connections to Dinah's Rape in the Bible
David: After Shechem violates Dinah, he falls in love with her. וַיֶּאֱהַב, אֶת-הַנַּעֲרָ. So, he and his father try to broker a deal with Jacob. We'll do all these wonderful things for you – we'll give you access to our people, our land, our business! – if you give us your daughter's hand in marriage.
Immanuel: Have we seen anything like this before? Someone who loves a woman, speaks to the woman's father to try and make a deal – to do things, to offer his services – all in exchange to get her hand in marriage? Isn't that exactly what happened with Jacob in Laban's home? וַיֶּאֱהַב יַעֲקֹב, אֶת-רָחֵל – Jacob loved Rachel, אֶעֱבָדְךָ שֶׁבַע שָׁנִים, בְּרָחֵל בִּתְּךָ, הַקְּטַנָּה – I'll work seven years for you, for your daughter Rachel's hand in marriage. It seems like we're hearing echoes of the Jacob story.
David: Back to the Dinah story. The brothers seem to agree to the deal as long as the people get circumcised… but that's not really true. It only seems like that. They're planning something: וַיַּעֲנוּ בְנֵי-יַעֲקֹב אֶת-שְׁכֶם וְאֶת-חֲמוֹר אָבִיו – Jacob's sons answered them. בְּמִרְמָה – with deceit....
That's exactly what happens in the Jacob story too. Laban seems to agree to Jacob's deal on the outside, but he has a very different plan… Jacob yells at Laban: לָמָּה רִמִּיתָנִי – why did you deceive me?? במרמה – it's the same word ... deceit.
Immanuel: And now look at what Jacob's sons say in their deception: לֹא נוּכַל לַעֲשׂוֹת הַדָּבָר הַזֶּה–לָתֵת אֶת-אֲחֹתֵנוּ, לְאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר-לוֹ עָרְלָה – we can't do this thing... to give our sister to a man who is uncircumcised. Does that remind you of anything? That formula of not being able to fulfill a marriage agreement because of some particular norm?
Laban responds to Jacob's accusation of switching Leah and Rachel and says: לֹא-יֵעָשֶׂה כֵן בִּמְקוֹמֵנוּ–לָתֵת הַצְּעִירָה, לִפְנֵי הַבְּכִירָה – that's not what's done here… to give the younger's hand in marriage before the elder's. Everything Jacob's sons seem to be doing here has echoes back to Laban's deception!
David: Look at what's happening here! What Laban did to Jacob… that's exactly what Jacob's sons are doing to Shechem. But remember what we saw last week – in Vayeitzei… what Laban did to Jacob was already an echo… Laban is replaying what Jacob himself did to his father and brother with the blessings. Look at how Isaac described what Jacob did to Esau: וַיֹּאמֶר, בָּא אָחִיךָ בְּמִרְמָה; וַיִּקַּח, בִּרְכָתֶךָ – He said, 'Your brother, Jacob, came with deceit, and took your blessings.'
Immanuel: What's happening is an awfully vicious, chilling chain of events, set in motion with Jacob's original deception. Laban did the same to him, and now Jacob's sons are replaying it with Shechem. Their behavior here is a replay of their father's own behavior years before.
David: But is the story just telling us that Jacob's sons learned deception from their father? That may be true on the surface, but there's something much deeper going on here.
What drove Jacob's sons to act this way may have been more than just the horrific things that happened to Dinah. Let's go back to the story one last time and, this time, pay attention to how the text refers to Dinah.
A Closer Study of the Bible Verses on Dinah's Rape
Immanuel: In the first verse, וַתֵּצֵא דִינָה בַּת-לֵאָה, אֲשֶׁר יָלְדָה לְיַעֲקֹב – Dinah, the daughter of Leah who was born to Jacob, went out… If you've been following the Torah's story until now, we know who Dinah is… we know she's Leah's daughter. But by repeating that here, it seems like the text is telling us that who her parents are is an important part of the story.
David: After Dinah is violated, וְיַעֲקֹב שָׁמַע, כִּי טִמֵּא אֶת-דִּינָה בִתּוֹ – Jacob heard about it, and here, the text refers to her as "Dinah, his daughter," וּבָנָיו הָיוּ אֶת-מִקְנֵהוּ, בַּשָּׂדֶה. Meanwhile, his sons were out in the field, וְהֶחֱרִשׁ יַעֲקֹב, עַד-בֹּאָם – and Jacob was silent until they got back. What?? The text emphasized that it was his daughter who was violated, and he didn't say or do anything!
Immanuel: Hamor is actually the next person to act. He speaks to Jacob – but Jacob's sons are there too. And look how Hamor refers to them: שְׁכֶם בְּנִי, חָשְׁקָה נַפְשׁוֹ בְּבִתְּכֶם – My son, Shechem, longs for your daughter, conjugated in plural.
If it were just a singular person's daughter, just Jacob's daughter, it should have been בבתך. By saying it in plural – "the daughter of all of you" – Hamor refers to Dinah as the daughter of both Jacob and her brothers!
She's obviously only the daughter of Jacob, but this kind of gives us a picture of what's happening here. It's almost like the brothers are taking on the role of the father. And they themselves confirm that: "If you don't go along with our deal, וְלָקַחְנוּ אֶת-בִּתֵּנוּ, וְהָלָכְנוּ – we'll take our daughter and move on."
David: Now look at what happens at the very end of the story. Jacob rebukes Simeon and Levi for what they did, and they respond:הַכְזוֹנָה, יַעֲשֶׂה אֶת-אֲחוֹתֵנוּ – we allow our sister to be treated like a harlot? Now, that's pretty a sharp line… but it's not as sharp as it could be. Think about it… if they really wanted to convince Jacob that what they did was right, what should they have said? What about, "Should YOU allow YOUR DAUGHTER to be treated like a harlot?" It's YOUR daughter!!!
The Family Tree: Who Is Dinah?
Immanuel: Here's a theory – one Rabbi Fohrman touches on in his series Abraham's Journey, links below. It looks like the text is pointing us to a struggle we're already familiar with: and that's the struggle of favoritism.
Dinah is raped and who was Dinah? The text begins by telling us she was Leah's daughter – remember Leah, the unfavored wife? Jacob does nothing about his daughter's rape… and think about what that must've looked like from Simeon and Levi's perspective: their whole lives, they've been the children of the unfavored wife – of Leah.
They knew that Jacob didn't love Leah as much as he loved Rachel. And by extension, that made them, the children of Leah, Jacob's unfavored children. They know that Jacob really cared much more about Rachel's children. And then, when Leah's child – their sister! – is in trouble, Jacob does nothing about it.
David: So, Simeon and Levi – sons of Leah – step in. They act deceptively, במרמה… they do whatever it takes to make things fair again. And they rebuke Jacob – they're not trying to convince Jacob that their plan was okay, they may have just been expressing how they felt when they saw this happen. Maybe she's not "your daughter" enough to act. But we won't let this happen to our sister.
Immanuel: Now pull the zoom lens out and look again at the connection between the deceit of Jacob's sons and the deceit of Jacob himself. Way back when Jacob was the unfavored child, next to Esau. Jacob thought that was unfair, so he deceived in order to make things right. And now, Jacob's sons are doing the same thing! They are Jacob's unfavored children… they are being treated unfairly… so they deceive in order to make things right again.
David: So who was right in this story? Maybe the text leaves it ambiguous because there's no answer.
The Family Lesson Hidden in Dinah's Story
Immanuel: On the one hand, Jacob should have learned from his father and not picked favorites. On the other hand, his sons shouldn't have deceived to get what they think they deserve. They should confront openly and honestly – just like Jacob should have done so many years before.
David: The Dinah story is here as a transitional story from Jacob to his children. Right before this, Jacob reconciled with his brother, and from his perspective, he did everything he could to continue his father's legacy. But when Jacob himself does what his father had done – favored some of his family over the others – his children are going to face the same challenges that he faced. The brother's deception in the Dinah story is the beginning of that.
Immanuel: And this story, the story of Shechem, teaches us about the emotional trauma that the children of the unfavored wife go through. And it's exactly the story we need to know before we get to the very next major event in Genesis: the story of the sale of Joseph.
The story of the sale of Joseph is the struggle of the favored versus the unfavored. Can the favored sensitively use what they have in order to continue legacy and positively impact others, or will they flaunt it and push people away? Can the unfavored learn to confront, to talk openly? Will they just continue to deceive? And can they rectify their mistakes? Jacob himself reconciled… but can Jacob's children?
David: Join us next week on the Parsha Experiment.