Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Vayishlach 5763

The story in a nutshell: Dina, the daughter of Leah and Yaakov (Jacob), went out from her family’s camp to visit with the local girls. Shechem, the local prince, saw her, took her and raped her. Under the pretense of future peacefulness between the people of the city and the family of Yaakov, Dina’s brothers Shimon and Levi convince the locals to circumcise all their males. When they are weakest during recuperation, Shimon and Levi exact vengeance by killing all the males of the city.

At first blush, this story presents a vexing problem concerning Dina. In the text, Dina is completely silent and utterly passive. Everything seems to happen to her. We never hear Dina’s words, only the words and ideas of the men in her life. Who is Dina? And where is her voice?

In response to this gaping void, Anita Diamant wrote the wildly popular The Red Tent. Diamant gave Dina a voice. I absolutely identify with the desire to know more about Dina, but I’m troubled by the fact that Diamant gave Dina an utterly fictional voice. We don’t have to resort to fiction. Our tradition reveals Dina’s real voice, as well as evidence of her influential personality.

In Sefer HaYashar (12th century), there is a rabbinic tradition of Dina affirmatively taking action. While she was captive in the palace of Shechem, Dina overheard a vengeful plot being formulated by local protesters who were furious over the decision to circumcise all their males. Dina sent a secret message to Yaakov to warn him of the plot. This action is strongly reminiscent of Queen Esther, captive within the palace of Achashverosh, sending communiqués to Mordechai, who is on the outside. These actions demonstrate one of the unique strengths of Jewish women – the ability to influence from behind the scenes. Look deeper. Dina, who seems utterly passive, sent a secret message, and, in so doing, protected her entire family from destruction.

Rabbi Uziel Milevsky zt”l (20th century) offers us further insight into Dina’s character and her destiny. Dina, the text emphasizes, is the daughter of Leah. As young girls, Rachel was destined to marry Yaakov and Leah was destined to marry Aisav (Esau), Yaakov’s uncouth twin. It is taught that Leah, through her righteousness, possessed the ability to turn Aisav to the good. Leah recognized that this was her destiny, but the Rabbis teach that she prayed relentlessly to alter it. G-d honored her request and she married Yaakov instead.

However, the mission to marry and transform Aisav, unfulfilled by Leah, was inherited by her daughter, Dina. Rabbi Milevsky teaches that, like her mother, Dina possessed the personality characteristics that would have allowed her to positively impact Aisav. Rehabilitating Aisav was Dina’s destiny, the spiritual purpose she inherited from her mother.

However, Yaakov wanted desperately to maintain distance from his impious brother. He did everything he could do to keep Dina and Aisav apart. Yaakov hid Dina in a trunk. There was no chance that Aisav would even lay eyes on her. In this way, Yaakov kept Dina’s destiny from being fulfilled.

Denied the chance to fulfill her ultimate purpose, Rabbi Milevsky teaches, Dina had to redirect her gift of positively influencing others. Her truest destiny thwarted, she “went out” to establish contact with the Canaanite girls, to teach them about monotheism. Regrettably, she failed to anticipate the dangerous character of Shechem, who seized her when she was outside the protection of her family’s camp.

Later, Yaakov blesses his sons from his deathbed. But his blessings often don’t sound like blessings at all. They’re statements. You’re this kind of person. You’re that kind of person. What’s the blessing in that?

Rebbetzin Holly Pavlov in Jerusalem teaches that it’s a blessing to know who you are and what your special mission in life is. Just as G-d gave Dina a charismatic personality, capable of influencing Aisav for good, G-d gives each of us our own uniqueness. Our spiritual responsibility is to figure out what exceptionality and unique purpose G-d bestowed upon us. And then fulfill it!

Yaakov’s sons were told precisely who they are. The rest of us have to quiet ourselves sufficiently to listen for it. Your unique gift will resonate at a distinct pitch, meant only for you. Once you hear it, you must act. This is the lesson we learn from Dina.

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