Parshat Veyishlach

November 30th, 2023

Yakov’s life story is filled with confrontation, particularly here in Parshat Vayishlach, meeting with his brother Esav, wrestling with an Angel and finally with the locals in Shechem, in the tragic story of his daughter Dina. We are told that Dina went out to meet the local girls, which seems to be quite innocent, particularly as we are told that Yakov set up home on the outskirts of the town. Previously we have read that both Rivka and Rachel came out to the well, so it would seem that girls did venture out on their own, and maybe Dina just went into town to see the local fashions in the market. However, Rashi implies from the text that this was not proper behaviour and Dina, like her mother Leah, was a little too outgoing.

Nevertheless, that was no excuse for the local prince to entice, assault and kidnap her which angered Dina’s brothers’ Shimon and Levi to the extent that in revenge they wiped out the whole town, without even getting approval from their father Yakov. Clearly this was a local incident but it is interesting to look at how our sages offer their thoughts and how they differ on their interpretations of the event, some justifying and others criticizing those involved.

The Ramban suggests that Yakov agreed to the idea of persuading the locals to have a brit which would enable them to rescue Dina when they were weak but was very angry with Shimon and Levi for killing the innocent inhabitants of the town. R Hirsch is also critical of their actions and explains that psychologically, had they just punished the culprit, that would have demonstrated their strength and restraint, which would have sent a much more powerful message.

The Abarbanel, the Malbim and others justify the brothers’ action and explain that the locals regretted having agreed to the brit mila and were getting ready to attack Yakov’s family and the brothers’ action was in self-defence, nevertheless there are those who are critical of the brothers taking the spoils of the town. However, Yakov in his final blessing to his sons does reprimand Shimon and Levi for their violent nature. R Yonatan Eivshitz presents a frightening perspective, that once the locals had a Brit they were considered Jews and no one would shed a tear on the killing of Jews, quite a chilling thought in our current conflict.

In response to the horrific events of SImchat Torah Israel is fighting to destroy Hamas and prevent the terrorists from leaving, particularly with Israeli hostages. Interestingly our modern Halachic sages do argue what is permissible?

In the summer of 1982, the Israeli army put Beirut under siege in a successful attempt to force the PLO out of Lebanon. The then Israel Chief Rabbi Rav Shlomo Goren, who had been the Chief Rabbi of the Army. published an article in which he argued that, according to Jewish law, the siege must allow terrorists to escape the city. The highly respected Rav Shaul Yisraeli responded, clearly rejecting this approach and he wrote a full halachic response. Rav Yisraeli clearly states that military response to terror against Israel is not only just justified but is a positive mitzvah “Milchemet mitzvah.” One must try to avoid the injuring of innocent civilians but it is the responsibility of our enemies to care for their civilians, particularly as we did not initiate the conflict, and we should give the terrorists a chance to escape the consequences.

Let’s turn to happier thoughts. Our granddaughter Ruth got engaged this week. She has been courting Yair and he was called to reserve duty to the North at the start of the conflict. Having had to wear his boots for days on end he was suffering from an ingrown toenail. The Army medic could not really give him the full treatment so we told him to come to Netanya and we can organize our pal the podiatrist to sort him out. Sure, enough he got the best treatment and took the opportunity to get on and propose. So, we were glad he did not have cold feet and put his best foot forward.