BY AMY JOSEFA ARIEL
VAYISHLACH GENESIS 32:4 - 36:43
2 DECEMBER 2017 / 14 KISLEV 5778
Vayishlach,"and he sent," is the first word of this parsha in which Jacob sends messengers, possibly angels, ahead of him to bring gifts to his brother Esau, the brother whose birthright Jacob stole through trickery two wives, two concubines, and many children ago. Despite the traumatic effects favoring one child over another had in his own upbringing, Jacob clearly demonstrates his own favoritism for Rachel and her child, over Leah and her children – including her daughter, Dinah, and the children of both over his children by their servants. In his anxiety about seeing his brother again, Jacob spends a night alone and is confronted by a being, maybe a man, maybe an angel, who wrestles him until dawn and then gives him a new name: Israel, one who wrestles with God. The next day, Jacob reunites with Esau, reconciles, and then leaves and sets up an encampment in the city of Shechem in Canaan. The prince Shechem rapes Dinah. The sons of Leah, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, murder all of the men of the city of Shechem in revenge. Jacob’s other sons plunder the town and take the women and children as captives. In the family's subsequent flight, directed by God, Rachel gives birth to Benjamin and dies in childbirth. The parsha ends with a geneology of Jacob and Esau.
Names are relational. Our names are invitations into our stories. I ask you to take a moment to think about yours.
What did your parent or parents name you?
What are you called in your communities?
By what name do you aspire to be known?
Midrash Tanhuma Vayaheil teaches, “There are three names by which a person is called: one which their parents call them, one which people call them, and one which they earn for themselves. The last is the best one of all.”
Midrash Tanhuma is one of the works of Jewish text that best exemplifies the intermingling of legal and narrative material in Jewish scholarship, halacha and aggadah. While this wisdom of names may at first seem the most fitting beginning to a discussion of Jacob’s two names: Jacob and Israel, there is another name to which I’d like to draw our attention. We first heard it in last week’s parsha:
“Last, she [Leah] bore him a daughter, and named her Dinah.” (Genesis 30:21)
Dinah is the last child of Leah. Dinah is Leah’s daughter – a girl. And Leah named her.
We might think there isn’t much else to know about her, given the way we mostly either avoid her story all together or speak only about what the men in her story did to her. When we think of her at all, maybe we only think of her as, “the one who was raped.” Maybe for many of us, that is her second name. Having spent some time with her this week, I think Dinah would be furious.
Our Sages knew her better.
Rashi taught, “Leah judged (din) herself, saying, ‘If this is a male, Rachel will not even be equal to the maidservants,’ and prayed over her boy child, and he was transformed into a girl.” (Ber. 60a)
Our tradition goes to great lengths to explain that Leah’s prayers had the power to change reality, and that Leah, who knew that there were to be twelve male tribes born in this family, and who already had six sons, calculated that should she have another son, the eleventh son, Joseph, who would be the ancestor of the eleventh tribe, Rachel would not even have as many sons as Bilhah and Zilpah, the servants. So Leah prayed. Her prayers were so powerful instead of bearing the son she had conceived who would have been Joseph, Leah bears this daughter, Dinah.
Oh had we the time to unpack some of those layers: A boy child who became a girl child. A possible spiritual link between Dinah, often depicted as not very feminine, and Joseph who is described as decidedly so.
Dinah, a daughter, who we learn is so like her mother.
Written in this week’s parsha, Vayishlach, “Now Dinah, the daughter Leah had borne to Jacob, went out to visit the daughters of the land.” (Genesis 34:1)
Rashi explains Leah, too, was fond of “going out” (Genesis Rabbah 80:1). “Leah went out to meet him” when she righteously approached Jacob and soon conceived and birthed Issachar. (Genesis 30:16). Our Sages praise Leah’s assertiveness.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe—Rabbi Schneerson, (z”l) taught that Dinah is the Torah’s first prototype of female leadership. Sure, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah were opinionated and decisive, but the Torah gives us no indication that they were influential outside of their home. Rabbi Schneerson taught that Dinah had an outward sphere of influence. Her charisma naturally attracted other people to follow her lead.
Now that we know more about who Dinah was, a charismatic natural leader, assertive, spiritually connected in some mysterious way with her brother Joseph, maybe we can reflect a little on her story in the Torah without allowing it to define her for us.
Because, of course, that Dinah was raped matters. It matters in the context of her larger story, and it matters for us. How can we read this story and not want to know more about the Jewish law of rape and consider the interweaving of halacha (law) and aggadah (story) in this context? Talmud scholar Maggie Anton teaches that by the 3-5th centuries C.E. the Rabbis of the Talmud reinterpreted Torah law on rape to a remarkably progressive outcome.
The Mishnah (Bava Kama 8:1) states, “One who wounds his neighbor is liable to pay for five damages: permanent impairment, pain and suffering, healing expenses, loss of time from work, and shame.” The result is the same whether the injury is accidental or deliberate.
Anton writes, "To the Rabbis’ credit, they treat a sexual assault victim the same as anyone else injured during an attack (Bava Kama 83b-84a). They did not hold the woman responsible for encouraging the assault by how she dressed or where she walked. The rapist, like other assailants, had to pay compensation for any permanent impairment and for loss of virginity, the pain she suffered, and her shame. If the survivor had medical expenses or time she was unable to work, she would receive that compensation as well." The Talmud declared, “There is no comparison between losing her virginity under the bridal canopy and losing it on a dung heap.” (Ketubot 39b, Yevamot 34a) Did she have to marry him? All agreed that she could, of course, refuse.
The Rabbis also prohibit marital rape teaching that a couple should "use the bed" only if the woman was willing. If she said yes she consented, if she said no she didn’t, and silence was not consent. (Eruvin 100b, Kiddushin 13a, Yevamot 53b-54a) They further taught that if a woman feared the man, if he forced her, if one of them hated the other, if they were fighting, if they were drunk, and if one were asleep, sex between them is condemned. (Nearim 20b)
1,500 years ago the Talmudic rabbis were not only more progressive on the subject of rape than one might think, we would do well to be guided by them today.
As a traumatic event with psychosocial and physical consequences, Dinah’s experience being raped matters. Of course it does. But to know Dinah, we need to spend more time with the rest of her story. The part that isn’t explicitly in the Torah. We need to explore what the name was that Dinah earned for herself.
There are so many possibilities.
The Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni 134) tells us that during that horrible rape, Dinah conceived a child, a daughter named Asenath. A daughter rather like her mother, and not unlike her grandmother. Dinah and Asenath moved to Egypt. Joseph, by then viceroy to the king, met Asenath and was drawn in by her commitment to her faith, even in Egypt. Joseph married Asenath (his niece), and they had two children together: Ephraim and Manasseh.
There was something . . . special . . . about these two. Something different from Jacob’s other grandsons. They became the heads of their own tribes, and by their names we continue to bless our children to this day.
Names are relational.
Our names are invitations into our stories.
What is our relationship with this woman’s story?
In my own heart, I’m going to try an experiment and call Dinah . . . Savta.
* I would love to know what you think of having a summary of the parsha at the beginning of the d'var Torah. Is it helpful? Does it get in your way? Is it nice, but superfluous? Would you like to see a summary again next week?