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Torah Commentary
Vayishlach (December 1, 2012)

Robyn Weinstein Cimbol, Senior Director of Development and Philanthropy


Preface: The biblical tale commonly referred to as “the rape of Dinah” is generally not part of a Religious School curriculum. It is disturbing, on many levels and for a variety of reasons even in the context of the accepted norms of that time. In preparing to write commentary on this portion, I was struck by the reality that we never hear from Dinah. Her experience is related in the third person. This is my attempt to give Dinah the voice she so justly deserves.

MY NAME TRANSLATES as “judgment,” and perhaps, in the end, I will be judged with compassion. I am Dinah, daughter of Jacob and Leah. I began life with two insurmountable burdens. Not only was I born a woman in an ancient patriarchal society, but to make matters worse, I was born to the wife my father did not love. Because she was unloved, my mother never knew how to love me. And my father was too arrogant and self-absorbed to even notice me. Perhaps had I been Aunt Rachel’s daughter instead, life would have been more pleasant. My early years were bitter indeed. But in order to understand me, you must understand my family.

I can’t really blame my parents. Generations of my family all have been flawed in some way — the men perhaps even more than the women. My father would probably have been diagnosed as schizophrenic, had he received the therapy he should have! When he was Young Jacob, he was the schemer who tricked his twin brother, Esau, out of both the birthright and the blessing of my blind grandfather, Isaac. When he became Israel he was an impossible narcissist, convinced that he always was right. His father, my Grandfather Isaac, was born to elderly parents, and his father was especially oppressive and deranged. As a result, Grandpa Isaac was submissive and always deferred to Grandma Rebekah. We used to joke that if you want to know what Grandpa thought, just ask Grandma! My great-grandfather, Abraham, had multiple personalities as well. Beginning life as Abram, he later became Abraham and left everything from the world into which he was born just to follow a voice that only he heard. At the behest of the “invisible voice,” he almost killed his own son. Who does that??? Clearly, my gene pool had a predisposition to schizophrenia and was flawed from the start.

Sadly, my mother’s family was no better, and indeed it may even have been worse. My great-grandmother Sarai/Sarah also was two people — and at least one was a jealous sadist! She banished my grandfather’s first son, Ishmael, and his mother, Hagar, to certain death in the desert. It has been said that, like me, she was very beautiful, and also like me, her beauty caused problems.

Back to my father’s family… Grandma Rebekah was forced into an arranged marriage with Grandpa Isaac. They were a mismatched couple from the start. He was weak and seriously depressed. She was strong-willed, determined and resourceful, like me. But, she was a terrible mother, showing enormous favoritism toward my father and essentially despising his twin brother, Esau. She would say that she loved them both, only differently. She certainly believed that the ends justified the means because she was willing to do anything necessary to make sure her favorite son triumphed. I see it differently. She is from a long line of deceivers. She manipulated her husband into sending my dad to her brother, Uncle Laban, to find a life-partner. None of the local women were good enough to be the wife of her precious son, Jacob, and he had to marry one of her nieces. This was yet another way for Grandma to exert control of her favored son.

Uncle Laban was a crafty one, and for sure he possessed the same “manipulation gene” as his sister. Knowing that my father was obsessed with Aunt Rachel, he tricked him into marrying my mom first and was able to keep Dad as an indentured servant for 20 years, during which time I was born. Spending so much time among tricksters, Dad honed his craft of deceit. He outsmarted Uncle Laban and ended up absconding with the pride of his herd. Aunt Rachel was also a thief, and sometimes, when she wanted to curry favor with me, she would let me play with the household idols she stole from her father. She would tell me stories about her childhood, growing up in a culture that worshipped ancestral deities rather than the invisible voice of Dad’s family. Mom was always jealous of Aunt Rachel, and I couldn’t blame her. Rachel was the only one, other than the invisible voice, to whom Dad would listen. My earliest years were lonely. I had no sisters and 11 brothers. What are the odds of that kind of split? My brothers weren’t very good playmates, and I longed for a girlfriend with whom I could share my secrets. I was thrilled when Dad announced we were leaving Uncle Laban’s community and going back to his old neighborhood. “Perhaps we will resettle someplace where I can make some girlfriends,” I hoped. I was filled with excitement and optimism.

But my hopes were quickly dimmed. During the entire journey, Dad was preoccupied with demonstrating to Uncle Esau how successful he had become. And, he was obsessed with preventing Uncle Esau from getting to know me. Dad had another out-of-body experience, and by now he was truly psychotic.

Had I been Uncle Esau, I surely would have killed Dad. But, unlike the other members of Daddy’s family, Uncle Esau was remarkably cordial and gracious to his ungrateful sibling. He hooked Dad up with a real estate broker, and Dad bought land for us to settle down. I was pleased, because it meant we could stop wandering and we finally had a place of our own. This, alas, was not the end of my troubles but merely the beginning of a new chapter of sadness and our family dysfunction.

Dad became increasingly overprotective. More than ever, I longed for the company of women. I heard about a gathering of women, and I longed to attend. I begged my parents to permit me to go and did not stop nagging them until they gave in. What I did not expect was to meet Shechem. It immediately became clear that he was smitten by me. He was tender and gentle in a way that I’d never seen between my parents. It reminded me of the way Dad behaved with Aunt Rachel. What happened next is still a little foggy. Shechem told me that he loved me and was going to ask his father to do whatever it took to persuade my Dad to allow us to marry. I was so excited by the prospect of marrying someone other than a family member.

I wish I could tell you that my love story ended happily, but happiness would not be mine. Now, I admit we had sex, but it was as much my idea as Shechem’s. I knew my father would be upset, but I never expected that my brothers, Simon and Levi, who were never particularly attentive before would now became my self-appointed “protectors.” I was so dizzy to know that someone would be willing to do absolutely anything to win my hand in marriage. But, instead of accepting the open-ended offer of Shechem’s father, my dad let my miserable brothers set the terms. Imagine my surprise when they demanded that Shechem and all of the men of his community become circumcised. And, I was even more surprised when they all agreed. He loved me so much that he was able to persuade others to do this! Wow! I was elated…but that was short-lived.

Just two days later my brothers slaughtered my lover and all of the residents of his town. They claimed they did this for me…so that I would not be dishonored. Who asked them to protect my honor?? I knew that they had anger-management issues…and were also carriers of the deceit gene…but I never could have predicted such barbaric behavior. So much unnecessary suffering and bloodshed, all because someone really truly loved me! I could have understood, but never accepted as appropriate, the behavior of all of my brothers had I just been a fling for Shechem. But he wanted to do the right thing by marrying me.

This could have been the end to my curse of womanhood and the even more painful curse of being an unloved daughter. My status would have changed to that of beloved wife. My father selfishly thought only of how their violence would affect his relations with his neighbors. I often wonder if I’d been Rachel’s daughter, instead of the daughter of Leah the Unloved, would things have turned out differently. What about my happiness?? Oh, woe is me!!!

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