Parashat Vayishlach - Genesis 32:3-36:43

This week’s parashah covers a lot of territory. We begin reading about Jacob preparing to meet his brother Esau after his departure from the house of Laban. From there we read about him wrestling through the night with what appears to be an angel of God. Jacob then encounters Esau and things go much better than expected. Esau is cordial and Jacob doesn’t get killed, so he skirts around his brother’s territory and heads over to Succoth. But after this we read of a sad incident in which his daughter, Dinah, is seduced and defiled by a man named Shechem. It is this incident that we will examine a little more closely.

When Shechem first saw Dinah he immediately desired her. He knew he needed to do whatever it took to get her. Our English translations make it appear that he simply found her alone and had his way with her. It says, “he seized her and lay with her and humiliated [or ‘violated’] her” (Genesis 34:2). The next verse, however, seems to indicate that Shechem had a genuine love for Dinah. It says, “And his soul was drawn to Dinah the daughter of Jacob. He loved the young woman and spoke tenderly to her” (Genesis 34:3). Even more confusing is the midrash’s account of how Dinah was rescued from Shechem. Commenting on the Torah’s account that they “took Dinah out of Shechem's house,” Rabbi Judah says, “They dragged her out [against her will] and departed” (Midrash Rabbah 80:11 commenting on Genesis 34:26).

At first, this doesn’t seem reasonable. It seems clear from a plain reading of the text that Dinah was being held against her wishes. A quick examination of the Hebrew, however, helps shed light on this. In Hebrew, the phrase, “[he] spoke tenderly to her,” is more literally translated, “he spoke to the heart of the young woman” (וַיְדַבֵּר עַל-לֵב הַנַּעֲרָ). It seems that Shechem was what we call a “smooth talker.” Whether their relationship began with this smooth talk or not, it seems clear that Dinah’s emotions were being played upon at some point along the way and kept her from leaving him. In today’s terminology, we would call situations like this codependency. In this situation a woman will continually return to her husband after being abused because she believes his love for her is sincere, despite his abusive behavior. This isn’t rational behavior. It can only exist when a person is being irrational.

But Dinah and other women in similar situations are not the only ones who fall prey to the devices of seduction. We all do. If we have ever sinned, then we realize this power, because in order to sin we first have to be deceived into believing we will derive benefit from our sinful actions. Although we may know the harmful effects of our bad choices, when we are being seduced it is extremely difficult to make rational decisions. We are no longer thinking and acting rationally. We say and do things that we would not do otherwise. 

Often our desire for immediate gratification is what gets us to this point. This is often the case when it comes to establishing a regular habit of something that would be beneficial for us such as prayer, study, or even exercise. We have a desire to pray, study, or exercise, but rather than sticking with our commitment, we fall prey to the allure of distractions that promise to deliver more immediate satisfaction than our original plan. 


When and how does it end? It sends when we can keep our eye on the prize that awaits us. If we are constantly distracted from the goal of the Kingdom and the things we must do to pursue it, it will be easy for the enemy to distract us to accomplish his goal instead. We must be ever vigilant against the deceptions of the enemy and the tricks he implores to lead us down paths we would never travel in our right minds.