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Parshat Vayishlach - Nochum Friedmann

It says in this week's Parsha "וינו בני יעקב את שכם ואת חמור אביו במרמה וידאו אשר טמא את דינה אחותם" - "Yaakov's sons answered Shechem and his father Chamor cleverly and they spoke because they had defiled their sister Dinah" (34:13). There seems to be nothing subtle about what they were doing; from the way the account is presented, it appears as if they simply lied to Shechem and his father. At first, they apparently said that if the men of Shechem would submit to circumcision, they would agree to let him marry Dinah. Later they killed them all without warning. But it is impossible to believe that Yaakov's sons acted treacherously.


Yaakov's sons spoke wisely and ambiguously. They said "לא נוכל לעשות הדבר הזה לתת את אחותנו לאיש אשר לו ערלה" - "We cannot do this thing, to give our sister to a man who has an uncircumcised organ" (34:14). Actually, they should have said, "We cannot give her to one who is uncircumcised". But they actually meant that they could not give her to anyone who had had an uncircumcised organ when he was a man that is, as an adult. Since the men of Shechem had remained uncircumcised until they were adults, the mere operation could no longer help.


Furthermore, they hinted that acceptance does not merely depend on the cutting of a small piece of foreskin. It actually requires faith in God and observance of His commandments. Even if the men of Shechem submitted to circumcision, they would be considered uncircumcised. Their hearts and minds were uncircumcised, and they did not accept correction.


This was a subtle point, which Shechem and Chamor did not understand. They were like donkey's and they thought that with minor surgery, they would obtain Dinah.


Yaakov's sons even clarified their words when they said, "אם תהיו עצמו להמל לכם כל זכר" - "If you will be like us, circumcising every male" (34:15). They were saying "You must be like us, accepting the yoke of the commandments, and fearing God. If you circumcise yourself with this intent, we will accede to your request".


Shechem and Chamor, of course, did not fulfill this condition and Yaakov's sons were therefore justified in what they did. They did not lie. If Shechem and Chamor did not understand their meaning, it was not their fault.


Another part of the scheme of Yaakov's sons had been their initial display of anger. Normally, when two people argue and one displays rage, his anger soon passes. If he remains quiet, however, he can bear a grudge for a long time. We find a good example of this when Amnon defiled it Avshalom's sister Tamar. The Tanach relates that "ולא דבר אבשלום עם אמנון למרע ועד טוב" - "Avshalom would not speak with Amnon, neither good nor bad" (Shmuel 2 13:22). In the end, Avshalom killed him.


This was part of the brother's plan, they would put Shechem off guard by displaying anger. The Torah, therefore, says, "וינו בני יעקב את שכם ואת חמור אביו במרמה וידאו אשר טמא את דינה אחותם" - "Yaakov's sons answered Shechem and his father Chamor cleverly and they spoke because they had defiled their sister Dinah" (34:13). Why does the Torah include the remark that Shechem had defiled Dinah?


This was part of their plan. They raged in anger when they spoke to Shechem, and they said, "How could you commit such an outrage, defiling our sister Dinah?" With angry gestures, they screamed at the young man. Later, when they began to speak reasonably, Shechem and Chamor assumed that they were no longer angry, that they were willing to forgive the violation of their sister. Now they were willing to let Shechem marry Dinah, and the only barrier was the fact they were uncircumcised. This could easily be rectified.


If the brothers had been quiet and not displayed anger, quickly agreeing to let him marry Dinah if he submitted to circumcision, Shechem and Chamor might have been suspicious. They might have reasoned, "Dinah's brothers are giving in too easily. They must have something up their sleeves". If suspicions were aroused, their plan might fail. The brothers tricked them into agreeing by their anger.

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