5769 - #10
CARING FOR ESAV
Bereishit Rabbah, Vayishlach 76:91 presents a most interesting explanation as to why Bereishit 32:23 only refers to eleven children of Yaakov. At the time, of course, Yaakov had, at least,2 12 children. The question is thus asked: where was Dina?3 The midrash explains that Yaakov sealed her in a box to prevent Esav from seeing her and desiring her, leading to a possibility of Dina ending up married to Esav.4 The midrash then explains that, for this act, Yaakov was punished for not relating to his brother with chesed, with caring. Rashi explains that Yaakov should have considered the possibility of Dina leading Esav back to a path of righteousness and, thus, preventing Esav from seeing her ended the possibility of Dina positively affecting Esav.5 The commentators, though, have a tremendous problem with this explanation. How can Yaakov be faulted for trying to prevent his daughter from marrying an evil person, even considering the possibility that Dina could have affected Esav positively; is there not also the possibility of Esav negatively affecting Dina? Siftei Chachamim, Bereishit 32:33 further intensifies the question with reference to Dina’s mother, Leah Imeinu, who cried when people said she was destined to marry Esav: why is Leah not punished, but rather praised, for couldn’t we say that she also could have brought Esav back to a path of righteousness? It is, rather, totally understandable that a righteous person would not want to marry, or that righteous parents would not want their child to marry, someone evil. How then could Yaakov Aveinu be faulted in attempting to keep Dina away from Esav’s grasp?
Many answers are presented. Siftei Chachamim, effectively, points out that Esav, it would seem, was, at this time, already on a path towards the good and thus was open to being affected by Dina. He also raises the possibility that Dina was different than her mother and while Leah may have not been successful in reforming Esav, Dina could have been. The bottom line is that, in matters of relationships (and, in particular, shiduchim), one has to look at the individuals and the circumstances, not generic categories. While generally we would be wary of connecting a righteous person with a not-so-righteous person, the case of any two specific individuals cannot be evaluated in a general way.
Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky, Emet L’Yaakov, Bereishit 32:33 raises the issue of who else Dina could have married if not Esav. In fact, in that generation, Esav, it would seem, was actually one of the better people. In the very least, Rav Yaakov maintains, there are indications that Yaakov Avinu did not see Esav as that bad a rasha,6 an evildoer, and that given this perspective of Esav, it was wrong for Yaakov not to allow the possibility of a relationship with Dina fully transforming Esav. Again we are left with the message that every situation must be evaluated on its own merits. In any event, part of this explanation would seem to be built upon the idea that there clearly is a value in promoting a relationship that could have a transforming effect on its participants. This value, furthermore, would seem to increase as the probability of success in transforming the less righteous person increases.
All these thoughts would seem to reflect an attitude in our community that we value. When the concept of outreach, kiruv, was first considered, a disagreement amongst the gedolei hador, the leaders of the generation, whether it should be pursued or not, ensued. While all agreed that bringing people back to Torah would be a most positive accomplishment, there was also concern over the potential cost. Would interaction with less righteous individuals have a negative effect on more righteous individuals? Should we take the risk? While the issue did not necessarily concern marriage – and indeed a consideration of marriage in such circumstances would still demand more scrutiny – the case of Dina would seem to imply that the general risk was worth taking. Of course, the specific circumstances still need to be evaluated but the lesson of Dina would seem to be clear. We are to care. We are to wish to bring others under the kanfei haTorah, the wings of Torah. This, in fact, would seem to be obvious. The words of Torah Temima, Bereishit 32:33, note 9 are thus bewildering. We could understand Yaakov’s dilemma in not knowing if a potential benefit to Esav would be worth the risk of a potential harm to Dina. But, can we not say that, clearly, Yaakov would want Esav to become better? The Torah Temima seems to say – no.
The Torah Temima seems to say that Yaakov knew that, for sure, Dina would change Esav for the good. And this is why he hid her; he didn’t want Esav to return to the path of righteousness. This answer actually would explain why Hashem would be angry with Yaakov. The problem is: can we even imagine Yaakov ever thinking like this? Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Teshuva 6:3 states that the greatest punishment God can bring upon a person is to bar the person from the possibility of teshuva, repentance. 7 There must be a time when a person is to be treated for who he/she is, without any consideration for potential or transformation. Yaakov may have thought that this type of evaluation must also be one that a person should try and emulate. Thus he didn’t want to give Esav a chance to transform. This type of decision, though, is only to be left to God. Human beings must always believe and strive for transformation – for everyone.
Rabbi Benjamin Hecht e-mail
1 See, also, Yalkut Shimoni, Vayishlach 131.
2 There are medrashim that state that twin daughters were actually born with each of Yaakov’s sons. See Yalkut Shimoni, Mitketz 152 and Yalkut Me’am Lo’ez, Bereishit 30:23, 24. According to this view, the question could be further asked: why the concern only regarding the absence of Dina in the count? The answer may be that the midrash who raises this question about Dina does not agree with the view of this other midrash regarding twin sisters. There are other midrashim that seem to indicate that Yaakov’s only daughter was Dina. It may also be that this midrash’s concern is specifically in the context of the Chumash text which only mentions one daughter, Dina. The question, thus, may be specific to the Chumash text, in the count of eleven.
3 The question of why Dina is assumed to be the person that was not counted is asked by the commentators but is beyond the parameters of this Insight.
4 Esav could possibly force a marriage.
5 The midrash also blames this concealment for leading to the events with Shechem (Bereishit, c. 34) which is understood to be, also, a punishment to Yaakov.
5 See Rashi, Bereishit 19:17.
6 Rav Yaakov actually brings various sources for concluding that Esav was still one of the better people in this generation and for why Yaakov must also have seen Esav as not so bad. See, further, in the commentary. Of course, there are also many sources that present the exact opposite impression, that Esav was one of the worst rishayim in history and that Yaakov specifically wished to limit contact with him.7 There is actually much discussion and disagreement regarding this concept but that is beyond the parameters of this Insight.
(c) Nishma, 2008
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