Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Cost of Kiruv: A Midrash I'm Struggling With

Would you want your daughter to marry this man?
Imagine that your beautiful daughter, having excelled at school, a model student, community leader, religous personality - basically a wonderful girl - called you from college to tell you that, "Guess what?! I'm engaged!" After the shock wears off, you start to inquire about the young man. Imagine your surprise when you learn that her "beloved" is not only nothing like you expected, but nothing like her at all. Or you. Actually, he's something of a brute - and that's being generous.
While the young man is technically "Jewish", he's not observant in any way. Far from it. He's more of a ruffian. Actually, he's a criminal, the chief of a gang of thugs in his city. He's vulgar, crude and violent as well.
When your blood pressure medication finally kicks in and you raise some of your concerns with your daughter, she understands immediately. "I know it's not what you were expecting. Actually, I don't really like him that much myself either. I'm only marrying him for kiruv. After all, isn't that a good reason to marry someone?"
Actually, it's not. And the seeming absurdity of my imaginary scenrio only makes a comment in Rashi from Parashat Vayishlach all the more puzzling.
Vayishlach chronciles the troubling story of the capture and torment of Ya'akov's daughter, Dinah, who is seduced/raped by Shechem, the prince of Shechem (his father named the city after him. How touching. Makes it pretty clear why he thought he could do anything he liked.). We are left to wonder why Ya'akov, who seemingly faithfully follows the word of God to the letter, is punished in such a brutal and vulgar manner. After all, while Dinah bears the brunt of the suffering, the defilement of a daughter was considered a criminal offense so severe, as Netziv points out, that people would regularly risk their lives (and kill) to prevent it.
Rashi (based on a Midrash) provides an answer that always puzzled me. Interestingly, we find his answer to this question not in his commentary to the story of Dinah and Shechem, but earlier in the Parashah, when Ya'akov brings his family into the Land of Canaan. There we read,
וַיָּקָם בַּלַּיְלָה הוּא, וַיִּקַּח אֶת-שְׁתֵּי נָשָׁיו וְאֶת-שְׁתֵּי שִׁפְחֹתָיו, וְאֶת-אַחַד עָשָׂר, יְלָדָיו; וַיַּעֲבֹר, אֵת מַעֲבַר יַבֹּק. 
And he rose up that night, and took his two wives, and his two handmaids, and his eleven children, and passed over the ford of the Jabbok.  (Bereishit 32:23)
Rashi wonders: Eleven? True, Binyamin was not yet born, but what about Dinah? If we count her, Ya'akov had twelve children. Where was she?
ודינה היכן היתה? נתנה בתיבה ונעל בפניה שלא יתן בה עשו עיניו, ולכך נענש יעקב שמנעה מאחיו שמא תחזירנו למוטב, ונפלה ביד שכם
And where was Dinah? [Ya'akov] had placed her in a box and locked her inside, so that Eisav would not lay his eyes upon her. And for this Ya'akov was punished, for holding her back from his brother - for perhaps she would have returned him to the positive [path] - and therefore she fell into the hands of Shechem.
The langauge of the Midrash castigates Ya'akov even more sharply. According to the Midrash, God said to Ya'akov, "You withheld Dinah from a circumcised man (Eisav). I swear that she will fall into the hands of an uncircumcised man!" Ouch.
Why was Ya'akov punished so harshly? According to Rashi, God punished him for hiding his daughter from his brutish, murderous brother Eisav - the very same brother that caused his first wife, Leah, to cry her eyes out for fear of being married to him. This is also the same brother that Ya'akov goes to extraordinary lengths to get as far away from as possible - an effort that the Midrash soundly praises. And now the Midrash (and therefore Rashi) tell us that Ya'akov should have wanted his daughter to marry this man - share grandchildren with him - all for the sake of kiruv? Isn't that asking a bit much of him, and her?
I've always struggled with this lesson. Of course kiruv is important, and it's also equally true that a righteous wife can have a powerful spiritual influence on her family (while the opposite is less apparent). But asking Dinah to change Eisav seems excessive to me. Did God really expect that much of him? Isn't that asking to much?
If you've got a suggestion, please share in the comments.


  1. A suggestion for a direction of thought.

    Don't be so literal.
    Did Yaakov really lock Dina up in a box? Is locking someone away worth the fact that someone you don't like may want to marry them!?

    If he didn't really lock her in a box, then what did he do?

    And if the box isn't literal, then maybe marrying him to bring him onto the right path isn't literal either.

    This seems like a situation where you should look up the original midrash and it's orignal context and see whats going on here.

  2. Actually, the whole Midrash can be taken that Ya'akov was expected to do a Tikkun for his actions with the Berachot (at the instigation of his mother). His actions, whether right or wrong, caused an inexorable rift in the family. It is from that point and on that Halachah He, Eisav Soneh Et Ya'akov. We have another Midrash that states that the cry reverberated until the time of Esther and Mordechai, when Mordechai cried in the streets of Shushan. The Midrash can be stating, therefore, that if Dina would've married Esav, she could've been the Tikkun for the episode of the blessing, and then History would've been very different.

    It might be asking a lot of a young girl, but we see other times, when a lot is asked of people (some of the kings, Queen Esther, etc).

  3. Avi,
    The original midrash is pretty explicitly exactly like Rashi. There's no significant difference that I could tell. I just can't tell where you're going with the Midrash if you want to take it figuratively.
    ZSI - I find your thinking appealing. Thanks.

  4. Rashi is terse and concise, the Midrash is long with multiple topics and thoughts within the same area. That's all I meant.

    Since I don't know what the midrash actuallys says, I can't say where I would go with it. However, the phrase "locked her away in a box" would be translated by me as, "Did not allow her to socialize with" or "Taught her that Eisav was evil and to stay away from him and his followers." or something similar.


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