Many have focused on the actions of Shimon and Levi in this account, however, the greater lesson here is one of holiness, that is, Israel’s need to be set apart unto God alone.
Yaakov has only recently separated himself and his family from Esav in obedience to God’s instruction regarding the unique role that Israel is to have among the nations. Now, having only just returned to the Land of promise, he is faced with yet another threat to Israel’s distinctive identity in God. The threat of intermarriage with the idolatrous inhabitants of Shechem (See Gen 24; 27:46-28:9 for the lengths to which the Patriarchs will go to avoid intermarriage). As in the case of the many other events recorded early in Genesis, this story may well have acted as inspiration for the writing of later commandments (Exodus 23:27-33; Deut. 22:28-29; Deut. 7:1-5).
Many have focused on the actions of Shimon and Levi in this account, however, the greater lesson here is one of holiness, that is, Israel’s need to be set apart unto God alone. With this in mind we are able to better navigate the great offense that is represented in the defiling of Dinah and the judgement that comes against the people of Shechem as a result of their prince’s sin.
34:1 And Dinah (Judgement) Bat Leah (Daughter of Leah [Weary]), which she bore unto Ya’akov (Follows after the heel), went out to see the Banot HaAretz (Daughters of the land).
Given the lengths to which Yaakov has gone to keep his family separate (camped outside the city Gen. 33:18), it is at very least foolish for Dinah to compromise cultural etiquette by leaving the camp to engage with the daughters of the of the land (Specifically the provence of Shechem). Some of our Sages suggest that Dinah was enticed by the daughters of Shechem, however, there is nothing in the text to indicate this. The plain meaning of the text simply denotes an inquisitive teenager’s poorly thought out adventure, one that ends in tragedy and heart break for Dinah.
One might ask, “Why was she not seen leaving and called back?” To which we can respond, “Her brothers were elsewhere herding the animals and Yaakov along with his wives could easily have been preoccupied at the time.”
2 And when Shechem (Back) Ben Chamor (Son of a He-ass) the Chivi (Aramaic: Serpentine or Hebrew: Hivite, villagers), Nasi HaAretz (Prince of the land) saw her, he took her, and lay with her, and violated her.
The Midrash notes that the Hebrew Chivi, does not refer to Shechem being a Hivite because he is an Amorite (Gen. 48:22). It states therefore, that the word Chivi is a borrowed Aramaic word meaning Serpentine. Thus we read, “Shechem son of a He-ass, the serpentine prince of the land”.
Some suggest that the last word of verse two simply refers to fornication (sexual relations outside of the marriage covenant). However, the combining of the terms, “took, lay, violated” denotes a violent act that can only be seen as rape. This act would have had far reaching consequences for Dinah given the stigma attached to women in this ancient culture, who were considered sexually defiled, unclean (2 Sam. 13:12-16).
It is worth noting that these events must have taken place in or near the city of Shechem and in close proximity to the daughters of the land and yet no one came to Dinah’s aid.
3 And his nefesh (Core being) had devak (Clung to, overtook, pursued) Dinah Bat Ya’akov (Judgement the daughter of the one who follows after the heel), and he loved the na’arah (Young woman), and spoke to (implored) the lev (core being, soul, heart) of hanaarah (The Young Woman). 4 And Shechem spoke unto Chamor aviv (his father), saying, “Get me this yaldah (child) for an isha (wife).”
In some sense the opening phrase could read, “With all his might he overtook Dinah”. The text is careful to show Dinah’s connection to Yaakov, thus making her rape and capture a defiling act against the household of Israel.
Having taken Dinah without any attempt to arrange betrothal through proper channels, and having ruined any chance of her having future prospects for marriage, Shechem seems to have developed a genuine love for Dinah and with no respect for her feelings or her victimization, he begs her to reciprocate. Dinah is initially described as a young woman (na’arah), however this is qualified by the term that follows; yaldah (a female child). The Sages say that Dinah was 13 years of age when these events occurred. This only adds to the despicable nature of Shechem’s crime.
5 And Ya’akov heard that he (Shechem) had made his bat Dinah (Daughter Judgement) tameh (sexually unclean, defiled); now his banim (Sons) were with his mikneh (herds) in the sadeh (field); and Ya’akov held his peace until they were come.
Yaakov had heard of Dinah’s defilement but the text infers that he had heard the information from a source other than Dinah herself, which is consistent with the latter verses explaining her residence in the house of Shechem; meaning that Shechem had, with the approval of his father Chamor, kept Dinah at his home in Shechem (city) from the time of the rape.
It seems likely that while Yaakov may have wanted to rescue his daughter at once, he realised that the residents of Shechem outnumbered his retinue and that he must consider his response carefully before acting so as not to endanger Dinah further. Thus he, “held his peace”, waiting for his sons to return so that they could aid him in the recovery of their sister.
6 And Chamor avi Shechem (He-ass, father of Back) went out unto Ya’akov to speak with him.
Having either intentionally or tacitly approved of his sons actions, Chamor, after ignoring all accepted cultural protocol for seeking a betrothal contract, goes out from the town of Shechem where Yaakov’s daughter Dinah is being held against her will, to speak with Yaakov and arrange a marriage and co-existence between their tribes. If this behaviour is vindictive of the culture in Shechem, it is proof that they are a people of dubious moral character at best.
7 And the Bnei Ya’akov (Sons of Jacob) came from the sadeh (field) when they heard it; and the anashim (men) were grieved (hurt, tortured within), and they were extremely furious, because he (Shechem) had brought nevalah (folly, disgrace, outrage) against Yisrael in lying with Bat Ya’akov (Daughter of Jacob); a thing that should not to be done.
At the beginning of this account Dinah is called the daughter of Leah (Weary), that is, a daughter of vulnerability. Here however, she is called the daughter of Yaakov, who is the daughter of the disciple of HaShem, a man who has been given the name Israel and with it the Land. Shechem’s sin, as abhorrent as it is in regard to Dinah’s personal suffering, is considered by the sons of Israel to be a defiling of their father’s name and of Israel’s identity as a set apart people unto HaShem. Thus it is, “a thing that should not be done!” (An abomination). It is in understanding the spiritual implications of Shechem’s act that we are able to better understand the actions of Shimon and Levi in avenging their sister.
8 And Chamor spoke with them, saying, “The nefesh (Inner being) of beni (my son) Shechem longs for your bat (Daughter); now give her to him as a isha (Wife).
9 So intermarry with us, and give your banot (daughters) to us, and take benoteinu (our daughters) for yourselves.
This request is offensive on many levels, however the greatest offense is against the lineage of God’s chosen people. The patriarchs have pursued marriage within their own ethnicity according to God’s instruction and Yaakov has imparted this tradition to his children. The Torah, speaking of, among others, the Amorites and Chivi, says:
“Neither shall you make marriages with them; your daughter you shall not give unto his son, nor his daughter shall you take for your son. For they will turn away your son from following Me, that they may serve elohim acherim (other gods); so will the anger of Hashem be kindled against you, and destroy you suddenly.” –D’varim/Deut. 7:4-5
In light of God’s calling on Israel and the later instruction of the Torah, what Chamor is proposing stands in direct opposition to the will of HaShem. The Scripture shows that the primary reason for Israel’s need to avoid intermarriage is for her protection against idolatry.
10 Then you will dwell with us; and HaAretz (The land) shall be before you; dwell and trade in it, and take possession of it.”
This is a deceptive proposal given that Chamor’s intention is not that Yaakov prosper but that he and the people of Shechem might prosper at Yaakov’s expense (v.23).
11 And Shechem said to her father (Yaakov) and to her achim (Brothers), “Let me find chen (grace) in your eyes, and whatever you require of me I will give. 12 Ask me for a great mohar (bride price, dowry) and mattan (gift), and I will pay according to what you demand of me; but give me the na’arah (Young woman) as isha (a wife).”
Having defiled Dinah Shechem now pretends honour by offering a bride price (mohar), something that should have been done before he approached her to have sex with her.
13 And the Bnei Ya’akov (the sons of Jacob) answered Shechem and Chamor aviv (his father) with mirmar (cunning) when they spoke because he had made Dinah their achot (sister) tameh (Unclean, defiled);
The sons of Yaakov had arrived at the camp at the same time as Chamor and Shechem but they had time after hearing of the atrocity to formulate a plan of retaliation while the travelled back to the camp. They don’t lose their cool but devise a ruse that will gain them the time they need to rescue their sister and redeem their father’s honour. The emphasis again on the Hebrew tameh (defiled, unclean) juxtaposes the heinousness of the crime against the cunning of the response.
14 And they said to them, “We cannot do this thing, to give achoteinu (our sister) to ish (a man) that is arelah (uncircumcised); for that would be a cherpah (reproach, disgrace) to us; 15 But in this will we consent to you: If you will become like us, that every zachar (male) of you be circumcised; 16 Then will we give benoteinu (our daughters) to you, and we will take your banot (daughters) to us, and we will dwell among you, and we will become as Am Echad (One People). 17 But if you will not pay heed to us, to become circumcised; then we’ll take biteinu (our daughter), and we will go.
The brothers of Dinah clearly had no intention of honouring their proposed arrangement. They were preparing for retribution and needed a way to make their enemy vulnerable because without an advantage they would have been outnumbered and unable to rescue Dinah. It is difficult to pass judgement on their deception because it is merely being used as a ploy in order to facilitate the righteous action of rescuing their sister from wicked men.
Notice that the brothers of Dinah call her their daughter. This is to emphasize her very young age and identify her as a vulnerable and precious member of the family of Yaakov.
18 And their words pleased Chamor, and Shechem Ben Chamor (Son of Chamor).
19 And the na’ar (Young man) agreed to do the thing, because he had delight in Bat Ya’akov (The daughter of Jacob); and he was the most respected member kol Bait Aviv (of all his father’s house).
The title, “Most respected member of all his father’s house” infers Shechem’s rule over the people and his influence upon their daily practices.
20 And Chamor and Shechem bno came unto the Sha’ar of their city, and they spoke with the anashim (men) of their city, saying,
As I have alluded to in previous articles, the city gate is the location of all legal agreements and official city wide declarations and proposals in the ancient East.
21 “These anashim (men) are shlemim (peaceable) with us; therefore let them settle in HaAretz (The land), and let them trade for HaAretz (The land), hinei (behold, wow, at once), it is plenty of room for them; let us take their banot (daughters) to us as nashim (wives), and let us give them benoteinu (our daughters). 22 Only in order for these anashim (men) to consent to dwell with us, as Am Echad (One people), every zachar (male) among us must be circumcised, just as they are nimolim (ones being circumcised). 23 Shall not their mikneh (herds) and their property and every behemah (beast) of theirs be ours? Only let us consent to them, and they will settle among us.”
It is verse 23 that reveals Chamor and Shechem’s true motivations. In fact, it is possible that Shechem’s raping of Dinah was part of a larger plan to gain wealth through intermarriage with Yaakov.
24 And to Chamor and to Shechem bno (his son) paid heed all those that went out of the Sha’ar (gate) of his city; and every zachar (male) was circumcised, all that went out of the Sha’ar (gate) of his city.
This verse is strategically important because it confirms that all the men of the town and surrounding province of Shechem submitted themselves to the procedure. Thus incapacitating the province’s entire force of fighting men
25 And it came to pass on Yom HaShlishi (the third day), when they were in pain, that two of the Bnei Ya’akov (sons of Jacob), Shimon (hears: Listens to God) and Levi (joined to: Priesthood), achei Dinah (brothers of), took each ish (man) his cherev (sword, long knife), and came upon the Ir (city) betach (with trust, boldly, confidently), and they slaughtered kol zachar (all the males).
The third day following an adult circumcision is said to be the most painful day of recovery, thus Shimon and Levi planned their attack to maximize the number of potential casualties. In fact, they killed every male in the town of Shechem.
It seems that the other sons of Yaakov were either unwilling to kill the men of Shechem, or simply less zealous in retribution and lagging behind. They do however, appear later in order to plunder the city.
Shimon is Leah’s third born and Levi her sixth child and the child closest in age to Dinah. It seems that these two brothers of Dinah must have had a close relationship with her and are therefore, fiercely protective of her. Their anger is later criticized by Yaakov but he does not question their reasons or their love for Dinah and the household of Israel.
26 And they slaughtered Chamor and Shechem bno (his son) with the edge of the cherev (sword), and took Dinah from the Bait Shechem (House of) and left.
Dinah, like a modern sex trafficked slave, has been kept in Shechem’s own house this entire time.
27 The Bnei Ya’akov came upon the chalalim (dead ones, slain ones), and plundered the Ir (city), because they had made their achot (sister) tameh (defiled, violated, unclean).
The remaining sons of Yaakov, though not directly involved in the slaying of the men of Shechem, none the less show tacit approval, and with the defilement of their sister in mind they plunder the entire city.
28 They seized their tzon (sheep), and their bakar (oxen), and their chamorim (asses), and that which was in the Ir (city), and that which was in the sadeh (field), 29 And all their wealth, and all their little ones, and their nashim (wives, women) they carried off and plundered even all that was in the bayit (house).
Chamor and Shechem had planned to become rich off of Yaakov, instead, Yaakov grows rich as a consequence of Shechem’s sin. Bayit (House) is singular and denotes a counter point to Shechem’s imprisoning of Dinah in his Bayit. The Bayit, once a place where he trapped the woman whom he thought would bring him joy and riches, is now gutted of all its wealth over his dead body.
30 And Ya’akov said to Shimon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me to make me a stench among the inhabitants of HaAretz (The land) among the Kena’ani and the Perizzi; and I being few in mispar (number), they shall gather themselves together against me, and attack me; and I shall be destroyed, I and my bayit (household).”
Notice that at least at this juncture, Yaakov does not say that Shimon and Levi have acted unjustly, nor does he accuse them of wrong doing (although, on his death bed he does curse the anger of Shimon and Levi and condemns the brothers for being excessive in their zeal Gen. 49:5-7). At this point Yaakov seems less concerned with the retribution carried out on his daughter’s behalf and more concerned with the resulting effect it might have with regard to the tribes who inhabit the land around about him.
“Shimon and Levi are achim (brothers); kelei chamas (instruments of violence) are their swords. O my nefesh, enter not you into their sod (secret, council); unto their kehal (assembly), may my kavod (glory), not be united with them; for in their anger they slaughtered ish (a man), and in their ratzon (self-will) they uprooted an ox. Arur (cursed) be their anger, for it was fierce; and their wrath, for it was cruel; I will dispense them in Ya’akov, and scatter them in Yisrael.” –Genesis 49:5-7
Note that it is note Shimon or Levi who are cursed but their anger and their wrath.
“Human anger does not produce the righteousness that God requires.” –Yaakov 1:20
31 And they said, “Should he deal with achoteinu (our sister) like with zonah (prostitute)?”
This is of course a rhetorical question. It goes unanswered because it need not be answered. No man should defile a woman in this way. The man who does will be judged (Dinah) and hearing God (Shimon) the Priest (Levi: joined) of HaShem will join in the task of punishing him.
© Yaakov Brown
Spiritual leader of Beth Melekh Community, Auckland, Aotearoa, N.Z.