Parshat Vayishlach 5781: The Actions of Shimon and Levi Against Shechem — Consistency of Tribal Hashkafah?

Shalom Friends;

This week, our Parshat HaShevua Vayishlach is being sponsored by Tzvi and Shari Gherman and family of Ramat Beit Shemesh in honor of Vayishlach being Tzvi’s Bar Mitzvah Parsha. To the Gherman family, many thanks for your sponsorship and your continued kindnesses.

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Moshe Burt
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Parshat Vayishlach 5781: The Actions of Shimon and Levi Against Shechem — Consistency of Tribal Hashkafah?

by Moshe Burt

In past years, this author has discussed Yaakov’s fight with the moloch, his preparations for, and his confrontation with his estranged brother Eisev. This Parsha always seems to bring to mind that old Four Tops tune: “If you bite My neck, I’ll turn to Stone…”

Also, in past years, this author has discussed various dimensions of Shechem ben Chamor’s seduction of Dina and his desire to inter-marry with Yaakov’s family, the deep indignation felt by Yaakov’s sons which led to the action of Shimon and Levi against the men of Shechem.

Torah relates the sequence of events (Sefer Breish’t, Perek 34, posukim 1-4, 6-7):

“Now Dinah — the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Yaakov — went out to look over the daughters of the land. Shechem, son of Chamor the Hivvite, the prince of the land, saw her; he took her, and he lay with her, and violated her. He became deeply attached to Dinah, daughter of Yaakov; he loved the maiden and spoke to the maiden’s heart. So Shechem spoke to Chamor, his father saying, ‘Take me this girl for a wife.’”

“Chamor, Shechem’s father, went out to Yaakov to speak to him. Yaakov’s sons arrived from the field, when they heard; the men were distressed. and were fired deeply with indignation, for he had committed an outrage… by lying with a daughter of Yaakov — and such a thing is not done.”

Rashi notes on this last posuk (Perek 34, posuk 7):

“And such a thing is not done” To violate virgins; for the nations of the world restricted themselves from sexual immorality because of the flood. (cited from Breish’t Rabbah 80:6, “And such a thing is not done” implies a widely accepted restriction… One of the sins for which Hashem destroyed the world at the time of the flood was sexual immorality.)

Sefer Shem Mishmuel (Shem Mishmuel, by Rabbi Shmuel Bornstein, the Sochaczever Rebbe, as rendered to English by Rabbi Zvi Belovski, Parsha Vayishlach, pages 57-60) discusses the Torah’s account of the capture and violation of Yaakov’s daughter Dinah by Shechem ben Chamor:

…Chamor… was the ruler of the area. After the rape [of Dinah by Shechem], Shechem and Chamor negotiated with Yaakov’s family for Shechem’s right to marry Dinah. The condition of acceptance was that Shechem and all of his male townsfolk had to circumcise themselves. Shechem was only too eager to carry out the operation “…because he desired the daughter of Yaakov, although he was the most honored of all of his father’s household.”

Shem Mishmuel goes on to note that Dinah’s name is not mentioned here, but is referred to as “the daughter of Yaakov,” indicating that Shechem wanted Dinah, not simply for his physical desires, but because she was Yaakov’s daughter!

Shem Mishmuel goes on to comment:

Shechem wanted to be associated with Yaakov and his family, to be part of Yaakov’s… world. Indeed, Shechem actually means “segment” or “portion”…

We could say that Shechem wanted a portion in Yaakov’s life; he wanted not just Dinah, but also to share… [Yaakov’s] greatness. Indeed, this is the opposite of the generally correct position to be taken by a potential convert. The Gemara informs us that the convert should feel that he is privileged to join the Jewish people, even though he is unworthy. (Shem Mishmuel citing Gemara Yevamos 47a) Instead, Shechem felt that he deserved a place within Yaakov’s family.

Rabbi Shmuel Goldin provides a context in his sefer, “Unlocking the Torah Text”, Sefer Breish’t on our Parsha Vayishlach (page 194):

On the third day following the mass circumcision, Yaakov’s sons, Shimon and Levi enter the city, and taking advantage of thee weakened state of the inhabitants, slaughter all of the males. They then lay waste to the entire city.

Yaakov criticizes his sons, claiming that their actioons have made the family vulnerable to attack from the surrounding nations. Shimon and Levi respond: “Shall our sister be treated as a harlot?” (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Breish’t, Perek 34, posuk 31)

Rabbi Goldin continues (ibid, page 197-199):

…Scholars maintain, the Shechemites were only going along with the agreement for personal gain at the expense of Yaakov and his family. At the first possible opportunity, Chamor and his subjects would have turned against Yaakov. Shimon and Levi acted to forestall such an eventuality. (Rabbi Goldin citing Sforno on Sefer Breish’t, Perek 34, posuk 25)

…Decades later….on his deathbed, blessing his sons, Yaakov turns to Shimon and Levi and exclaims: ” Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce, and their wrath, for it is harsh. I will separate them…, disperse them within Yisrael.” (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Breish’t, Perek 49, posuk 7)

Levi becomes the progenitor of both the Kohanim (priests) and the Levi’im (those who serve within the Beit Hamikdash). While the Kohanim and Levi’im owned no land of their own and were, indeed scattered among the tribes, they occupied positions of exceptional honor. Shimon’s descendents, for their part, according to Rabbinic tradition,served as scribes and teachers of young children throughout the land. (Rabbi Goldin citing Rashi on Sefer Breish’t, Perek 49, posuk 7)

But as the history of the Jews evolves, centuries later, we find that the Levi’im consistently uphold the honor of B’nei Yisrael, while Shevet Shimon does a one hundred and eighty degree turn.

Rabbi Goldin explains in his vort on on Parshat V’zos HaBrachot in his sefer “Unlocking The Torah Text,” Sefer Devarim, (page 370, 372-374):

So grievous is the sin of Ba’al Pe’or and so great the culpability of Shevet Shimon, the Ibn Ezra, Rashi and others maintain that Shevet Shimon [was] completely omitted from Moshe’s final Brachot. (Rabbi Goldin citing Rashi on Sefer Devarim, Perek 33, posuk 7, Ibn Ezra, Sefer Devarim, Perek 33, posuk 6)

…A beautiful Midrash connects and contrasts the fates of Sh’vatim Levi and Shimon, based on their actions in the intervening generations between Yaakov’s Brachot and those of Moshe.

Shimon and Levi, the Midrash explains, both incur a moral debt when, through deceit and violence, they wreak vengeance upon the city of Shechem in response to the rape of their sister Dina.

Ultimately, …Shevet Levi redeems its debt at the foot of Har Sinai, not only by refraining from participation in the sin of the egel zahav [the golden calf], but also by responding to Moshe’s call to action in the sin’s aftermath…. At Moshe’s instruction, the Levites defend Hashem’s honor by executing the active perpetrators of the sin. Furthermore, [in light of the sin of the Ba’al Pe’or], through the daring actions of [Pinchas] one of their own, Shevet Levi goes… further and, in the terminology of the Midrash, “advances a loan” to Hashem. (Rabbi Goldin citing Sifrei on Sefer Devarim, Perek 33, posuk 8)

Shevet Shimon, in contrast, not only fails to redeem the moral debt incurred at Shechem, but adds to that debt through the active involvement of its members in the sin of the Ba’al Pe’or. (Rabbi Goldin again citing Sifrei on Sefer Devarim, Perek 33, posuk 8)

The descendants of Shimon, whose violent tendencies lead them again and again to sin, are omitted entirely from Moshe’s blessings and fail to receive their… [distinct] geographic inheritance in Eretz Yisrael. The descendants of Levi, who apply the same tendency toward zealousness towards good in their …[upholding] of Hashem’s honor, earn one of the most beautiful of Moshe’s Brachot and attain the… leadership role at nation’s spiritual helm. In contrast to his brother, Levi has more than “redeemed his debt” to the Almighty.

This vort carries the title: The Actions of Shimon and Levi Against Shechem — Consistency of Tribal Hashkafah? for a reason. While Shevet Levi consistently follows his action regarding the Shechemites by pursuing the attributes of national self-respect and righteous service of Hashem throughout our history, such as reflected by answering Moshe’s call “Mi Hashem Ei’lai after the egel zahav and the actions of Pinchas in acting against Zimri and Kosbi as the two co-habited. The same cannot be said for Shevet Shimon.

In the case of Shevet Shimon, while he showed a strong attribute of national self-respect in acting against the Shechemites, his subsequent actions throughout our history reflect a one hundred and eighty degree turn-about. — total loss of national self-respect, apparent contempt for Moshe Rabbeinu and incurring additional “moral debt.”

The Midrash Says (Sefer Bamidbar, page 351) describes how:

The members of the Tribe of Shimon were very distressed because many of their kinsmen had been sentenced to death. They came before their nassi, Zimri, and reproached him, “How can you keep silent in the face of so many deaths?”

Zimri reacted by brazenly challenging Moshe in public.

Zimri, the prince of Shavet Shimon and the most prominent individual to take part in this act of physical lust, displayed a distorted and false perception and rationale in bringing Kosbi into the Camp and co-habitating with her before The Assembly.

Four years ago, this author cited R’Rafael Katzenellenbogen who is cited in Studies in the Weekly Parsha, by Yehuda Nachshoni referring to R’ Sonnenfeld who noted that Zimri’s distorted sense of “acting for the sake of Shemayim” evolved from;

“…a novel, misleading ideology, that evil must be tolerated by incorporating it into the Camp of Israel, to dissuade the lustful man from finding himself in the camp of idolaters.” (Studies in the Weekly Parsha, by Yehuda Nachshoni, Parsha Balak, page 1115.)

Zimri’s alleged “L’Shem Shemayim” model; bringing co-habitation with Moabite women into the camp of B’nai Yisrael lest men go looking for it outside, i.e., at the Midianite/Moabite Bazaar where the co-habitation was an enticement and seduction to the avodah zora Ba’al Pe’or, seemed a cover for his (Zimri’s) true motivations and intentions. Zimri’s “In your face, Moshe” demeanor appeared as motivated by lust for power, just as Korach’s true motivations were covered by rationale of accusation of nepotism against Moshe Rabbeinu and Aaron.

Shevet Shimon’s one-hundred and eighty degree turn foretells the dilemma of many Jews in our generations.

Jews stood everywhere with the Tzedaka cans collecting funds for Israel pre-statehood and during its modern-day infancy. Jews risked all to smuggle weapons and other goods to the infant State of Israel. And American Jews’ emotions hung on every report during the Six-Day War and the Yom Kippur War.

Yet, many Jews, particularly many American Jews and Jews of other Western nations, have evolved into a similar one-hundred and eighty degree turn, to the extent that they identify primarily as citizens of the United States, or wherever they currently reside, with a substantial de-emphasis and destructive self-hatred of their Judaism. Like, Shevet Shimon, many Jews have totally lost their sense of national self-respect and righteousness. An unfortunate lesson seemingly unlearned in our generations.

May we, the B’nei Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them and that the thrice expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebuilt homes, at government expense; both due to alt-leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized Yassamnik gunpoint. Baruch Hashem that our dear brother Jonathan Pollard is now free of his parole and restrictions and can come home to Eretz Yisrael once his ill wife Esther Yocheved bat Rayzl Bracha completes her treatments for cancer. May the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem — as with the return in April, 2019, via Russia, of the remains of Zachariah Baumel, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of five and a half years ago. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and prevent Chas V’Challila the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. And may we soon and finally see the total end to the Communist Chinese corona virus pandemic and all like viruses. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nei Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem Al’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayrah b’yamainu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos!
Moshe Burt is an Oleh, writer and commentator on news and events in Eretz Yisrael. He is the founder and director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network and lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.