Bar-Ilan University's Parashat Hashavua Study Center

Parashat Va-Yishlah 5765/ November 27, 2004

Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan , Israel . A project of the Faculty of Jewish Studies, Paul and Helene Shulman Basic Jewish Studies Center, and the Office of the Campus Rabbi. Published on the Internet under the sponsorship of Bar-Ilan University 's International Center for Jewish Identity. Prepared for Internet Publication by the Computer Center Staff at Bar-Ilan University . Inquiries and comments to: Dr. Isaac Gottlieb, Department of Bible,


“Jacob Kept Silent”

Professor (emeritus) Moshe Tzippor
Department of Bible


Many details of the story of the rape of Dinah are unclear. [1]   The language and the course of the narrative do not make clear how the different characters are to be judged, or what message the story wishes to convey to the reader.   The story also appears to have no connection with what precedes or follows.

What the text does not say explicitly is filled in by the authors of the midrash.   Additionally they attempt to cope with a difficulty that Scripture does not touch on at all:  why did such a thing happen in Jacob’s household?  After all, it contradicts the saying, “No harm befalls the righteous” (Prov. 12:21).   Here are two ways that the midrash tries to answer these questions:

When Jacob crossed the ford of the Jabbok it says that he took his “two wives and his eleven children” (Gen. 32:23).  The homilist wonders, “And where was Dinah?” and answers, “He put her in a box and locked it against this wicked person (= Esau), so that he not set his eyes on her and take her” (Gen. Rabbah 76.9; compare Gen. Rabbah 40.5).   The homilist then adds a moral which contains explains our story: “Therefore Jacob was punished and Dinah was taken contemptuously by an uncircumcised person” (loc. sit., 76.9).   Had Dinah been married off to Esau, he was saying, she would have brought him back to the straight and narrow and she would never have been taken by Shechem.

Another solution:  The Dinah affair happened because Jacob did not honor the vow he had made at Bethel, on his way to Haran (Gen. 28:20-22). [2]   This interpretation is based on the juxtaposition of passages (semikhut parshiot), since immediately after the Dinah affair the Lord spurs Jacob to go to Bethel and built an altar there, as he had vowed (Gen. 35:1), and this appeared to the homilist to make amends for Jacob’s failing in the previous passage, a shortcoming that had resulted in the troubles with Dinah.

Elsewhere the midrash deals with an important detail that Jewish and non-Jewish exegesis, as well as modern scholarship, have not delved into.   At the beginning of the story, Dinah’s mother Leah is named, but further on in the story we do not hear her voice.  The Sages noted the similarity between the opening line, “Now Dinah ... went out” (Gen. 34:1) and the words, “Leah went out” in Genesis 30:16, and perceived the opening verse in the Dinah narrative not only as establishing the daughter’s relationship to her mother, but also as indicating a significant connection between what they each did and what happened to them. 

Leah’s “going out” to meet Jacob was interpreted as being to her discredit, and they even applied the following verse, “Like mother, like daughter” (Ezek. 16:44), to Leah and Dinah.  This is a difficult reading.  Even though the homilist attempts to grab onto the end of a thread left by the narrator, the word Vateze in both stories, it is extremely difficult to identify with what he claims to have found here.  Compare, for example, the actions of Abba Hilkiah’s wife, who went out adorned and perfumed to meet her husband, whose behavior was deemed becoming and even modest (Ta’anit 23b).

Nevertheless, following this line as noted by the Sages can bring us to a deeper understanding of what is hidden between the lines of our story; presumably the Sages had in mind more than the just “going out”—they were pointing to the entire context of Leah’s story.  In Leah’s case, she said to her husband Jacob, “You are to sleep with me, for I have hired you,” and Jacob complied (Gen. 30:16);   in Dinah’s case, the “going out” ended in rape:   “Shechem son of Hamor ... saw her, and lay with her by force” (Gen. 34:2).  Should these two events be viewed as opposites– on one hand a legal wife, playfully enticing her husband, and on the other, an act of rape by a stranger?

Between the lines and by dint of the common verb Vateze the sad tale behind the events is revealed.  Leah’s act was not within the bounds of what is generally considered acceptable behavior between spouses.  She essentially forced Jacob to sleep with her; she approached him with a demand, saying that she had purchased the right to be with him that night.

From the conversation between the two sister-wives after Leah had received the mandrakes from her son and from what followed thereafter (Genesis 30:12-16), there emerges a sorry picture of life:  Jacob does not love the woman who was forced upon him, and perhaps will never forgive her for what was done to him on that infamous wedding night, when he thought he had Rachel at his side, but instead it turned out to be Leah.  Scripture does not expand on this.  It does not tell us anything at all about Leah and her feelings, nor about Rachel, for that matter. [3]   The reader does not know whether Leah was happy about the husband she had obtained inadvertently, or whether she had simply submitted to her father’s will. 

Throughout the entire story Leah never speaks, but from what happened with the mandrakes (Genesis 30:14-17) it appears that Jacob had been avoiding intimate relations with her. [4]   Leah, feeling that she was hated, attempted to win her husband’s heart by bearing him sons, and expressed this outright in the names she gave them (Gen. 29:31-35).   It seems her hopes were not realized.   Only through a quasi-legal claim, “for I have hired you with my son’s mandrakes,” [5] did she succeed in bringing Jacob to her for one night.   Did she do this only in order to “establish the tribes,” as the midrash presents it?   Even after the birth of the son resulting from this coerced cohabitation, she still expressed the hope that “this time my husband will exalt me,” if only because she bore him six sons.  These innermost feelings she expressed in the name she gave her sixth son (Genesis 30:20), which shows how uncertain of his feelings she really was.

Jacob’s insensitivity in general finds expression in his callous response to Rachel’s bitter cry to him over her infertility:  “Give me children, or I shall die” (Genesis 30:1).   The midrash demands redress for the insult done her:  Is that the way to answer those in distress?  (Genesis Rabbah, 71.7).  Perhaps this is what lies behind the oath that Laban made Jacob swear as part of his pact with him:  “If you ill-treat (te’aneh) my daughters or take other wives besides my daughters – though no one else be about, remember, G-d himself will be witness between you and me” (Gen. 31:50).  This reference to “ill-treating” is viewed by the midrash as hinting at denial of intimate relations (Yoma 77b; also see Rashi on the Torah).  Perhaps the description of Dinah’s rape, “lay with her by force” (using the same verb, vaye’aneha, as was used for “ill-treat” above), is a veiled response to Jacob’s insensitivity.

Thus, the story of Dinah can be viewed as a veiled criticism, perhaps even punishment, of Jacob for his treatment of Leah, the affronted wife.   She was the wife Jacob did not choose, and was brought to him by ruse.  True, she was the mother of his children, but not his beloved.   Dinah’s “going out” calls to mind Leah’s going out to meet Jacob.  Rachel’s giving up her husband – for a single night – and Leah’s triumphant call, “You are to sleep with me, for I have hired you,” expose her misery.

What happened to Dinah when she went out – then, too, a man came to her in a disgraceful way – evokes in the reader, and perhaps also in Jacob’s heart, the memory of the insult done to Leah. Memories may have been awakened in Jacob to connect the story of his marriage to Leah and the marriage proposal that was laid before him, this time as Dinah’s father.    Perhaps this, too, was why Jacob remained silent. [6]

[1] See Yael Shemesh, “Sippurei Oness ba-Mikra – ha-Me’ahed ve-ha-Meyahed,” Iyyunei Mikra u-Farshanut, VI, Sefer Zikaron le-Yehuda Komlos, ed. Rimon Kascher and Moshe Tzippor (Ramat-Gan 2003), pp. 314-341, and the bibliography there; Y. Fleishman, “Hebetim Hevratiyim u-Mishpaytiyim be-Farashat Shechem ve-Dinah (Gen. 34),” Shenaton le-Heker ha-Mikra ve-ha-Mizrah ha-Kadum, 13 (2002), pp. 141-155.

[2] The text of Rashi, “for you were late along your way [Heb. ba-derekh],” in printed editions, is a corruption, and should read, “for you were delinquent in [fulfilling] your vow [Heb. nidrekha],” a difference of one letter (b/n).

[3] The Sages filled in the gap in the story by inserting the affair of the signs that Rachel signaled to her sister to enable her to pretend to be Rachel (Megillah 13b; for parallel versions, see M. M. Kascher, Torah Shelemah on Genesis 29, 25 àåú òã), likewise for the difficult conversation between Jacob and Leah the next morning (Genesis Rabbah 70.19).

[4] Rashi’s way of presenting things (verse 15, s.v. lakhen yishkav) does not seem right to us in view of Leah’s bitter remark, “Was it not enough for you to take away my husband?” (loc. sit.).

[5] The “official” explanation that she gives for the name of her fifth son, “G-d has given me my reward [Heb. sekhari, connected with Issachar] for having given my maid to my husband,” camouflages the more intimate meaning of the name Issachar based on the mandrake story.

[6] Part of an article that appeared in the memorial volume dedicated to Dr. Aryeh Bar-Tal on the occasion of his tenth yahrzeit, 1999, and will appear more extensively, with an additional point of view, in Al ha-Perek 20 (2004).