Shabbat Parshat Vayishlach 5778
Was Dina to Blame
Adapted from Rabbi Braun’s sermon in 5772
The first thing that a rape victim is told is, at least on TV, it is not your fault. You did not ask for this to happen and the blame lies squarely with the rapist.
That is not however, the approach taken by Rashi in his commentary to the rape of Dina recorded in this morning’s parsha.
Rashi, quoting the Midrash, argues that Dina is partly to blame because she was a yatzanit, “a person going out for lewd purposes”.
I could never completely understand why the Midrash, Rashi and others take this approach, and it always bothered me.
This morning I want to look at that one verse, because all there is one verse, look at the different approaches in the commentary and try and figure out why they say what they say.
The place to start is with the verse itself.
בראשית פרק לד
א) ותצא דינה בת לאה אשר ילדה ליעקב לראות בבנות הארץ
“and dina, the daughter of leah who was born to Yaakov, went out to see the daughters of the land.”
The verse presents 2 basic textual questions:
- Why does Dina go out? What does it mean “to see the daughters of the land?”
- Why is Dina referred to as the daughter of Leah who was born to Jacob? We know who her parents’ are- why mention them at all and once you do, why not say the daughter of Leah and Jacob? What does the daughter of Leah born to Jacob teach us?
Rashi, quoting the Midrash tanchuma, answers the questions as follows:
Dina is referred to as Leah’s daughter because she is following in her footsteps as a yatzanit. The Torah uses the same terminology to describe Leah going out to meet Jacob after she trades the berry’s to Rachel for the right to have Yaakov in her tent that evening.
בראשית פרק ל פסוק טז
ויבא יעקב מן השדה בערב ותצא לאה לקראתו ותאמר אלי תבוא כי שכר שכרתיך בדודאי בני וישכב עמה בלילה הוא
She is Leah’s daughter who happens to be related to Yaakov, but she is Dina’s daughter.
Other Midrashim and the Jerusalem Talmud are even more damning to both Dina and Leah.
Radak and Rabbeinu Bechaya offer an even more startling explanation. She is called the daughter of Dina because we was a yatzanit, born to Jacob teaches us that she was taken as a punishment to Jacob. (See rabbeinu bachya)
Those who take a different approach do so for one of two reasons:
- Textually there is an issue with Rashi’s interpretation.
the text seems to tell us why Dina goes out. It is to see the daughters of the land, not for any lewd purpose.
- The comparison to Leah’s going out is not completely fair. Yes Leah does seem to trade an object of value for a man, but they are husband and wife.
- Meta-textually they are bothered by this approaches’ characterization of Leah and Dina. Is this really how we want to portray and think about a matriarch and her daughter?
Thus they offer other solutions: (see Ramban)
The two that really caught my attention were the Malbim and the Abarbanel.
Rabbi Meir Leibush, the Malbim, 19th century Ukraine and Romania, writes that these same words come to teach us that Dina was not at fault at all and she did not violate any lines of modesty or tzniut. Rather she was the daughter of Leah, herself a tzenua and was born to Jacob, who was of course modest and righteous. His clincher is the last part of the verse- she went out to see the daughters of the land, not the men! For the Malbim each facet of the verse is there to emphasize Dina’s virtue.
Rabbi Isaac Abarbanel, 15th century Spain, argues along similar lines and explains in further detail.
He says that the explanation is not like Rashi; the verse is coming to praise Dina, not to lay blame at her feet.
She is the daughter of Leah- Leah who stayed inside while Rachel went out with the sheep. Leah is the one in the tent! And on her father’s side as well- Jacob was a yoshev ohalim, a tent dweller, a modest person.
Dina goes out to see the daughters of the land because she has no sisters at home and she wants to see how other young women live.
I share this with you this morning, because it fascinated me and because it touches upon one of the central questions that runs through the entire book of Bereishit:
Were the patriarchs and Matriarchs and the tribes infallible, super humans or were they extremely good righteous, moral and God fearing human beings who did have faults and were not perfect.
I generally tend to the latter. I think that position emerges clearly from the text and from the majority of rabbinic literature and it holds out hope that we too can soar to great spiritual heights.
In this particular case, however, the position of the Malbim and Abarbanel is much more appealing!