Monday, December 31, 2007

Lessons of Dinah

As anyone who has shared the table with me any Shabbat/Shabbos recently can attest, I've been obsessing over the story of Dinah. Perhaps it's the truly tragic nature of her life, which certainly tugs at my bleeding heart (I am, after all, banned by my husband from watching animal documentaries, because I inevitably end up sobbing over the fate of some creature who meets his/her demise). Or perhaps it's the fact that most of what we know about Dinah is in the nuances, in what is hinted about her, but not overtly told. In any event, here are some of the things that have crossed my mind while thinking about her story.

We learn two facts about Dinah, both of which suggest her potential spiritual "immaturity":
  1. Dinah is referred to as Leah's daughter, a term generally explained as connoting that Leah and Dinah possessed the same trait of being overly gregarious. It is this trait, we're told, that caused Dinah to slip out of the tent in order to watch the spectacle outside, which in turn lead to her abduction.
  2. Dinah, unlike her brothers, was born without a twin. This detail suggests that, unlike her brothers, she was "unworthy" of marrying into the spiritual family, since all of the brothers except Yosaif married the twin of a different brother.
We also learn that Dinah was kept in a box by Yaacov to prevent Aisav from knowing of her existence, since she was destined before birth to marry him. The abduction was meant to punish Yaacov middah-knegged-middah for not having given Dinah to Aisav as Hashem intended. Specifically, because Yaacov tried to keep Aisav, who was circumcised and would have had Dinah within the holy confines of marriage, Dinah was consequently taken by a man who was uncircumcised in an unholy fashion. Yet in the telling of her abduction, Dinah is acted upon, and we do not hear her reaction to the ordeal. More importantly, we do not hear of an opportunity for her to rectify her error herself. Rather, because the men enabled her abduction by not protecting her closely enough, they rectified the immorality that ensued.

Now, I do not in any way claim to have the definitive answer, the complete answer, or even a complete view of the story. In fact, I encourage anyone who has information that I'm missing to post, post post. However, when I reflect upon all of this, some thoughts cross my mind.

First, the term Leah's daughter implies the mother-daughter bond, i.e. the strong emotional tie between Leah and Dinah. In the aftermath of her daughter's abduction and rape by an immoral man, was Leah not torn apart? Moreover, was she not deprived by the ostracisation that Dinah experienced both while in the box as well as at the hands of the brothers post-abduction (an ostracisation that lasted the rest of her life)? By the fact that her only daughter never married properly but instead married Shimeon? By her granddaughter (Osnas) being raised as an Egyptian? But, secondly and more importantly, why was Dinah deprived of the chance to do teshuvah? Yes, she did everything right after being abducted: she screamed, she relayed a message to the brothers that the Canaanim were planning to attack Yaacov's settlement, she went with the brothers when rescued. So why then was she punished upon her return with ostracisation and with her child being sent to Egypt to be raised?

Perhaps that is exactly the point though. It's easy enough to understand that, as the daughter of Yaacov, Dinah had to be held to the highest spiritual standard. She could not remain with her child, since such a child resulted from an unholy union. And, in turn, we can understand that because she left herself open to abduction by being overly gregarious, she was in turn punished by her brothers with silence.

In other words, both Dinah and her mother did teshuvah by encountering silence, by becoming less social with each other. By, in the end, understanding the value of introversion. As for Osnas, her child sent to Egypt, Dinah could take comfort knowing that her child was spiritually worthy of becoming the wife of Yosaif, the mother of Ephraim and Menashe. Moreover, via ostracisation, the brothers also did teshuvah. By keeping Dinah amongst them, the brothers learned to protect their women better. For if they had truly been interested in safeguarding Dinah, in terms of her virtue, her tznius, and her overall spiritual development, the abduction could potentially have been averted. And by not talking to her, they remembered that their absence, which equals silence, resulted in her abduction.

In the end then, everyone learned a hard lesson. Everyone matured spiritually, if you will. And, perhaps the lesson of Dinah is really the hardest to learn, precisely because it requires introversion versus extroversion, silence over talkativeness, tznius over, know...

For both genders, in this gender-confused, post-feminist world, the lessons of Dinah resonate.

Saturday, December 29, 2007


The solar new year is a little over 48 hours away, and I figured it was the right time to stop talking about starting up a blog and, as Nike used to say, Just Do It! So, here we go...

I was thinking this past Shabbat/Shabbos about change, and why people are generally so adverse to it. Maybe because of all the news stories this week about resolutions got me thinking. Anyway, it is true that, as I get older, my need for stability increases, but that's probably a reaction to having experienced so much change over the course of my little life here on Earth. And especially the last few years. More on that in a moment.

But, generally speaking, I think that people should try to embrace change, because without change, how can we grow as individuals? After all, what's stagnation, but a lack of moving forward/progressing, i.e. standing still? It's precisely due to the transformative nature of change that we tend to shy away from it. Because transformation carries power. And, I suppose, we like to try to control our dalet amos as much as we can. So when we run up against change, change has to take us kicking and screaming forward.

As I mentioned, it has occurred to me that I've become simultaneously less resistant to change and more prone to seeking stability. Of course, my life has been transformed to an incredible degree in the past few years. Just a few of the highlights from that time frame include:
  • I made two major moves, first from Canada to deep into the US, then cross-country back to the Northeast
  • I got married, and divorced
  • I became more observant (from Modern Orthodox to full-blow yeshivish Rebbetizin)
  • My entire immediate family experienced life-threatening illness
  • I was myself saved from death three times, including twice within a span of just 6 months (first following a major car accident, and then from complications from the life-saving surgery I underwent due to the accident)
  • I lost my father
  • I got remarried to a man with a good heart (I had to end on a positive note, no?)
So, a lot of change. But the upshot is that I'm thankful for everything in my life, despite my complaining sometimes about whatever is going on. I mean hey, I can complain. I'm human, not a malach, you know? In the end though, I focus on the fact that I'm just paying my spiritual dues now versus paying later. And that's A-OK by me, because it shows that Hashem loves me...

I'll end with this very valuable lesson, which is the impetus for this blog. It's a lesson I've learned the hard way, B'H', namely that life is so very precious, so very fragile, and so very much a gift in all of its forms, phases, and manifestations. And that all its changes are chances to make us better people. Because I know for sure that I'm not perfect, and in the end, that's fine. It just gives me fodder to work on. So we should try to embrace what life throws our way. In the end, it's all good, as they say. And there's nothing wrong with that!

Shavua tov!