Tuesday, November 30, 2021

At the beginning of the Parshat Vayishlach (32:23) it states that Yaakov took his two wives, two handmaidens and 11 sons over the Yabok river. This prompts the question: Where is Dina? Toward the end of the parsha we can ask another question: Where are the angels?

At the parsha’s outset we are told that Yaakov sent Malachim (מלאכים) to Esav. This word can mean either messengers or angels. Rashi’s comment is that Yaakov sent actual angels (“מלאכים ממש”). Later Rashi will bring from the Midrash Rabbah (78:11) that these angels assaulted Esav’s troops until the troops identified themselves as belonging to Yaakov’s brother. If Yaakov had at his command heavenly forces, why when Dina is kidnapped and raped does he not dispatch angels to rescue her? The answer I believe lies in the midrash questioning Dina’s whereabouts.

The Midrash Rabbah (77:9) tells us that Yaakov put Dina in a chest in order that Esav not see her and try to take her as a wife. The midrash is critical of Yaakov for taking this course of action. It suggests that had Dina married Esav she might have been able to change his character. This midrash can be taken both at a literal and metaphorical level.

Yaakov did not have a full appreciation of Dina’s spiritual powers. By denying her abilities he actually confined or constricted those abilities. Phrased somewhat colloquially, it could be said that he “boxed her in” or “boxed away” her spiritual powers. Similarly, we would nowadays also say that Yaakov could not think outside the box. Not only was Yaakov unable to imagine the spiritual power inherent in his daughter, but he failed to realize the spiritual potential in Esav. He underestimated both Dina’s ability to prompt Esav to teshuva, and he also underestimated reservoirs of teshuva inherent in his brother, who also was a grandson of Avraham. In doing so, Yaakov may have also adversely impacted his daughter’s view of her own potential and self-worth. This, in turn, may have caused her to venture forth to look for something among “the daughters of the land” (34:1) and fall into the clutches of Shechem.

Having disparaged the spiritual power of both his own daughter and his brother, Yaakov no longer had the ability to command spiritual forces when his daughter was abducted. This teaches us an important lesson. When we hold a diminished view of the spiritual potential of other people, we diminish our own spiritual potential. As it says in Pirkei Avot (4:3): “Do not be disparaging to any person or dismissive to anything, for there is no person who does not have his moment and there is no object that does not have its place.”

William S.J. Fraenkel received a Bachelor of Arts in religion and a law degree from NYU and served as a board member and officer of several Orthodox shuls. The opinions expressed in this dvar Torah are solely his own.

Sign up now!