June 14, 2024
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Keeping the Jewish People Holy

Cult leaders often force members into harmful behaviors by using various forms of coercion, mind control and threats of divine punishment. Most cults are usually small groups who live in an insular society detached from civilization, which gives them the ability to control the members of the group. But convincing a large population to physically harm themselves is nearly impossible unless they believe it is truly in their best interest.

In Parshas Vayishlach. Shechem, the prince of the Chivi nation, committed a terrible atrocity on Yaakov’s daughter, Dinah. Shechem and his father Chamor, the king, met with Yaakov and his sons to convince them to allow Shechem to marry Dinah. They proposed a full merger of Yaakov’s family and theirs. With a rescue plan in mind, the sons of Yaakov responded they would agree if the Chivi would all circumcise themselves. Shechem and Chamor met with their people and, shockingly, they all agreed to circumcise themselves!

This looks like cult-style leadership, convincing a group the size of a city to perform surgery on themselves! Was the opportunity to marry the children of Yaakov and have open commerce with them really so enticing that all men were willing to have this painful procedure performed?

Shechem was a prince and could marry any girl he chose. According to the Shach, Shechem was specifically attracted to Dinah because of her sanctity as the daughter of Yaakov, the Patriarch of the Jewish nation. The pasuk says Shechem’s soul became attached to the daughter of Yaakov. Shechem and Chamor were not cult leaders; there was no mind control or coercion here. The people jumped at the opportunity to attach themselves to the kedusha (holiness) of klal Yisrael. Even having open trade with Yaakov and his family was considered a connection with holiness. As the Gemara tells us, whoever marries the daughter of a talmid chacham, and one who does business with a talmid chacham, and one who gives benefit to a talmid chacham, it is as if he is clinging to the Shechina.

A midrash expounds on four different terminologies in Iyov: Lo shalavti, I was not secure; lo shakatati, I was not quiet; lo nachti, I was not at rest; and vayavo rogez, torment has come. These refer to four challenging periods in Yaakov’s life: living with Eisav and Lavan, the abduction of Dinah, and the disappearance of Yosef. Yaakov was given these four challenges to give his future generations the ability to endure and overcome future exiles. This is set forth in another midrash, which assigns these four terminologies to the four exiles klal Yisrael endured: Bavel, Madai, Yavan and Edom.

Rav Gedalia Schorr notes that the challenge of Dinah and the exile of Yavan, Greece—the source of our Chanukah story—have in common “wanting something for nothing.” Shechem and his people were willing to endure physical pain to marry into klal Yisrael in order to attach themselves to the sanctity and godliness of klal Yisrael. The Greeks were attracted to certain aspects of the kedusha of the Jewish people and wanted some of this sanctity for themselves. They used the Beis Hamikdash for their own purposes, offering their own sacrifices on the Mizbeach. They also wanted to intermarry with the Jewish people and connect with their sanctity. However, sanctity comes with responsibilities. Sanctity is not just for show; you can’t get something for nothing. Shechem and the Greeks desperately wanted to connect to and benefit from the holiness of the Jew, but they were not willing to live a life of sanctity.

People who interact with non-Jews in college, the workplace or otherwise are challenged with how to act properly in social situations and maintain their sanctity. In many businesses, social get-togethers are arranged to create close friendships and relationships among colleagues. Yaakov saw this approach with Shechem, and the Jews at the time of Chanukah saw this with the Greeks. The intrinsic holiness inside each Jew attracts outsiders, but we must tread carefully. Relationships with non-Jews expose us to their culture and ideology. Without vigilance on our part, this exposure can easily pull us away from our closeness to Hashem and our inner Godliness. We should be friendly and cordial, but close, intimate friendships are dangerous.

When we light the menorah by our window or outside our front door, we signify that the light and sanctity of the Jewish people are developed in the Jewish home and serve to illuminate the otherwise dark outside world.


Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate rosh yeshiva of Passaic Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch. PTI has attracted people from all over northern New Jersey, including Teaneck, Paramus, Fair Lawn, Livingston and West Orange. He initiated and leads a multi-level Gemara-learning program. He has spread out beyond PTI to begin a weekly beis medrash program with in-depth chavrusa learning in Livingston, Fort Lee and a monthly group in West Caldwell. Rabbi Bodenheim can be reached at [email protected]. For more info about PTI and its full offering of torah classes visit www.pti.shulcloud.com.

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