I first became interested in reading between the lines of biblical Hebrew texts after I devoured the book “The Red Tent,” by Anita Diamant. The saga is a fictionalized account, told through the voice of Dina herself (Jacob’s only daughter), about her ancient tribal life, family, and abduction and rape by the prince of Shechem. The original tale of Dina is featured in this week’s Torah portion Vayishlach (Genesis 32:4-36:43). And, maybe not so coincidentally, a movie of “The Red Tent” will be aired this Sunday at 9:00pm EST on Lifetime.
This particular story has bothered me for years. It depicts a series of situations in which lines between the “bad guys” and the “good guys” are blurred. The prince, in a demonstration of remorse over raping Dina, professes his love for her and desires to wed her. The non-Jewish townspeople, who condoned the prince’s bad behavior, try to make amends and peace with the Israelites by agreeing to circumcise themselves (a mitzvah and a covenant!). In turn, however, Dina’s brothers – in an attempt to avenge the abuse of their sister – murder and pillage an entire city. And finally, there’s Jacob. The patriarch knew what happened to his daughter. He certainly must have known — especially during the negotiations with the prince and his father — that his sons were hatching a plan; yet he kept silent in both cases. Only later, after their heinous acts were committed, did Jacob chastise his sons’ actions. They simply ignores him.
The issues here are many. They are complex. In a world that was dangerous, much like today’s, Dina carelessly ventured out and inadvertently put herself in harms way. The result? A violent act that caused an even bloodier avalanche. The desire for revenge that followed the rape was understandable, but was the extent of the vigilantism justified? What the brothers’ response proportional? Where was the “Judge and Jury” in all of this? God’s silence on these matters is both baffling and unacceptable.
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The news has been bad. First we had George Zimmerman. Now, within a week, two police officers – supposed “good guys” – killed two black men – alleged “bad guys” – and were cleared of wrongdoing by grand juries. Crowds have been rioting and protesting. Many lives have been ruined. Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner are dead. Where will this all lead?
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If there’s a moral message, it’s this: violence begets violence.