Monday, December 08, 2008

759. Dinah

This Shabbat I'll be chanting about the rape of Dinah. These days I'm better able to practice while keeping the story in my head, which has paradoxically made the process more difficult. I feel an almost physical ache when sing these words:

Vayar otah Shchem ben-Chamor haChivi nesi ha'arets vayikach otah vayishkav otah vaye'aneha.

She was seen by Shechem, son of the chief of the region, Chamor the Hivite. He seduced her, slept with her, and [then] raped her.
--Gen. 34:2

But the rabbi, this past Shabbat, offered an explanation rooted in Parashat Veyetze that has helped me hate this story a little less. In Vayetze, the birth of the sons of Jacob are all listed in a particular way: first their birth order, then the reasoning behind the name, and finally the name, for example:

God heeded Leah, and she conceived and bore him a fifth son. And Leah said, "God has given me my reward for having given my maid to my husband." So she named him Issachar.
--Gen. 30:17-18

The account of Dinah's birth, however, breaks this pattern:

Last, she bore him a daughter, and named her Dinah.
--Gen. 30:17

Why is she described differently than all the sons? Commentators offer a number of reasons: she's merely a girl, so there you have it. Or perhaps she and Zevulon, the son named right before her, were twins--and only he merited the descriptive words, since she was essentially attached to him. Another interpretation, however, notes that the Dinah's name is the feminine form of the word meaning "judgment" or "vindication" ("Yom ha Din", the Day of Judgment, is another name for Yom Kippur). (I'm sorry to say that I don't remember who this commentator was--I wish I could take notes at Shabbat services. I'm also not sure I'm recounting the following explanation with complete accuracy, but hopefully it still makes sense.) Between Rachel, Leah, and their concubines, 12 sons--who would grow into the 12 Tribes of Israel--and one daughter were produced. Half the sons belonged to Rachel and half, Leah.* Leah's daughter could be seen as the tie-breaker--the extra who made Leah's number of offspring, and therefore standing, greater than Rachel's. In a rare example of sibling compassion, suggests the commentary, Leah names her daughter Dinah--judgment, justice--to show that she and her sister were not in competition. This child would represent equity, a moment of peace between the two. For this reason the description of the meaning of her name was omitted, so as not to link her to either woman.

The wisdom carried in Dinah's name would, by the next parasha, be tragically forgotten by the characters in this story. But for a brief time, at least, Dinah represents the kind of fairness toward which we should all strive. I will think about this, rather than the literal meaning of the words, when I chant (less loudly than everything else) vayikach otah vayishkav otah vaye'aneha.


* NOTE, 12/9: I was wrong... the rabbi was talking about a fair share of sons rather than an exact number. Please see the comments below for George's astute correction.


George said...

You wrote 'Half the sons belonged to Rachel and half, Leah".
That can't be correct. Leah had six sons, Rachel two and each of the hand-maidens, two. That would make the score 8-4 to Leah.
I like the explanation as to why Leah only thanked God after the birth of her fourth son - Yehuda. In short, this is because with the birth of her fourth son, she realized that she would be giving birth to more than her fair share of the twelve tribes, and as such it was appropriate to offer extra thanks.

alto artist said...

Thank you, I stand corrected!--and I think the rabbi was talking about her fair share as you described (not half, as I mistakenly wrote). Dinah's name stood for an equity she hoped could be achieved despite the imbalance in offspring.

--aa. (waking up at the crack of dawn to get ready to read this section at morning minyan...)