Dina – the Torah portion of Vayishlach

Dina is Jacob and Leah’s daughter, and the 13th child of the bunch. Is that a hint that actually each son had a sister or that she’s the only female among them? Yes. Interestingly, until now, no one had daughters at all. Why? Is there something wrong about having daughters? Is there a preference to having sons? Further: Abraham and Isaac were both meticulous about who their sons would marry. Why did Jacob not send any of his children to Charan, or anywhere, to get the “right” wife? Are women “not important” to our forefathers?

Considering Rashi states that Sarah was greater than Abraham in her prophetic abilities, and that Rebecca is the (only) one who received the prophecy from Hashem about her pregnancy, the latter is unlikely. So how do we understand even a tiny bit of this awful and harsh story in front of us?

In Hebrew, male is known as zachar, literally meaning “remembered” and connected to memory, zikaron. If to generalize, the male is the one transmitting the outward, overt, aware natural and national identity, while the female is the one transmitting the subconscious identity. This is why in our tradition, the national-religious identity is trough the mother, while the tribal-ceremonial identity is through the father. In practical terms, Jewishness is through the mother while whether one is a Cohen, Ashkenazi or Sefardi is through the father.

For Abraham and Isaac, establishing the outward identity of this new path was critical. This struggle is reflected in each having one son who was a successor and one son who began a new religion and nation. By Jacob’s time, that identity was complete. The family was strong enough to accept and incorporate outside elements without diluting who they were. “Intermarriage” was not only tolerated by welcomed as a way to grow the family, be better established in the Land and integrate aspects that were lacking in the Jewish people. This is how we see later, that King David’s grandmother is a Moabite and more.

This meant that on top of the 12 “masculine” tribes, there had to be a 13th tribe, a “feminine” one, one that accepts outside influence in, and enriches the people. Dina, like Leah, is described as “going out”. Many see it negatively, but it’s possible that this was intended as a positive quality: the ability to go out means one has a strong identity which can handle the outside world.

The Talmud (Brachot 60a) tells a fantastical story about Leah who was pregnant with a son, her 7th. Knowing the total is 12 sons (through prophecy -), she realized that if that is so, Rachel will not even have as many sons as the handmaids. She therefore prayed for that son to be a daughter. Rachel then bore Joseph and Leah – Dina. Joseph and Dina are strongly connected, as both their tragedies – the rape of Dina and later sale of Joseph – happen in exactly the same place: Sh’chem, the heart of the Shomron, where, according to tradition, Joseph’s grave stands to this day. Joseph also represents Dina’s “outward” energy, the only one to make it in a foreign country.

And what about Sh’chem? This is where Abraham passed through on his way from Charan to Canaan. Some say, this is where his “souls” – converts – settled (Genesis 12:6). Jacob, after his struggle with the angel, doesn’t head to Hevron, where the family’s home used to be, but to Sh’chem as well (33:18). Perhaps he wants to see what happened with his grandpa’s students; can he find a suitable mate for his daughter among the people of the Land??

The rest is tragic. The midrash offers a – sort-off, half-handed  – consolation telling us that Dina’s daughter from that union, Osnat, was sent to be a servant at the home of the Egyptian priest, Potifera, later to be Joseph’s wife and mother of Menashe and Ephrayim from whom a messiah might be born. After all, the “right” things have happened and been fulfilled: we have a 13th tribe! but Jacob is silent. Unable to praise or condemn, maybe he too is wondering, yes, the “right thing” but at what cost? Is any cost ok, just because the “end” will be “well” or are there things that are just too much? What are those? Where is the line?

From stormy-rainy Haifa, Shabbat Shalom.

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