By: HaRav Menashe Sasson
Reporting from Jerusalem, Israel
Published in the U.S.A.
Some 3,500 years ago, “Ya’aqob [and his family] came to Shalem [שלם], a city of Shekhem [שכם], which is in the land of Kena’an, . . . [and] he bought a piece of land on which he spread his tent. . . .” Bereshit 33:18-19.
The modern-day city of Shekhem [שכם] is located approximately 49 kilometers (30 miles) north of Yerushalayim.
The seller of the land was a man named Hamor. Id.
Dina [דינה], the daughter of Ya’aqob and Le’a, “went out to see the daughters of the land. And when Shekhem [שכם], the son of Hamor [חמור] the Hivvite [literally, “Donkey the Hivvite”], prince of the country, saw her, he took her, lay with her, and defiled her.” Bereshit 34:1-2.
Hamor [חמור] attempted to negotiate with Ya’aqob a marriage between Shekhem [שכם] and Dina [דינה]. Rather than consent to a marriage of his daughter to a rapist, Ya’aqob’s sons – Dina’s brothers – Shim’on and Levi devised and implemented a plan that would leave all of the males of the city of Shalem [שלם] in a weakened physical state, and then attacked and killed them all, plundered their belongings, and took their wives captive.
Ya’aqob’s response to his sons Shim’on and Levi was: “You have brought trouble on me to make me odious among the inhabitants of the land, among the Kena’ani and the Perizzi, and I, being few in number, they shall gather themselves together against me, and slay me, and I shall be destroyed, I and my house.” Bereshit 34:30.
The questions raised by this event include whether Shim’on and Levi were justified in taking revenge against (1) Shekhem [שכם], as an individual, and (2) the entire population of Shekhem [שכם].
Maimonides ruled that gentiles are:
M.T., Hilchot Melachim 9:14.
As with other Biblical texts, our task is to determine how to best understand and apply the lessons of this Parashat to current times. To do so, we start with two postulates: (1) the acts of Shim’on and Levi were justified, and (2) Shim’on and Levi were acting on behalf of the Jewish nation, and not as individuals.
We learn from the text of the Parasha itself that the acts of Shim’on and Levi were justified. Rather than rebuking Shim’on and Levi for having sinned, the righteous Ya’aqob said to Shim’on and Levi only that: “You have brought trouble on me to make me odious among the inhabitants of the land . . ., I, being few in number, they shall gather themselves together against me, and slay me. . . .” Bereshit 34:30. As the text of the pasuk clearly states, Ya’aqob’s objection to the conduct of Shim’on and Levi was based not on moral grounds, but rather, on practical considerations. Maimonides and other commentators concur.
Regarding the Halakhic justification for their acts, Maimonides ruled that because Shekhem [שכם], the individual, had committed the capital offense of kidnapping and because the “country” known as Shekhem [שכם] had violated the Noahide laws through their failure to establish a court system which would administer justice, Shim’on and Levi’s actions were justified.
Thus, rather than having two individuals (Shim’om and Levi) who were acting in their capacity as individuals to avenge the rape of their sister, our Parasha tells the story of one nation – the Jewish nation – acting through two of its citizens (Shim’on and Levi), retaliating against another nation (the “country” of Shekhem [שכם]) for a wrong that the latter nation had committed against a citizen of the former nation.
Understood in this light, the lesson for our times is clear: when a member of another nation, for example, the nation of the descendants of Yishma’el, commits a capital offense against a citizen of the Jewish nation (a Jewish citizen of Medinat Yisra’el, the modern-day State of Israel), and the nation of which the offender is a member fails or refuses to administer justice in accordance with the requirements of the Noahide laws, the Jewish State is fully justified in retaliating against both the offending individual and the offending nation.
The justification for Jewish retaliation is even stronger in cases where the offending nation does not merely fail to administer justice in accordance with the Noahide laws, but rather, affirmatively encourages such lawless and immoral behavior by paying “salaries” and “pensions” to its citizens who terrorize members of the Jewish nation.
May HaShem bless Medinat Yisra’el with true Jewish leaders who will govern Medinat Yisra’el in a manner which is consistent with the Torah and not be, as was Ya’aqob, concerned with being “odious among the inhabitants of the land.”
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Menashe Sasson is a Sephardic rabbi and American attorney who resides in Jerusalem, Israel.