Rabbi Yaakov Neuberger
Rabbi Yaakov Neuburger

Guarding Our Safety and Protecting Our Values

They freed the hostages unharmed, every Jew returned home safe, their crafty preparation underplayed the miracle of it all, and the criminals suffered devastating casualties. In the aftermath, however, the victors were made to feel guilty. Was it the liberal press? No, in Parshas Vayishlach it was none other than the saintly and selfless father, Yaakov Avinu.

Yaakov's attempt to have Shimon and Levi take responsibility for the threat that their attack would bring to the family was sharply rejected by the young and powerful brothers. It seems from the Torah that this is a no holds barred debate: (34:30) "You have sullied me and made me odious among the Canaani and Prizi, and I am few in number and they will gather together against me and wipe out our entire family." And [Shimon and Levi] responded "Should our sister be made into a harlot?"

Now Yaakov did indeed suffer several wars following the strike against Shechem, as the Ramban (34:13) records and infers from several texts, and Yaakov also enjoyed the security of the fear that the reports of their dealing with Shechem cast upon the locals (35:5, Ramban, ibid).

Nevertheless, this repartee, taking place as Yaakov and his family are freshly returned to the Land of Israel with redemption in grasp (Ramban, introduction to Shemos), foreshadows the words, questions and fears that would revisit us time and again. One illustration might be the oft repeated argument to hold onto Yehuda veShomrom for reasons of security. This echoes the sentiments of Yaakov Avinu and results in describing various areas and determining their service to our safety, preparing to negotiate piece by piece. On the other hand, I think the legacy of Shimon and Levi would argue to maintain all of that we have as the immutable Divine heritage of old, miraculously re-gifted to us.

Yet most striking is that it is an unresolved discussion; Yaakov, who is rarely at a loss of words, does not respond. Ramban (45:5) points out that Yaakov remained unimpressed by Shimon and Levi's concern for the safety and respect of Jewish women. After all, we will read in Parshas Vayechi that Yaakov's final recorded blessing to Shimon and Levi would censure the anger that they displayed in their attack of Shechem. That means that the unconvinced Yaakov kept his silence for decades. Why did Yaakov not push back? Why did the father who was never cowered into silence hold his peace this time and not share his response that would have been so instructive to our generation? Surely, he had what to respond and it would have been prescient as he did in fact, suffer from upcoming battles.

Many have learned from Yaakov the wisdom of restraint. Specifically, restraint that is mindful that the long term relationship out-values the momentary mussar and the bitter taste with which it may forever leave. Additionally, Yaakov may have been quite satisfied to give his children the last word this time. Once Yaakov had argued that the physical safety of the Jewish people be fully considered, he very much wanted the objection "Can we allow our sister be made into a harlot?" to resonate in the hearts of Jews throughout diaspora. Let that be the last word that would forever remind us that our people, our values and our wisdom are of inestimable value to us and we can spare no effort to protect them.

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