And Dinah, the daughter of Leah, whom she bore to Yaakov, went out to see the daughters of the land. And Shechem the son of Chamor HaChivvi, prince of the land, saw her; and he abducted her . . .
In Parashas Vayishlach, we read of Dinah’s abduction, her brothers’ cunning plot to disable the people of Shechem, her rescue, and the destruction of the city.
Our sages note that in the opening verse of its account, the Torah introduces Dinah as Leah’s child. She is not referred to as “the daughter of Yaakov,” or “the daughter of Yaakov and Leah,” or even as “the daughter of Leah and Yaakov,” but as “the daughter of Leah, whom she bore to Yaakov.” Rashi explains: “Because of her going out, she is called ‘the daughter of Leah.’ For [Leah], too, was an ‘out-goer,’ as it is written, ‘And Leah went out to greet him’ (Bereishis 30:16). Regarding her it has been said, ‘Like mother, like daughter.’”
At first glance, this seems an indictment of Leah’s and Dinah’s behavior. The hallmark of the Jewish woman is her tzeni‘us, the modesty in dress and demeanor expressed by the verse “The entire glory of the king’s daughter is within” (Tehillim 45:14). A Jewish girl, Rashi seems to be saying, has no business going out to visit with the daughters of a pagan land; when she does, she is not acting as a daughter of Yaakov but like her mother, who is known to have, on occasion, embarked on outings of her own. For the king’s daughter to leave her inner sanctum is to expose herself to all sorts of negative encounters, as Dinah’s case tragically demonstrates.1
This, however, cannot be Rashi’s intention, for it runs contrary to what he writes in his commentary on a previous verse. A few chapters back, where Yaakov is preparing for his encounter with his wicked brother Eisav, we read:
“And [Yaakov] took his two wives, his two handmaidens, and his eleven sons, and he crossed the ford of Yabbok” (Bereishis 32:23).
Rashi asks why Yaakov’s daughter is not mentioned: “Where was Dinah? Yaakov had placed her in a chest and locked her in, lest Eisav set his eyes on her. For this, Yaakov was punished, for had he not withheld her from his brother, perhaps she would have brought [Eisav] back to the proper path. [The punishment was] that she fell into the hands of Shechem.”
In other words, it was Yaakov’s isolation of Dinah, not Dinah’s and Leah’s outgoingness, that was the cause of Dinah’s misfortune. Dinah should not have been hidden from Eisav. Her encounter with the big, bad world should not have been avoided; indeed, it should have been welcomed. Yaakov feared that she would be corrupted by her wicked uncle; he should have realized that, with her firm moral grounding and unassailable integrity, she was far more likely to influence Eisav for the better.
Interestingly enough, here, too, there is a mother-daughter connection. The Torah (in Bereishis 29:17) tells us that “Leah’s eyes were weak.” Rashi explains that they were weak from weeping: “She wept over the thought that she would fall to the lot of Eisav. For everyone was saying: ‘Rivkah has two sons and Lavan has two daughters; the elder son (Eisav) is destined for the elder daughter (Leah), and the younger son (Yaakov) for the younger daughter (Rachel).’”
This was more than common speculation; according to the Midrash, these were matches ordained in heaven. But Leah’s tearful prayers changed the heavenly decree, and both sisters were married to the righteous younger son. But it was Leah who was Eisav’s potential soul mate. If she herself felt unequal to the challenge of dealing with his wickedness, then Dinah, her daughter and spiritual heir, could have served as the instrument of Eisav’s redemption.
This is the deeper significance of the adage, “like mother, like daughter,” quoted by Rashi. Our children inherit not only our actual traits but also our unrealized potentials. Physically, a brown-eyed mother may transmit to her child the potential for blue eyes inherited from her mother but dormant in her genes. Spiritually, a parent may impart to a child the ability to achieve what, for the parent, is no more than a subtle potential, buried in the deepest recesses of his or her soul.
So Dinah’s going out to make the acquaintance of the daughters of the land was fully in keeping with her and her mother’s unique gifts. Her exposure to an alien environment would not have adversely affected her Jewish femininity, her King’s daughter’s inner glory. On the contrary: she was born to the role of the outgoing Jewish woman who serves as a source of enlightenment to her surroundings without compromising her modesty and inner being.
Rather, it was Yaakov’s attempt to closet her that invited disaster. In going out to “the daughters of the land,” Dinah was truly the daughter of Leah—in the positive sense. She was not the daughter of Yaakov, for Yaakov had hesitated to put her outgoing nature to its intended use.2
Therein lies a message to women of all generations:
The Torah sees man and woman as having been imparted by their Creator with distinct characteristics and roles. Man is a conqueror, charged to confront and transform a resistant, often hostile, world. To this end, he has been supplied with an extroverted and aggressive nature, a nature he is to apply constructively in the war of life—the war to combat the negative without and to redeem the positive elements and opportunities held captive in the most spiritually desolate corners of G‑d’s creation.
Woman is his diametric opposite. Her intrinsic nature is non-confrontational, introverted, and modest. For while man battles the demons without, woman cultivates the purity within. She is the mainstay of the home, nurturer and educator of the family, guardian of all that is holy in G‑d’s world. The entire glory of the King’s daughter is within.
But “within” does not necessarily mean indoors. The woman, too, has a role that extends beyond the home, and extends also to the most alien of daughters and the most pagan of lands. A woman who has been blessed with the aptitude and talent to influence her sisters, can—and must—be an “outgoer,” periodically leaving her haven of holiness to reach out to those who have lost grounding and direction in their lives.
And when she does, she need not—and must not—assume the warrior stance of the man. Confrontation and conquest is not the only way to deal with the outside world: there is also a feminine way—a gentle, modest, and compassionate way—to extract goodness from the evil that rages without. Confrontation is often necessary, but it is also often ineffective and even detrimental. Even the fiercest of battles needs the feminine touch of the outgoing woman. v
Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe; adapted by Yanki Tauber. Courtesy of MeaningfulLife.com via Chabad.org. Find more Torah articles for the whole family at www.chabad.org/parshah.
1. Indeed, it is in this negative light that the Midrash Rabbah (Bereishis 80:1) compares the going out of mother and daughter. But Rashi’s selective quoting of this Midrash, as well as his earlier words on Bereishis 32:23 (quoted in this essay) and 30:17 (see next note) imply an entirely different perspective on the matter.
2. This explains the connection between Leah’s going out to greet Yaakov cited by Rashi and Dinah’s foray to the pagan daughters of Canaan. Leah, the Torah tells us, had just purchased Rachel’s conjugal rights with Yaakov in return for the mandrakes her son, Reuvein, had picked in the field. When Yaakov came home that evening, “Leah went out to greet him, and said: ‘You shall come to me, for I have hired you with my son’s mandrakes’” (Bereishis 30:16). At first glance, Leah’s behavior (like Dinah’s) seems unbefitting the modesty of the Jewish woman; but Rashi, in his commentary on the following verse, considers the Torah’s recounting of the incident to be in praise of Leah, lauding the fact that “she desired and sought to increase the tribes [of Israel].” In other words, while Leah’s ability to positively influence others was not actualized by her in her personal life (as evidenced by her reluctance to marry Eisav), she devoted her life to mothering the sons and daughter who would realize her innately outgoing nature.