About to confront his evil and dangerous brother Eisav, Yaakov does what any good parent would: he protects his family and loved ones. Rashi comments that Yaakov locked his daughter Dina in a box for safekeeping so Eisav wouldn’t forcefully take her as a wife. However, Chazal harshly criticize this move, saying that the incident with Dina in Shechem was a punishment for locking Dina away. However, this raises an apparent question. What, exactly, did Chazal find so erroneous about this action that it warranted a harsh punishment?
Moreover, Chazal seem to have established a precedent for such action previously in the narrative of Yaakov’s life. When Leah is first introduced she is described as having Einayim Rakot, soft eyes. Chazal comment that this was a result of excessive crying brought about by an assumption that Leah and Rachel would marry into Yitzchak’s family. Leah applied the following reasoning: if Leah and Rachel are to marry the descendents of Yitzchak, then it is only logical that Leah, the eldest, would marry Eisav, Yitzchak’s eldest. The idea of marrying a sinner such as Eisav caused Leah such extreme pain and suffering that when given the opportunity to trick Yaakov into marrying her, she jumped at the chance to avoid having to marry Eisav. Similar to Yaakov protecting Dina from marrying Eisav, we see Leah actively avoided marrying Eisav, yet Leah received no criticism from Chazal. What difference was there between these two instances that caused Yaakov to warrant criticism but not Leah?
To answer this question, one must take a closer look at the two situations. Leah was aware that she and Rachel were going to marry into Yitzchak’s family. Eisav was never aware of this expectation, and when Leah tricks Yaakov into marriage, Eisav remains none the wiser. However, in Parashat VaYishlach, Yaakov’s large family is gallivanting through Eisav’s land in a noticeable parade. With such an obvious display, Dina’s conspicuous absence is apparent to Eisav and to all those that see Yaakov’s family. Through this act, Yaakov is blatantly and publicly embarrassing Eisav by making the statement that Eisav is not good enough to marry his daughter. For this lack of compassion, Yaakov receives an equally measured punishment. Out of fear of defiling Dina’s purity with a sinner such as Eisav, Yaakov publicly embarrasses Eisav, so as a punishment, Dina has her purity publicly defiled by the sinner Shechem.
This facet of the story contains a powerful lesson to internalize. Yaakov’s sin was a failure to express compassion for the sinner’s feelings, and for this transgression, he and his daughter were greatly punished. Often, when faced with an enemy or greater evil, a person’s first reaction is to dehumanize it to make it easier to deal with.
However, we see from this punishment that such action is not acceptable. As members of Bnei Yisrael, it our duty to take the moral high ground and realize the humanity in all of God’s creations. Compassion and sympathy are powerful emotions that formulate the basis of all Mitzvot Bein Adam LeChaveiro, commandments between a man and his fellow. While it is easy to pray, learn, and create a connection with the Almighty, we often find ourselves lacking a connection with our fellow Jew. We can learn that if an evil and deceitful sinner such as Eisav warranted compassion in God’s eyes, how much more so compassion must be necessary between fellow members of Bnei Yisrael.
With all the separate sects and divisions within Judaism it is easy to get caught up in “how religious” some are compared to others. However, it is necessary to internalize this lesson and realize that if a sinner such as Eisav warrants compassion, all of Bnei Yisrael, from all sects of Judaism, warrant this equal kindness and consideration. By locking Dina’s positive influence away from Eisav, Yaakov missed a chance for incredible Kiruv. We should learn from Yaakov’s mistake and realize the compassion and humanity everyone must be treated with, regardless of affiliation. Hopefully, Bnei Yisrael as a whole can internalize this message and unite Jewry under a compassionate and considerate motto, bringing about the feeling of communal unity that has been lost with the Beit HaMikdash’s destruction.