In Parashat VaYishlach, Shechem rapes Dinah and asks his father to take Dinah for him as a wife (BeReishit 34:2-5). After Shechem tells Ya’akov Avinu and the Achim that he wants to marry Dinah (34:11-12), “VaYa’anu Benei Ya’akov Et Shechem VeEt Chamor Aviv BeMirmah,” “And Ya’akov’s sons answered Shechem and his father Chamor with cunning” (34:13). The brothers’ sneaky plot was that they would circumcise all of the males of Shechem (34:15), and due to Shechem’s tremendous love for Dinah, he would comply. On the third day after everybody’s circumcision, when all the men of Shechem were in pain, Shimon and Levi killed them all (34:25).
There are two stories that can help us understand the mistake of Shimon and Levi. The first story is about a wealthy man who was asked to donate money towards a hospital-building fundraiser. Although at first the millionaire said he adamantly did not want to donate any money, eventually he agreed to donate $1,000. The head of the fundraiser, realizing how insignificant the $1,000 donation was for the millionaire, did not accept the small donation and kept asking for more. Ultimately, the millionaire gave a check for $100,000. However, the millionaire was not actually being generous – he knew his check would bounce because his charity account had only $90,000. Because the check bounced, the head of the fundraiser borrowed $10,000 from a friend, put the money in the millionaire’s bank account, and then withdrew the $100,000.
The millionaire heard what happened and demanded his money back. However, the head of the fundraiser argued that there is no law that prohibits depositing money into someone else’s bank account. Because of this, the donation remained valid.
If this case was given to a Beit Din, the outcome may have been different. As presented in Veha’arev Na, Rav Yitzchak Zilberstein rules that in this case, the money should have been returned, for the Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat 242:1) states that if a person is forced to give a gift, he can take back the gift. The Sefer Me’irat Einayim, a commentary on the Shulchan Aruch written by Rav Yehoshua Falk HaKohein, a student of Rav Moshe Isserles, states that if a person is pressured to give a gift, he can retract the gift (ad. loc s.v. SheAnsuhu Littein Einah Matanah).
The second story is about a sneaky person’s attempt to promote charity. There was once a head of a fundraiser who collected $10,000 in one town from many different people. He then went to the mayor of the town to ask to trade the many small checks that summed to $10,000 for one check worth $10,000. The mayor had no problem with the deal and accepted it.
The fundraiser then took the check to the next town and asked for a similar donation, based on the fact that the mayor of the previous town gave $10,000 to his cause. The mayor donated $10,000 as well, but when he heard what had happened, he was very upset and asked for his money back.
According to the Gemara (Bava Metzia 96a), a person is allowed to borrow an expensive cow for the sole purpose of appearing to be rich. Because this is what the head of the fundraiser did, his actions are seemingly justifiable. However, Rav Zilberstein argues that the cases cannot be compared, because the Gemara’s case is about a person who did not announce that he owned the cow despite the fact that it was borrowed. Therefore, the head of the fundraiser’s actions are unjustified.
In Parashat VaYechi, Ya’akov bestows Berachot upon his children before he dies. When giving Shimon and Levi their Berachot, Ya’akov states, “Shimon VeLevi Achim Kelei Chamas Mecheiroteihem” “Shimon and Levi are brothers; stolen instruments are their weapons” (BeReishit 49:5). Rashi (ad. loc s.v. Shimon VeLevi Achim) explains that Shimon and Levi were one mind because they thought alike in Shechem. We must be careful and remember to not act cunningly, even if it might seem that doing so is the right thing, for decpetion is a slippery slope – before we know it, our well-intended deception will turn into ill-intended deception.