Thinking Outside the Box by Rabbi Sariel Malitzky


Imagine the following scene: You are taking a leisurely stroll with your family on a sunny Shabbat afternoon. You are with your spouse, sons, and daughter that just began dating. A convicted murderer and known assailant, who has his eyes on your beautiful daughter and will not accept no as an answer, is walking down the street. You have three choices: a) turn around and run for your life, b) hide your daughter so this despicable man does not snatch her away, or, c) encourage your daughter to date him with the hope and prayer that her grace, kindness, and high level of spirituality will be what changes this “animal” around. I hope it did not take you long to answer the question.

As Ya’akov Avinu gets closer to his much anticipated reunion with Eisav, the Torah (BeReishit: 32:23) recalls, “Ya’akov took his two wives, the two maidservants, and his eleven children with him and crossed the ford of the Yabok.”

Rashi (ad loc. s.v. VeEt Achad Asar Yeladav), based on the Midrash Rabbah 76:9, points out that Ya’akov’s daughter, Dinah, is missing from the list of individuals who went to meet Eisav. (See the commentary entitled Nechmad LeMar’eh on the aforementioned Midrash, questioning how the Midrash knows that it was Dinah missing as opposed to one of the eleven sons. The Vilna Gaon is quoted as answering that Chazal teach that the Beit HaMikdash was built in the portion of Binyamin as a reward for his being the only one of the tribes present at this encounter who did not bow down to Eisav. Evidently, the other sons were indeed present.)

Where, then, was Dinah? Rashi comments that Ya’akov hides Dinah in a box so that Eisav won’t see her and wish to marry her. Ya’akov is punished for this act, as he removed the ability of Dinah to “change” Eisav and trigger his repentance. Ya’akov’s punishment is that Dinah is subsequently taken captive by Shechem. (Why Dinah is punished for her father’s action is a question to be dealt with another time.)

This Midrash is quite puzzling and difficult to understand. Does Ya’akov Avinu truly act improperly? Is it not beyond the scope of his responsibility to his brother to subject his own daughter to being with Eisav, even if she could have a positive impact on his life?

Rav Avraham Yitzchak Sorotzkin, in his Sefer Rinat Yitzchak, suggests that the power of a righteous woman is such that she can indeed succeed in changing her spouse’s ways regardless of his low spiritual level.

This is reminiscent of another place in the Torah where we see this to be true. Before embarking on the fateful spy mission to Eretz Yisrael, a letter Yud is added to the name Hoshei’a (BeMidbar 13:16) to name Yehoshua. Rashi (ad loc. s.v. VaYikra Moshe LeHoshei’a etc.) explains that the Yud is in essence a prayer by Moshe Rabbeinu that Hashem should save Yehoshua from the evil ways of the Meraglim. Rav Ya’akov Kaminetsky, in Emet LeYa’akov, asks (ad loc.), why is Kaleiv not given an extra letter? Why did Moshe not worry and pray for his spiritual safety? Reb Ya’akov answers that since Kaleiv is married to Miriam, there is not an ounce of doubt in Moshe’s mind and heart that he will live up to the sacred mission. When a man is married to a righteous woman, there is no concern for deviation.

While this explanation is certainly cogent and it speaks volumes of the bearing the righteous women among us influence their spouses, is Ya’akov expected to such a great risk? After all, Eisav grows up in the home of Yitzchak and Rivkah, and that does not help his religious commitment. He is already ninety-seven years old at the time of this encounter and Dinah is a mere six years old. Is there really a legitimate possibility that Dinah, a six year old, will succeed in a task which her grandmother, Rivkah, did not? Is a father really expected to assume such a risk and marry his daughter to such a Rasha?!

HaRav Baruch Epstein, in his Torah Temimah, suggests that Yaakov knows that Dinah will transform Eisav. Indeed, Chazal write that Dinah marries Iyov and is the impetus of Iyov’s change of ways. Ya’akov hates Eisav so much that he does not want Eisav to improve.

This explanation is quite difficult to believe. Does Ya’akov Avinu really not hope that his brother will turn his life around and become a respectable member of society and an Eved Hashem?

 As difficult as this statement of Chazal is, I suggest a resolution, with powerful implications.

When one looks at the source of this statement of Chazal, there are an extra two words that add a level of understanding. The Midrash states that, “Ya’akov placed her in a box and locked the door”. Why does the Midrash mention the fact that he locks the door? It seems that Ya’akov enjoys the fact that he is locking his daughter from Eisav. The Midrash highlights the fact that he does not just close the box and the door, but he locks it as well. In truth, perhaps what Ya’akov does is correct; it is how he does it that is the problem. In fact, the Alter of Slabodka, Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel zt”l, adds that Ya’akov hammers in the box’s nails with a little too much satisfaction.

Sometimes, situations call for us to say no to our children, family members, and friends. The “no” might be what is best for that particular situation and individual; however, it must pain us to withhold that item or plan that the individual feels is so important. When Ya’akov places that last nail in the box to finalize the decision, it should paid him, he should pause, give it some more thought, and then decide. Thus, it is the way in which he does what he needs to do that is the problem.

There are many people and groups of people who are outside of our “box”. They might be less observant or perhaps more observant than our families. They often place a different value on certain ideals and beliefs. Are we locking ourselves out from interacting and learning from those individuals and communities? Perhaps it is time to unlock the boxes that we put ourselves into. Most people and communities are not like Eisav. But when the situation does indeed call for us to lock the door on ourselves, we must ask ourselves: Are we happy to do so, or does it pain us?

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