Age and Youth – Different Perspectives

And Dinah the daughter of Leyah who was born to Yaakov went out to be seen among the daughters of the land.  And Shechem, the son of Chamor – the prince of the land – saw her.  He took her; he slept with her; and he afflicted her.  (Sefer Beresheit 34:1-2)

Yaakov’s response to the abduction of Dinah

Parshat VaYishlach is full of drama, suspense, and even violence.  In this parasha, Dinah the sister of Yaakov’s twelve sons is kidnapped a raped by Shechem the son of Chamor – the local potentate.  Yaakov hears of the abduction of his only daughter.  The Torah tells us that he was silent – he displayed no reaction.  He waited for his sons to return from the pastures where they were tending to the flocks.

Why did Yaakov wait for his sons?  Why did he not immediately respond at least by expressing his anguish and anger?  Imagine a father in Yaakov’s situation.  Would it not be normal and natural for a father to express anger or at least anguish over the abduction and abuse of his child?  What compelled Yaakov to contain his feelings?

And Yaakov heard that he had defiled Dinah, his daughter.  And his sons were with his flocks in the field.  Yaakov kept his silence until they came.  (Sefer Beresheit 34:5)

Yaakov’s silence was defensive

Most of the commentaries explain that Yaakov knew that his adversaries were carefully monitoring his reaction.  Shechem and Chamor wanted to discern whether Yaakov might attempt to avenge himself.  They were prepared to take preemptive measures to protect themselves.  If Shechem and Chamor felt that they were in danger, they would eliminate Yaakov and then ambush his sons.[1]

Yaakov was also concerned that his sons might act impulsively.  They might respond with violence without carefully considering the consequences of their actions or carefully planning their response.  Yaakov’s preference was wait for the return of his sons.  He would restrain them from acting impulsively.  Their response would be carefully designed and purposefully executed.[2]

And the sons of Yaakov answered Shechem and Chamor his father with subtlety.  And they spoke considering that he had defiled Dinah their sister.  (Sefer Beresheit 34:14)

Yaakov’s confers with his sons

Abravanel suggests another explanation for Yaakov’s silence.  Yaakov wanted to keep his options open until consulting with his sons.  He felt that his sons could provide perspectives and wisdom that would be crucial in formulating the best response and strategy.  Therefore, he waited silently for his sons’ return and for the opportunity to consult with them.[3]

Experience and maturity contribute to wisdom

These various explanations of Yaakov’s behavior express a dual relationship between parent and child.  Parents have the benefit of experience and maturity.  Experience is a rich resource upon which adults draw in evaluating options and making decisions.  Maturity enables the adult to respond with patience, care and deliberation even when feeling intense emotion. Yaakov, did not endanger himself and his sons through expressing his anger.  He also did not allow his sons to react impulsively.  He wanted to make sure that they acted only after he weighed-in and reviewed their response through the prism of his own experiences and maturity.

Youth can provide an alternative perspective

However, the relationship between parent and child is a duality.  And as the parent can share with his/her child experience and maturity, the child can also provide the parent with a valuable alternative perspective.  The very experiences that serve as a resource for the adult can also prejudice and bias the adult’s analysis. The young person can sometimes provide a fresh and unfettered perspective that is not accessible to the adult.  Yaakov wanted to hear from his sons before making a decision.  He wanted to have the benefit of their alternative perspective before embarking on a course of action.

[1] Rav Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin (Netziv), Commentary Hamek Davar on Sefer Beresheit 34:5.

[2] Rav Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenburg, HaKtav VeHakabalah, Commentary on Sefer Beresheit 34:5.

[3] Don Yitzchak Abravanel, Commentary on Sefer Beresheit, p 351.