Vayishlach – Chamishi

The Death of Devorah (Not the Prophetess)

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

Yaakov’s daughter Dina went out to mingle with the local girls and she attracted the attention of Chamor’s son Shechem. (Yes, the same name as the city. Perhaps his father named it after him, or it may have been a family name.) Shechem forced his attentions on Dina and then asked his father to arrange to get her for his wife; this was certainly not the way to go about things and Dina wanted no part of it.

Yaakov found out about what had happened, but he waited until his sons came home to consult with them. Chamor came to try and broker a marriage deal, but Dina’s brothers wouldn’t have it.

“Come on!” Chamor urged them. “We’ll marry your women, you can marry our women, and we’ll all be one big, happy family!” Chamor also offered to pay as high a dowry as they would demand. The brothers answered with subterfuge, as they intended to save their sister from her defilers.

“As much as we’d love to take you up on your generous offer,” they said, “we’re not alike. We’re circumcised and you’re not. Now we can’t uncircumcise ourselves, but you can become like us.” Chamor and Shechem agreed that every male in their city would be circumcised so that the two clans could intermarry. The people readily agreed to it, as Chamor and Shechem assured them that it would only be a matter of time before they inherited all of Yaakov’s wealth.

And so, the people of the city allowed themselves to be circumcised. On the third day, when they were in pain from the procedure, Shimon and Levi took up arms and killed them all. They rescued Dina from Shechem’s house and returned her to her family. The brothers also took the spoils of war.

Yaakov was livid. Yes, the mass circumcision had always been a pretext to rescue Dina, but wholesale slaughter was not part of the plan. He feared that the other locals would now see them as a threat and band together against them. Shimon and Levi replied that it was unacceptable to allow Dina to be treated like a common tramp. Yaakov was not swayed by this, but he did allow his sons to get the last word, as their position did have some merit to it. (We understand what Shechem and Chamor did to deserve punishment; the real question is what the people of the city did. One of the seven universal laws of all mankind is to establish courts of justice. The people of the city refused to bring Shechem to justice because of his position.)

G-d told Yaakov to return to Beth-El and to build an altar there. Yaakov was told that his family members should divest themselves of the idols that they acquired among the booty of Shechem. (Rachel would also have to rid herself of Lavan’s terafim, if she still had them.) These items were handed over to Yaakov, who disposed of them. G-d placed a fear of Him on the local Canaanite peoples so that none of them attacked Yaakov’s family on their journey.

They reached Luz – AKA Beth-El – and Yaakov built his altar to G-d. At that time, Rivka’s nurse Devorah (Deborah) passed away and was mourned. (What was Rivka’s nurse doing there? Rashi cites an opinion that Yaakov’s mother Rivka sent her to tell him that it was safe to return home.)

G-d appeared to Yaakov and officially changed his name to Yisroel (Israel). Unlike Avraham, who would no longer be called Avram, Yaakov would be called Yisroel in addition to his original name. G-d blessed him that he would be prolific and that a confederacy of nations would descend from him, kings and all.

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