In this week’s parsha, we have a description of the events that take place in Shechem. Dina is taken by Shechem ben Chamor , as a result of which, negotiations for her release begin, between the family of Shechem and the family of Yaakov.
At first it appears that agreement has been reached and that a covenant is being made between the two families. However, by the end of the episode we see, in fact, that the children of Yaakov had no intention whatsoever in cutting a deal with Shechem and Chamor.
Quite the contrary, the requirement that the people of Shechem undertake circumcision, turns out to be a ruse. Shimon and Levi attack the town when all of its’ male members are at their weakest, they rescue Dina, and punish the people of Shechem for having taken their sister by force.
Upon discovering the actions of his two sons – Shimon and Levi, Yaakov rebukes them. Yet the comments of the father, seem to be more to do with the timing of their act as opposed to the essence of their actions. Most mefarshim, understand that Yaakov felt that this was not the time for real rebuke, and that he saved his comments for a later date. Thus, when blessing his children from his deathbed, Yaakov says of Shimon and Levi that he will split them up and disperse them amongst their brothers, because of their behavior at Shechem.
Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky in his work “Emet Leyaakov” explains:
“The words of Yaakov (Bereishit chapter 49 verse 7) regarding the splitting up and dispersing of the two brothers, at first appears to be a “measure for measure” punishment – these two sons must be separated, because when they are together they ultimately sin.
However, Rashi explains that Yaakov was in fact saying to Shimon and Levi that they would be scribes and teachers, who would need to be dispersed amongst their people in order to be effective. These words of Rashi require explanation. Why should the future of our people, its education system, be left in the hands of Shimon and Levi?
It would seem that Yaakov saw in these two sons, what was lacking in the other brothers. When Yaakov initially rebukes the sons in our parsha, they answer him with the words: ” Should our sister be as a harlot!” From their reaction, their father became aware, that these two men, had placed their entire reputation on the line, for the sake of their sister. All of the brothers knew of what had happened,yet only two of them did something about it.
Yaakov perceived in Shimon and Levi a huge potential, that needed to be channeled in the right direction. Here were people who felt the pain of their brethren, as if it were their own. Their understanding of danger and the need to react swiftly with urgency and precision, made them prime candidates to be future educators of the Jewish people, if only the quality of their reaction could be refined.
Thus, the words of Yaakov, that he will separate and disperse Shimon and Levi was not actually a curse, but a way in which Am Yisrael could benefit from them most.
People who, when they see an act of injustice, react with zealousness, are indeed the right candidates for the educational system, providing that their strengths are channeled correctly.
When we look further into the Tenach to ascertain what became of Shimon and Levi, we see that the tribe of Levi truly fulfilled its designated role, though, unfortunately the same cannot be said for the tribe of Shimon.
Time and again, the Levites stand against the force of the people: At the Golden Calf, and during the time of Pinchas. Yet with Shimon quite the opposite happens, the energy and zealousness shows itself in the negative actions of Zimri the Prince of the tribe of Shimon. In fact at the end of the parsha of Balak we see those two inseparable brothers fighting each other when Pinchas kills Zimri as a direct result of his public act of desecration.
So why is it that Levi succeeds in fulfilling his potential whereas Shimon fails? The answer is clear – the tribe of Levi were not slaves in Egypt, they spent their time in spiritual matters. When zealousness is directed through the path of Torah it will lead to positive results. Thus, when Levi saw the chilul Hashem at the golden calf, they reacted immediately; similarly, when Am Yisrael wanted to return to Mitzrayim, it was the tribe of Levi who stopped them.
In all of the years that passed from the saving of Dina, until the freedom from slavery, the strengths of Levi were not simply retained, but refined and directed in the proper manner.
Shimon, however, did not follow the same course. The potential from the incident of Dina, remained. Yet, it was left to grow wild, without direction, without the Torah refining it. Thus we see this potential materialize negatively at Baal Pe’or, when the Prince of the tribe of Shimon, publicly desecrates the name of G-d.”
From these outstanding comments of the Emet Leyaakov, we can learn a crucial lesson for ourselves:
Every human being on the face of this earth has a purpose, a potential. We do not need to justify our existence to anyone but ourselves. G-d “took the time” to create us, and each and everyone of us has a role to play. It is our duty to realize our potential, but it is essential that we also know how to take the “raw material” and transform it correctly. We need direction, and refining, when transforming our potential into real terms.
We look to the Torah, as did Shevet Levi, to give us that direction. Not every person was made to sit in Yeshiva for eighteen hours a day. Some people are natural farmers, others are natural engineers, others are scientists. The principal that we must live by is: “It is not what you do, but the way that you do it”. Our ultimate objective is to serve Hashem. For those who are able to do so in the Bet Midrash, that is wonderful. However, let us not, for one moment think, that Avodat Hashem can only take place in the four walls of the Yeshiva. Our service of G-d is whatever we are doing, wherever we may be. We can serve G-d by working the land, if when working the land that is our intention.
The framework of Halacha enables us to do this. By adhering to the halacha, we are able to realize our potential to the utmost, whilst at the same time we are ensured that that potential is being channeled in the right way.