11/29/2012

Shabbat Vayishlach

Candles Friday 4:10 pm
Havadalah Saturday 5:05 pm

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After Yaakov and his family return to the Land of Israel, his daughter Dina is raped by the Prince of Shechem. Yaakov hears of the crime but chooses not to act. Dinah’s two closes brothers, Shimon and Levi take the law into their own hands. They suggest a merger between the two communities but require circumcision as a condition. While the men of Schechem are weak and in pain the brothers enter the city, destroy it and massacre the inhabitants.

Yaakov is stunned and calls them to account. His argument is that they have now endangered the whole family by being branded as violent interlopers. The brothers reply that they cannot allow the locals to get away with this. Clearly Yaakov wanted to resolve the issue peacefully, through negotiations. The brothers argued for deterrence. The issue is not resolved. Only on his deathbed does Yaakov publicly condemn them. Most commentators condemn the brothers too. They argue that even if they were justified in responding to a breach of law (which the whole city condoned) their motives were not idealistic but selfish.

I am reminded of the position Israel is in today. Israel needs deterrence to survive surrounded by enemies. Yet violence is not a long term solution. Negotiation is. That’s why Shimon and Levi are rebuked in the end. But what if there is no reliable partner to negotiate with?

Earlier in the Torah Yaakov returns from Lavan to face Esav. He fears he will be destroyed. He prepares for peace and for war. That is how we should be today. Without the two sides coming together there will never be long term peace. That avenue must always be an option. Every power that has relied only on its military has eventually collapsed. But in the meantime until there is a partner willing to negotiate, force is the only protection.