When Yaakov and his family arrive in the Land of Israel, his only daughter Dina goes out to look around this new area. Shehem one of the local Hittite princes sees her. He abducts her and rapes her. However, unusually, Shehem falls in love with Dinah and asks Hamor his father to go and negotiate a marriage. When Hamor arrives, Yaakov receives him. Hamor suggests that they should merge, enter into an alliance which would benefit both of them. Jacob, Yaakov, listens. He does not reply and waits until the brothers return from feeding their flocks.
Shimon and Levy, Dinah’s full brothers return. They hear what had happened. They are furious. They take over the negotiations. They have no intention of agreeing to anything. They deviously tell Hamor that they can only agree to the marriage and merging the tribes if all Hamor’s men circumcise themselves. Hamor agrees and persuades his people that it is a good deal. They circumcise all the males. On the third day when the men are in great pain, the brothers invade to city, kill all the men and take everyone else captive and their property. They free Dinah and bring her home.
When Yaakov hears this, he is angry. He tells the brothers they have blackened his name. Now everyone will be against them and he fears they will be annihilated. The brothers reply that they cannot let the locals get away with defiling their sister. And indeed, the Torah goes on to say that the local tribes were frightened of the family and left them alone. Given Jacob’s experience with the angel before he meets Esav and that he is named to fight, not run, why is he so opposed to what the brothers did? Obviously because he was not being threated here at all. This was pure aggression. But again, why does he wait for them to come back. Has he lost his nerve, his authority, his power? Or is it an expression of the need for diplomacy rather than force?
The debate is a very modern one. If we are seen as weak we will be taken advantage of. If on the other hand, we act too aggressively we will alienate and antagonize others. The issue is left unresolved here although later on, Yaakov will condemn the brothers for their violence. You can hear a similar debate in Israel today.
There are often two sides to a problem, the ideal and the pragmatic, the moral and the practical. I believe the Torah is telling us that different times and situations require different responses. The Moral and the diplomatic may not always be the best way of dealing with a crisis. Sometimes one has to be tough in order to survive. And yet even if one does, one still has to remember the ideal, that peace is what we pray for and ultimately must try to achieve.
Even so, on his death bed Jacob unequivocally attacks Shimon and Levi as men of violence and says, “may my soul never be part of their counsel.”