Jewish tradition firmly believes that even the greatest of people can make mistakes. From mistakes, we can learn. In this week’s Parsha, the Rabbis criticize a decision made by our forefather Ya’akov.
We read about the meeting between Ya’akov and Eisav. The Torah teaches us that Eisav ran to greet Ya’akov, hugged him and kissed him. Then, Ya’akov’s wives and children bowed before Eisav. However, there was one person missing.
The night before his meeting with Eisav, Ya’akov took his family across the Ya’abok Stream. The Torah tells us that Ya’akov took with him his wives and eleven children. Rashi notes that Ya’akov had twelve children! Who was missing? Binyamin had yet to be born, so there were 11 boys, but Rashi explains that Dina was the missing child. Ya’akov hid her in a chest so Eisav would not see her and desire to marry her.
Rashi continues that Ya’akov was punished for hiding Dina from Eisav. Later in this Parsha, when the family of Ya’akov settles in Shechem, Dina is captured and raped.
If we think about Rashi’s explanation, it is a difficult concept to comprehend. Dina was only eight years old at the time. Eisav was about 98 years old. Eisav was a murderer, adulterer and idolater. Why was Ya’akov wrong for keeping Dina away from Eisav? A parent is permitted – not only permitted,- but obligated to protect his child. If so, why was Ya’akov wrong to protect Dina from his evil brother?
We can never give up on our fellow Jews. We never know which act of kindness may change someone’s life. We cannot discount our potential impact upon those whom most would consider beyond hope. It is true that Eisav was a murderer, an adulterer and an idolater. He was certainly not a model of behavior. Yet, Eisav remained the son of Yitzchak and Rivka and the grandson of Abraham. Even in his worst moments, Eisav honored his father. The rabbis criticize Ya’akov for - so to speak - not providing a reminder of what it means to be Jewish. Dina had the potential to shine light upon Eisav’s dark world.
The rabbis felt that by hiding Dina, Ya’akov prevented his brother from possibly returning to the fold. The rabbis therefore criticize Ya’akov for this missed opportunity.
We face the same choice as Ya’akov. Many assimilated Jews - whose behaviors are clearly detrimental to the welfare of the Jewish people – may seem beyond hope. The message of the rabbis is evident. We cannot despair of them. With the smallest act of kindness . . . with a smile . . . we can remind those who have forgotten, what it means to be Jewish. We cannot look down upon our fellow Jews. The rabbis teach that all of Israel has a share in the world to come. Our job is to assist them in finding their way.