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It’s In Your Hands

By: Mrs Leora Bednarsh

Although eleven of Yaakov’s sons, the twelve Shevatim, were born in Parshat Veyeitzei, it is only in Parshat Vayishlach that we begin to see the development of their character.  One of the first stories in which we see them as individuals acting independently is the rather terrible story of the rape of Dina, and the subsequent deception and slaughter of the city of Shechem by Shimon and Levi.  When Yaakov rebukes his sons for this action, they have the last word, asking, “Shall they make our sister into a harlot?”  On his deathbed, however, Yaakov condemns them both and punishes them, denying them a portion in Eretz Yisrael – “I shall divide them among Jacob and scatter them among Israel.”


If we look at the ultimate realization of Yaakov’s curse, though, we see that this “punishment” was not equivalent for both brothers.  Shimon was actually dispersed throughout the territory of Yehuda, never achieving political independence, and had to wander in order to eke out a living.  Levi, however, was dispersed throughout the people to be their spiritual guides, to teach Torah, and to collect the tithes, not to beg.  They had to wander in order to share their spiritual gifts with the entire nation.  Why did the very same words of Yaakov Avinu come true in such radically different fashions for the two Shevatim?


In the story of Dina, both brothers exhibited the traits of zeal, anger and violence.  In subsequent history, both brothers continue to exhibit these traits, but utilize them for opposite purposes.  After the sin of the Golden Calf, Shevet Levi answer the call of “Who is God’s? Gather to me!” and helps Moshe punish the ringleaders and bring the people back to Hashem.  Shevet Levi again channels these traits in a positive direction in the story of Pinchas, from Shevet Levi, who zealously kills Zimri, the prince of Shevet Shimon, who used the selfsame zeal to reject the mitzvot and rebel against Moshe, publicly taking a Midianite woman. 


We can learn from these very distinct outcomes a very important lesson.  Every character trait can be channeled for good or for bad.  What makes a person righteous is not the personality which he or she inherits, but rather the choices that he or she makes.  We all have the ability, and responsibility, to examine our traits and figure out how to use our personalities for the best. 




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