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The Right Perspective

By: Rav Eli Wagner

In this week's parsha, as Yaakov is lying on his death bed, he blesses his sons one last time. A closer inspection of the pesukim reveals that not all the sons received blessings. Some of the sons were chastised for previous wrongdoings and misdeeds. Perhaps, the most notably criticized are Shimon and Levi for their violent onslaught on the city of Shechem.

Just to review, back in Parshat Vayishlach, Dina was abducted and violated by the prince of

Shechem. In response, Shimon and Levi deceived the people of Shechem by claiming that they (Yaakov's family) would join together with their nation, on condition that the men of the city received a brit mila. The men of Shechem agreed to the stipulation and underwent a brit mila. As the people of the city were recovering and most vulnerable, Shimon and Levi attacked the town killing most of its inhabitants. After the attack was complete, Yaakov rebuked Shimon and Levi carrying out this reckless act.

Were Shimon and Levi justified in their actions? Was there a precedent to allow them to ostensibly wipe out an entire town? The Rambam in Hilchot Melachim (9:14) explains that Shimon and Levi were certainly justified in their actions, since the town of Shechem violated one of the 7 Noahide laws (setting up courts to combat injustice) which is punishable by the death. Therefore, Shimon and Levi were acting in accordance with the law.

If we now fast-forward and examine this week's parsha, the Rambam's opinion seems quite peculiar. If Shimon and Levi were truly justified in destroying Shechem (as is the contention of the Rambam,) why did Yaakov, on his death bed, reprimand them? Certainly, Yaakov was well aware of the law that enabled Shimon and Levi to carry out their attack. What then, was the source and substance of Yaakov's rebuke?

Rav Michael Rosensweig (Rosh Yeshiva of RIETS) suggested the following enlightening insight into the precise nature of Yaakov's condemnation. Yaakov was well aware of the law that sanctioned Shimon and Levi's actions that would result in the decimation of Shechem. The source of Yaakov's anger was how that goal was achieved. To this point in history, brit mila was very much associated with Avraham Avinu (whom was the first to receive the commandment), who was the "kiruv" master par excellence. Avraham's entire life was dedicated to sanctifying God's name by bringing people within the fold of monotheism and educating them about God. For Shimon and Levi to utilize this mitzvah, which has naturally represented bringing people to monotheism, as a vehicle to destroy an entire city creates the opposite result of its desired effect. Where one had the potential of a sanctification of God's name through brit mila, instead Shimon and Levi actions caused a desecration of God's name. To exploit the mitzvah of brit mila as means of carrying out justified retribution is by definition not justified. It was this perspective that prompted Yaakov to criticize Shimon and Levi's actions. To Yaakov, it is just as important to implement law in a proper way as is the adherence to the law itself.

Often in life we are confronted with challenges and trying circumstances. When confronting these challenges it is vital to keep Yaakov's message in mind. Even if we may be right, the ends don't always justify the means.

Shabbat Shalom





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