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True Brothers - An Open Letter from Rabbi Horowitz on this Week's Parsha
by Rabbi Yakov Horowitz

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11/30/12

Dear Readers:

Below, please find a D’var Torah on this week’s Parsha that is rather timely in light of recent developments.

Here are links to two Divrei Torah on our website:

http://bit.ly/TwL9Yd on leadership and the sin of Reuven

http://bit.ly/11qjL3u on the epic battle between Yaakov and the angel.

The topic of Yaakov and the angel was the theme for my Friday “Schmuez” (talk) with our middle school Talmidim (students). Please click here for the audio clip or insert this link in your browser: http://www.rabbihorowitz.com/pyes/LinkedArticles/YDN%20DT%20Vayishlach%205773%20-%20copy.mp3

I hope you find these meaningful.

Best wishes for a Gutten Shabbos,

Yakov

Parshas Vayishlach – True Brothers

By: Rabbi Yakov Horowitz

In this week’s Parsha, Yaakov Avinu criticized his children Shimon and Levi for killing the residents of Shechem after their sister Dina was violated by the son of Shechem's leader (Bereishis 34:31). He gave two reasons for his displeasure with the vigilante actions of his children: (1) they shamed the family and made them loathsome in the eyes of the neighboring nations and (2) they placed their family in life-threatening danger of an attack by the incensed people surrounding them.

Shimon and Levi responded to their father's critique with a four-word phrase: "Ha'chizonah ya'aseh es achoseinu? – Should our sister be treated like a harlot?" Rashi explains that they meant to say their sister is not "hefker" (lit. one who is abandoned), but rather has family members who are willing to lay their lives on the line for her.

At first glance, it seems Shimon and Levi gave an emotional response rather than a logical one, since they did not address either of the two concerns that their father had expressed. It is almost as if they acknowledged their entire family would be shamed and in grave danger as a result of their actions, but they asked Yaakov to take into account the mitigating circumstances and understand that theirs was a visceral reaction due to the situation at hand.

I would like to suggest an alternative understanding of their response to their father's rebuke. They may have been answering the critique point-by-point, by explaining that if they allowed their sister to be treated as hefker, (1) a non-response to their sister's defilement would be a far greater shame to the family than the one they caused, and (2) the family would be in far greater danger than before, since the neighbors would assume that they could violate Yaakov's family members with nary a response.

Permit me to take a page from the response of Shimon and Levi and propose that our reluctance to squarely stand with abuse victims who report predators to the authorities, has sent a shameful and dangerous message - that we do not have the moxie to do what it takes to keep our children safe.

We are also sending a shameful and dangerous message when we sit by silently, while friends and family members of the alleged perpetrators harass the victim's family members and supporters for reporting the abuse to the authorities.

Sitting on the sidelines and not supporting victims of abuse is not really a neutral position, for your silence only emboldens the perpetrators.

In his remarks upon accepting the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize, Elie Wiesel eloquently stated: "And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented."

When Shimon and Levi raised their swords to defend Dina’s honor, the Torah (Bereshis 34:25) describes them as “The two sons of Yaakov, Shimon and Levi, brothers of Dina.” This begs the question; why do we need to identify them as Dina’s brothers? If they were Yaakov’s sons, they would automatically be Dina’s brothers?

Rashi (ibid) comments that the title “Brothers of Dina” was a badge of honor bestowed upon them for putting their lives on the line for her, while the other 10 siblings did not.

Each and every one of us has a sacred obligation to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the victims – as brothers and sisters.

This sends the loud, clear and consistent message: Our children are not hefker.



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