Double Trouble: Vayehi 2017 (2)
by Adam J. Rosenbaum
Pre-Game Chatter: Does violence beget more violence, even if violence is used for a righteous cause? Or is there nothing righteous about violence in the first place?
On his deathbed, Jacob reflects how two of his sons, Simeon and Levi, rampage the residents of Shechem as revenge for the sexual assault suffered by their sister Dinah:
The Pitch: “Simeon and Levi are a pair; Their weapons are tools of lawlessness. Let not my person be included in their council, Let not my being be counted in their assembly. For when angry they slay men, And when pleased they maim oxen. Cursed be their anger so fierce, And their wrath so relentless. I will divide them in Jacob, Scatter them in Israel.” – Genesis 49:5-7
Swing #1: “The Testament of Simeon adduces another catastrophe that further diminished the Simeonite population: there was some sort of armed conflict between the tribes of Levi and Simeon, and it was that conflict, fiercely fought on both sides, that resulted in Levi’s victory and Simeon’s reduction to ‘few in number.’ … Apparently, this author chose to understand Jacob’s opening words, ‘Simeon and Levi are brothers, tools of violence are their weapons’ as meaning, ‘They are brothers, yet tools of violence are their weapons.’ That is, even though they are brothers, they will eventually come to blows: the tribe of Simeon will attack Levi at swordpoint, but Levi will eventually triumph, and Simeon will be diminished and dispersed. For why else (according to this view) did Jacob decide to join Simeon and Levi together in the same blessing – the only two brothers to be so joined?” – James L. Kugel, The Ladder of Jacob: Ancient Interpretations of the Biblical Story of Jacob and His Children
Swing #2: “Anger in extremes is detrimental, but in moderation, can be useful. Jacob had the same idea in mind. It was advisable that the qualities of anger and passion that had been concentrated in Simeon and Levi should be dispersed among all the tribes of Israel. All of them would share some of it. A little spread everywhere would prove useful, but if concentrated in one place, would be dangerous.” – Akedat Yitzhak
Swing #3: “The groups which belonged to Simeon and Levi had a serious quarrel with the indigenous population near Shechem; the quarrel may have occurred when they were passing through the area with their flocks, or perhaps when they had settled in the region before Ephraim and Manasseh arrived and drove the remaining members of these tribes further south. We can only make up hypotheses, but we should not reject this very ancient tradition which takes us back before the time of Moses; there was a non-priestly tribe of Levi, and its ancestor’s name is found, in its unabbreviated form, both in cuneiform and in Egyptian inscriptions.” – Roland de Vaux, Ancient Israel
Late-Inning Questions: Do our commentators think Simeon and Levi only used the crime against Dinah as an excuse to behave badly? Why do you think our culture tends to glorify characters (such as those in many “action movies”) that use violence to take revenge or even in self-defense?
On-Deck at Emanu-El: I’m excited to offer a class on Torah trope beginning Tuesday, January 9th, at 7pm. Please let me know if you’re interested in learning the ins and outs of the symbols of Torah reading, which will enable you to learn any portion.
The Big Inning at the End: Jose Altuve of the Houston Astros was named Sports Illustrated co-Sportsman of the Year, and now, this week, the Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year. I hope that in 2018 we will recognize more ballplayers who excel both on and off the field.
Shabbat Shalom, and Happy New Year!