In Praise of Dina: Parshat Vayishlach

Parshat Vayishlach, contains one of the darkest incidents in the story of Yacov’s family: the taking and rape of Dina. Yet, the inclusion of this account in the Torah suggests that it is important not to ignore the topic of sexual abuse and to find ways to talk about it, protect against it and advocate for the victims. 

The commentaries on Dina’s story grapple with two issues which require moral clarity and which are still relevant today: lack of consent and the tendency to blame the victim. Dina goes out, “va’teze,” to see the women of the area. Shechem saw her, took her and “vaye’aneha.” Studying the interpretations of these two words can be a springboard for discussing the importance of consent in sexual relationships. One possible reading of “vaye’aneha” is that he debased her, downplaying the violence and her lack of consent. Ramban, however, based on other occurrences of this word in Tanach, provides a voice of moral clarity: “The Torah tells us that she was forced, and she did not consent to the prince of the country — to her praise.”

Interpreting the word “va’teze,” the midrash calls Dina a “yatzanit,” she liked to go out, seeming to imply that she shared responsibility for what happened to her. The Lubavitcher Rebbe, however, interprets this to her credit: being a yatzanit was a positive attribute in Dinah, since she had the potential to positively influence others. Blaming the victim only further stigmatizes abuse.

Ramban says this story teaches the praise of Dina – לספר בשבחה – in that she remained true to her values as a daughter of Israel. I would add that Dina is also to be praised for giving us her story to raise awareness about abuse, and to talk to our children about healthy relationships. Shabbat Shalom – Karen Miller Jackson

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