Secrets Belong to G-d
Jacob suffered so much that he said, “I had barely finished suffering over the tragedy of Dinah, the tragedy of Joseph, the tragedy of Laban…” (Tanhuma Mikeitz 10). It was in those circumstances that he revealed all his greatness, as the Sages have said: “He suffers yet does not complain about the severity of justice” (Tanhuma Toldot 14).
I reflected upon these words. Why did Jacob, who fathered the twelve tribes of G-d (Psalms 122:4) and whose face is engraved on the Throne of Glory (Pesikta Zutah Vayeitzei 28:13), suffer so much during his life, especially after Dinah was violated and defiled by a non-Jew (Genesis 34:2,5)? Why did Jacob have to suffer all this?
It was perhaps in order to point out to future generations that Dinah, in being confined inside (which is likened to being in a yeshiva), teaches us that each Jew should avoid leaving the walls of the house of study, and that if he leaves he must suffer the consequences. Institutions of Torah learning must be created in order to protect against assimilation. Be that as it may, we may rightly ask why Dinah was kidnapped and violated by this immoral gentile.
We learn from here just how exacting justice is, since even for the Patriarchs – who were the vehicle for the Divine Presence (Bereshith Rabba 47:8), who stood upon the heights of perfection, and who were “as resplendent as the angels that ministered to them” (Bereshith Rabba 75:4) – judgment was severe. Even though they had angels at their service, ones created by the good deeds that they performed solely to obey their Creator’s will, they were not protected from the strictness of justice.
Jacob had just attained great spiritual heights since he had conquered Esau’s angel (Chullin 92a) and rejected Esau’s offer: “Travel on and let us go – I will proceed alongside you” (Genesis 33:12). Esau wanted to accompany and go along with him only so as to harm and prevent him from progressing. Jacob should have therefore immediately carried out his vow in order to attain an even greater degree of perfection, for there is no limit to perfection and a man can deepen his understanding every day and at each moment. A man should continue to advance from strength to strength, without stopping at what he has. He should progress every day, every hour, and at every moment, for true perfection is without limit.
When Jacob attained his great spiritual level at that moment, he should have continued to progress. He still had much to do before reaching the level of the “All” in the World to Come (in the sense of “All Israel has a portion in the World to Come” [Sanhedrin 90a]), and this “All” is without limit. It was only the performance of his vow that could have assured him of perfection (Bereshith Rabba 81:2), and it was why he was punished by the tragedy that struck Dinah.
Jacob sought to fundamentally distance himself from evil, since he said to Esau, “My lord knows that the children are tender, and the nursing flocks and cattle are upon me” (Genesis 33:13). He explained to his brother that he did not want to live with him because he did not want the education of his children to be disrupted, an education that cost him much money and that required great effort. This is why he said to him, “I will make my way at my slow pace according to the gait of the drove before me and the gait of the children” (v.14). In other words, I will go step by step, from strength to strength, for it is only because of the Torah that I will attain the “All” in the World to Come, without being diverted from my goal by wealth, which is also called “all”, as it is written: “For upon his death he will not take hakol [literally: ‘The all’]” (Psalms 49:18). Jacob possessed what he needed, since he said, “G-d has been gracious to me and because I have all” (Genesis 33:11). In other words, he was rich in the sense of being “happy with his lot” (Perkei Avoth 4:1), and he generously used the excess of his possessions to perform good deeds.
And yet, justice’s severity overtook him because there was a defect in his level of perfection. This was because he did not immediately fulfill his vow and promise. Far be it from us to think that Jacob did not keep his word, yet his stay in Shechem was considered as a defect in spite of the house of study that he established there. It is difficult for us to understand the exactitude of justice that was then awakened against him, even though he progressed in other domains. This occurred because he had not yet fulfilled his vow towards G-d, Who had recently saved him from the hands of Esau and confirmed his blessings (Bereshith Rabba 78:11). It was only the fulfillment of his promise that could have allowed him to attain the summit of perfection. Even though the text says that at that very moment, “Jacob arrived shaleim [intact, whole]” (Genesis 33:18) – “whole in his body, in his goods, and in his Torah” (Shabbat 33b) – he did reach the summit of perfection in “All”, this being an instruction for future generations concerning the strictness of justice and its exactitude.
The one who makes a vow to serve G-d with all his strength is considered as being flawed as long as he has not accomplished his vow, or if he accomplishes it partially, even if in other areas his conduct is flawless.
The Sages said, “For having confined Dinah inside, she ended up falling into the hands of Shechem, the son of Hamor” (Bereshith Rabba 80:4). Why did this happen? It was because the sentence had already been pronounced against Jacob because of his lack of perfection. If G-d had promised to watch over him and his family, why did he fear the ill-intentioned gaze of Esau? If Jacob had hastened to fulfill his vow after having confined Dinah inside, it is possible that the sentence could have been annulled. We would have then explained that Jacob could have rejected the marriage proposal of Esau for Dinah by using the pretext that she was still too young. Yet we see that he stopped at the city of Shechem and that he delayed in fulfilling his vow. Such is the strictness of justice towards one who lacks perfection. Jacob’s conduct teaches us to always aspire to greater perfection.
What is the right path to follow?
Each individual should perform good deeds and carry out his vows to progress in serving G-d, this being in every area. The opportunity to progress should not be put off until later. For example, as soon as one is free from current occupations, he must run towards the house of study, otherwise the strictness of justice will weigh down upon him for having let an opportunity pass to perform good deeds with his possessions, as Jacob demonstrates for us.