Sunday, November 25, 2007

Shabbat in the Heights

I spent Shabbat by these completely amazing people. They are amazing for so many reasons, but I'd like to share with you the one that most impresses me.

They home is open to all; they have an open door. They have a limit because they live in an apartment and therefore, themselves included, they can only host twenty-three people. Only! Can you imagine? The father is a Rosh Yeshiva at YU. Every Shabbat, he invites over boys who need meals. The wife never knows how many people will show up on Shabbos. She and her daughters cook and hope that there will be enough food (there always is.) And if they are worried, they laugh and go make "emergency salads" in order to feed everyone.

They also have a magic table and when people show up (if there are more than expected), they simply "make the table bigger."

Have you ever heard the like?

I had a magical Shabbat. Why was it magical? Because of the conversation. Non-stop Parsha and Torah discussion all Shabbat long and all of it incredibly mentally stimulating. It was sheer pleasure for me to be here. Aside from which, their house reminds me of my house because of the rows upon rows of bookcases filled with sefarim. It's really a treasure chest of books! For one thing, I happened across a book that my friend told me to read, Emotional Intelligence, and now I'm in the middle of it. But there are also so many fascinating sefarim...

What's absolutely beautiful is the sheer wit in the Torah conversation. Quick thinking scholars make for fantastic company! Friday night we were discussing avodah zarah (quite apropos given the topic I am studying in class.) Rabbi happened to mention that he had once gone to the Israel Museum and entered into a room full of idols and had left because he did not wish to look upon them; the sight of them physically hurt him. But he joked and said he had told his wife that "You better get me out of here quick; otherwise I have a chiyuv to smash all these idols!" Questioned I, having just learned this section, "But don't we learn that if something is old and unpracticed anymore, we can consider it as having been batil?" Answered Rabbi that indeed this was the teshuva from Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (the one I had just learned.) However, Rabbi added, the idols in this particular room were theoretically from the dig of King Ahab's palace, which meant they were owned by a Jew! "Aha!" exclaimed one of the guys at the table, "and a Jew cannot be mevatel on his own avodah zarah." Says a quiet fellow who had been listening intently up till now, "They're batel b'shishim." This is our cue for uproarious laughter (it was such a clever comment, because he meant that the rest of the museum is filled with idols.) Answers Rabbi, "They can't be batel b'shishim because it's not a taaroves!" But then he smiled and said "Ah, he's learning Yoreh Deah; everything is batel b'shishim right now."

It was such a fast-paced discussion and the connections made were so quick...utter pleasure for me.

Anyway, here are some thoughts I had over Shabbat that I figured I might share with you (Daddy, I think you'll like them)

1. Have you ever noticed the beautiful symmetry when it comes to Jacob? When Jacob exits Israel, he dreams of angels climbing up and down ladders. When Jacob returns to the land of Israel, he actually has to wrestle an angel! Now think what that means! Isn't that interesting? When Jacob was exiting, he was escorted by angels to protect him! And yet when he was returning, he was met by an angel who was set against him, who struggled with him, who fought with him! What does that suggest? I have to think about it further but I think it's an interesting idea.

2. Have you ever looked at the wording of the following pesukim? I noticed this in shul this Shabbat. Actually, it wasn't shul in the characteristic sense of the term; it was the Beit Midrash Minyan at YU! Which was in and of itself an absolutely fascinating experience! You walk inside and it really is a Beit Midrash, with piles upon piles of books and sefarim on each table. It's the way that the books are stacked that is utterly hilarious; they've got them piled so that they are bookends (so horizontally) and then they have others in the middle, positioned vertically. Then there was a Starbucks card and Dunkin Donuts card lying on the desk behind which I sat and it all felt so lived in and real and wondrous. Anyway, here are the thoughts I came up with during the Torah reading:
    כה וַיְהִי בַיּוֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁי בִּהְיוֹתָם כֹּאֲבִים, וַיִּקְחוּ שְׁנֵי-בְנֵי-יַעֲקֹב שִׁמְעוֹן וְלֵוִי אֲחֵי דִינָה אִישׁ חַרְבּוֹ, וַיָּבֹאוּ עַל-הָעִיר, בֶּטַח; וַיַּהַרְגוּ, כָּל-זָכָר.
    25 And it came to pass on the third day, when they were in pain, that two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah's brethren, took each man his sword, and came upon the city unawares, and slew all the males.

    כו וְאֶת-חֲמוֹר וְאֶת-שְׁכֶם בְּנוֹ, הָרְגוּ לְפִי-חָרֶב; וַיִּקְחוּ אֶת-דִּינָה מִבֵּית שְׁכֶם, וַיֵּצֵאוּ.
    26 And they slew Hamor and Shechem his son with the edge of the sword, and took Dinah out of Shechem's house, and went forth.

    כז בְּנֵי יַעֲקֹב, בָּאוּ עַל-הַחֲלָלִים, וַיָּבֹזּוּ, הָעִיר--אֲשֶׁר טִמְּאוּ, אֲחוֹתָם.
    27 The sons of Jacob came upon the slain, and spoiled the city, because they had defiled their sister.

    כח אֶת-צֹאנָם וְאֶת-בְּקָרָם, וְאֶת-חֲמֹרֵיהֶם, וְאֵת אֲשֶׁר-בָּעִיר וְאֶת-אֲשֶׁר בַּשָּׂדֶה, לָקָחוּ.
    28 They took their flocks and their herds and their asses, and that which was in the city and that which was in the field;

    כט וְאֶת-כָּל-חֵילָם וְאֶת-כָּל-טַפָּם וְאֶת-נְשֵׁיהֶם, שָׁבוּ וַיָּבֹזּוּ; וְאֵת, כָּל-אֲשֶׁר בַּבָּיִת.
    29 and all their wealth, and all their little ones and their wives, took they captive and spoiled, even all that was in the house.
Do you know what is so interesting from the way this is worded? I was always under the impression that it was only Shimon and Levi who went and killed the men and sacked the city. But from the way these verses are worded, it seems like all the brothers were involved! How did it work? Well, Shimon and Levi, who are here characterized as achei Dinah, the brothers of Dinah (therefore the ones who care about her and her well-being) came to the city, killed all the males, took their sister and went forth. They were only there to avenge their sister; they killed their sister and left (the very verse says vayatzeu.) What happened then? Well then the sons of Jacob (and not the brothers of Dinah) "came upon the slain" and continued what Shimon and Levi had started; they sacked the city, took their flocks, herds and asses, all their wealth, their little ones and their wives.

What I find fascinating is that the ones that Jacob reprimanded were the people who had simply done the minimum- slain the males and taken their sister Dinah out of captivity, that is, Shimon and Levi! They're the only ones that Jacob speaks to! As for the rest of them, the other brothers who sacked the city and who seem to have engaged in all this gratuitous looting and plundering; this doesn't bother Jacob. Isn't that peculiar? Perhaps not if viewed from a political perspective; since what Shimon and Levi did was more dangerous (they murdered Shechem and Chamor after all.) But you would think of all the people to reprimand, it should be the brothers who stepped in afterwards and continued the looting for no good reason!

3. There's a very interesting pattern going on here. Sarai is taken by Pharoah/ Avimelech (but neither of them are able to touch her.) Rivkah is taken by Avimelech. Dinah is taken by Shechem. Of all these scenarios (which as you see, are the same and repeat themselves) it is only Dinah who is defiled, as it were. Interesting that it is the young maiden who is taken by the prince as opposed to the more beautiful women taken by kings...

We were also discussing over Shabbat that Jacob was at fault for hiding Dinah away and not allowing Esau to marry her. Very odd, this Rashi! If Jacob was at fault, why wasn't he punished, not Dinah? And while we're at it, isn't Leah at fault since she was theoretically supposed to marry Esau and connived her way into marrying Jacob? So why punish them by having Dinah suffer (even if, as one could suggest, it hurts the parents more when their children are hurt?) It really strikes me as quite peculiar.

4. This last requires a whole post of its own, but I want to compare the obvious similarities between the Tamar/ Amnon case and the Dinah/ Shechem case (not to mention the killing out by brothers, whether it be Avshalom or Shimon & Levi.)

So those are my thoughts this Shabbat. Yes.

Something interesting Rabbi suggested- Dinah went out to talk to the young girls in order to be m'karev them (just as Abraham and Sarah had been and theoretically their descendants as well.) So question became, what was the matter? So A) Shechem is a bad neighborhood, nest of vipers, as Rabbi said "this isn't exactly an NCSY convention." And B) She ought to have been chaperoned, perhaps have had a brother with her- as Rabbi also said, "NCSY Shabbatons are coed!" (That's when we all cracked up.) But I think this theoretical understanding of her motives is quite interesting.

And did you know Midreshet Yom Rishon took place every Sunday? I thought it only took place on those Sundays where there are flyers up announcing its presence but no, it happens every Sunday in Schottenstein uptown (how cool is that?)

Basically, had a fantastic Shabbat. Hurrah for thoughtful and interesting people! And huzzah my beloved daughter of God.


Daniel said...

Funny, I've had the reverse thought process about Shimon and Levi. For years I assumed all the sons pillaged the city (for the reasons you give here), and it was only this year that it occured to me that "the sons of Ya'akov" might just refer to Shimon and Levi, bearing in mind they are the only sons of Ya'akov who have been mentioned in this passage.

I don't know why they are now referred to as Ya'akov's sons rather than Dinah's brothers. Maybe releasing Dinah was motivated by fraternal love, but punishing the town was a result of ideas of justice they learnt from their father? I don't know how that fits with Ya'akov's disapproval, though.

Anonymous said...


Interested lurker here,

I have often wondered about why this event resulted in Shimon and Levi being past over when the kingship was given, eventually to Judah, as Levi was in a sense "promoted" to the service of G-d while being overlooked and Shimon meanwhile seemed to suffer the greater punishment. For what seemed to be a just cause.

Am I missing something here?

Yosef said...

1. Have you ever noticed the beautiful symmetry when it comes to Jacob? When Jacob exits Israel, he dreams of angels climbing up and down ladders. When Jacob returns to the land of Israel, he actually has to wrestle an angel! Now think what that means! Isn't that interesting? When Jacob was exiting, he was escorted by angels to protect him! And yet when he was returning, he was met by an angel who was set against him, who struggled with him, who fought with him! What does that suggest? I have to think about it further but I think it's an interesting idea.

That symmetry is interesting, although I've always thought that the angels ascending and descending the ladder is paralleled by Yaakov meeting "angels of G-d" at the end of Parshas Vayetze (32:1). These two incidents that bookend the parsha would demonstrate that the entire parsha, which describes Yaakov's sojourns with Lavan outside of Eretz Yisroel, took place under the providence of G-d.

So I'm not sure that the struggle with the angel is really the bookend to the first encounter with the angels by the ladder.

Daniel said...

Interested lurker,

Interpretations of what Shimon and Levi did wrong vary. Some commentators say what they did was right (and that Ya'akov's later criticism refers to the sale of Yosef), others say the problem was they made Ya'akov seem dishonest by breaking the treaty with Shechem. The best answer I've heard is that by looting the city, instead of just taking Dinah and executing judgement against those who acquiesced in her abduction, they showed they were acting for selfish reasons, not for the disinterested pursuit of justice.

Levi was later elevated to the service of God because of the Levites help in surpressing the sin of the Golden Calf, risking their lives to restore order to the Israelite camp without the expectation of reward. They transfered their anarchic, selfish violence into selfless violence, under the command of the recognised authority (Moshe).

The tribe of Shimon did not do anything similar; indeed, in the incident at Ba'al Peor, they showed a continued propensity for anarchy and rebellion.

Anonymous said...

Not to minimize at all the hachnasat orchim of the family you stayed at, but many families (particularly in Israel) have "open house" policies as well. It's a level of selflessness I greatly admire, all the more as I doubt I could ever have such a house myself.

Anonymous said...


The interested lurker just wants to thank Daniel for the explanations.

They make good sense.

D'varim P'shutim said...

- -Chana according to the malbim your diyuk is correct all the brothers looted the city. the malbim explains that they did this to collect "demai bushtom", money for their embarrassment.

Ezzie said...

I'm jealous of that family! We can't fit more than 15 at a regular meal; really, 13 to fit normally. (Buffet style, though... :D )

Magic tables. Hmph. That should *definitely* be copyrighted...!

Also, anon is right - there *are* bH a lot of amazing families like that, and I'm jealous of them all. I can't imagine doing so and still keeping everyone so amused and involved and the talk at such a high level...

Also, agree with the above points on the Torah stuff.

I always thought they were considered brothers in terms of what they did at first, which would be "okay" as a fit of rage; a response to the defilement of their sister. The rest, which was unnecessary and over the top, they did as representatives of the House of Jacob, which therefore upset Yakov greatly. It's the old analogy about breaking into a store vs. breaking in while wearing your school colors - the former is bad, the latter is embarrassing to the school. By going in as such a force and doing what they did, they shamed their family. Hence, the "sons of Jacob" terminology.

Anonymous said...

“I spent Shabbat by these completely amazing people. They are amazing for so many reasons,”

Judging from many of your posts it appears you’ve got yourself a bad case of splitting. Almost every person you discuss is either incredible, amazing and brilliant or awful, mean, illogical and the cause of much anguish.

Chana said...

Anonymous 10:15,

What can I say, this song was written for me.