By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried
Dear Rabbi Fried,
I have a question about Leah and Dinah. When Leah heard that she was destined to marry Esau, she prayed and cried to Hashem that she would not have to marry a wicked man, and as a result, she married Jacob. But then, later on, Jacob is blamed for concealing his daughter Dinah from Esau because perhaps Dinah could have influenced Esau to do tshuvah (repent). So my question is, if a woman’s influence on her husband is so powerful, why did Leah not daven that Esau should do tshuvah and become a tzaddik, a righteous man, rather than that she should not marry him at all?
What you are referring to is a rabbinical teaching based upon the Midrash that Jacob hid his daughter Dinah in a large wooden box when he had contact with Esau, lest his evil brother lay his eyes upon her and ask for her hand in marriage. As you mentioned, Jacob was taken to task for doing so and not having his daughter be in a position to influence Esau as his wife.
The obvious question is: Why should Jacob be censured for what he did? What self-respecting father would allow his daughter to enter a home filled with evil and to marry an evil man with the hopes that her piety will trump his evil?! Although it’s possible, it’s unlikely, especially given the power and influence of Esau, who was a mighty ruler at the time and wicked to the point that he attempted to wage a war against his own brother and family. Moreover, his evil hadn’t begun at any recent time; many years before, he had sold his birthright — his future — for the sake of the instant pleasure of a bowl of beans at the moment of his hunger. It would seem more appropriate to censure Jacob if he had allowed Dinah to marry Esau!
A novel explanation of the above episode is offered by the “Baalei Hamussar” (masters of the mussar movement of self-perfection through Torah). They maintain that the meaning of the Midrash was not that Jacob was ever really expected to allow Dinah to marry Esau, for the reasons we mentioned above. In their words, the claim against Jacob was “that he didn’t hide her with a kreptz,” or with a sorrowful sigh. Later mussar greats explained that to mean, “of course he did it with a sigh; the sigh just wasn’t loud enough.”
According to these rabbis, the teaching of the Midrash is as follows: Although Dinah rightfully needed to be protected from this evil, we still need to feel terrible that the person in question, namely Jacob’s own brother, was in fact so evil that he warranted for her to be shielded from him. It is one of the greatest tragedies of world history that Esau sank to a level that he became out of bounds to a righteous woman who might have been his last chance of ever revealing his potential for greatness and piety. This fact greatly troubled Jacob, leading him to sigh in sorrow for this tragedy when hiding Dinah in the box, but perhaps not so loudly — therefore he was censured for not feeling the grief for his brother deeply enough in his heart.
This packs a profound message for us all. We all need to feel the sorrow deeply in our hearts for all those Jews who have distanced themselves from our Torah and its teachings. We all need to “kreptz,” to remember to do it loudly enough and help all who might desire to reconnect with their rich and glorious heritage to do so!
Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel. Questions can be sent to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried