Rebecca Masinter

Parshas Vayishlach - Out of The Box

In this week's Parshah, Yaakov and his family meet Eisav. The Torah describes Yaakov, his four wives and eleven sons in the famous encounter, but there is a glaring omission.  Where was the daughter born to Leah in last week's Parshah? Where was  Dina? 


Rashi brings a medrash:

ואת אחד עשר ילדיו. וְדִינָה הֵיכָן הָיְתָה? נְתָנָהּ בְּתֵבָה וְנָעַל בְּפָנֶיהָ, שֶׁלֹּא יִתֵּן בָּהּ עֵשָׂו עֵינָיו, וּלְכָךְ נֶעֱנַשׁ יַעֲקֹב שֶׁמְּנָעָהּ מֵאָחִיו, שֶׁמָּא תַּחֲזִירֶנּוּ לַמּוּטָב, וְנָפְלָה בְּיַד שְׁכֶם (בראשית רבה):

AND HIS ELEVEN CHILDREN — But where was Dinah? He placed her in a chest and locked her in so that Esav should not set his fancy upon her (desire to marry her). On this account Yaakov was punished — because he had kept her away from his brother for she might have led him back to the right path; she therefore fell into the power of Shechem (Genesis Rabbah 76:9).


Why was Yaakov punished for trying to protect his daughter from his evil brother? As mothers we can relate to Yaakov’s fear that Eisav would desire Dinah. We often encounter situations where we want to shut our children away until a specific danger is over?  Isn’t that good parenting? What was the problem with Yaakov's protecting Dina?


Rabbi Avi Shafran points out two words in the medrash that are easily overlooked: וְנָעַל בְּפָנֶיהָ. He locked her in. This implies that he wasn’t only protecting Dinah from Eisav, but he was attempting to protect Dinah from herself! Yaakov knew that Dina  was a curious, social person, and he knew that her nature inclination would be to climb out of the box and meet Eisav. In order to stop her from doing so, Yaakov locked the box.  This part is what he was punished for.


Each child has their own nature and tendencies.  Some of them are scarier than others.  It must have been incredibly frightening to be Dinah’s father, knowing that her nature was to go out and meet people.  But our job as parents isn’t to squelch our children’s personalities, it isn’t to lock them in any box, but to help them channel and use their qualities for good.  Who knows, says the medrash? Maybe Dinah, with her engaging personality and social qualities  andwith her father’s support and guidance,  could have been the person to lead Eisav on the right path.  But she never got the chance.


There are physical boxes and there are societal boxes. As mothers we need to be vigilant in ensuring that our children aren’t locked in boxes squelching the talents Hashem has given them.  We shouldn’t do it to them, and we must work hard to make sure no one else does it to our kids either.


We have one goal: to bring Hashem nachas. The talents He gave our children should be developed, channeled, brought into alignment with that goal, but never squashed.  It is our job to help our children develop into the great people they were meant to be, using all the strengths and interests that Hashem gave them.  Let’s not be confined by fear to small boxes.