We read in Parashat Vayishlach of Yaakov’s dreaded – but ultimately peaceful – reunion with his brother, Eisav. The Torah tells that Yaakov made his way towards Eisav with his wives and his “eleven children” (32:23) – despite the fact that he had at that point twelve children. The Radak explains that Dina, Yaakov’s only daughter, was excluded from the count because she clung to her mother, Leah, and so when the Torah mentions Yaakov’s wives, this includes Dina, as well.
The Midrash, however, in a famous and startling passage cited by Rashi, comments that Yaakov actually hid Dina in a chest as he approached Eisav, fearful that Eisav would feel attracted to her and seize her from Yaakov. More surprisingly, the Midrash writes that Yaakov was punished for concealing Dina from her uncle. Rashi comments, paraphrasing the Midrash, “Yaakov was punished for withholding her from his brother, for perhaps she would have brought him back to proper behavior, and so she fell into the hand of Shekhem.” According to the Midrash, Yaakov was expected to allow Eisav the possibility of taking Dina, as she may have possibly exerted a positive influence on him. For preventing this opportunity, Yaakov was punished with Dina’s abduction and defilement by Shekhem, as we read later in this parasha (chapter 34). Many writers struggled to explain why Yaakov should have allowed Eisav – an evil, and even violent, man – to marry his daughter, and why he had any reason to anticipate her positively influencing Eisav.
Perhaps, the Midrash’s comment is to be read symbolically, as an analogy to the common phenomenon of parents discouraging their idealistic children. Many youngsters dream about positively changing the world, about succeeding in correcting even “Eisav,” and bringing about a better reality, moving the world forward and improving human life. The older generation, naturally, jaded and fatigued by the harsh realities they’ve witnessed and experienced, and by the unfulfilled dreams and visions of their own youth, instinctively discourage the youngsters, and dismiss them as sincere but starry-eyed idealists who are setting themselves up for failure and disillusionment. The Midrash here perhaps urges us to support the youth’s quest to “change Eisav,” not to be so quick to assume that the unfortunate realities of the world are permanent and that positive change is not possible. Clearly, the prospects of Eisav changing so late in life, after living sinfully for so many years, were hardly promising. Similarly, there are many undesirable conditions in the world which we assume can never be changed, because they have always been the way they are, and nobody has ever succeeded before in changing them. The prospects of them changing seem nil. But nevertheless, we should never discourage the “Dinas” from dreaming and aspiring to change “Eisav.” Idealism should be supported and celebrated, not cynically dismissed. Even when the dreams of youthful idealism seem fanciful and remote, we should not lock them in a “chest,” denying the youth the possibility of trying to bring about positive change, and should instead join them in their hopes and quest to “change Eisav,” and fully support and encourage their altruism.