SALT - Wednesday, 11 Kislev 5778 - November 29, 2017

  • Rav David Silverberg
            The Torah in Parashat Vayishlach tells the disturbing story of Dina’s abduction and defilement by Shekhem, to which two of her brothers – Shimon and Levi – responded by launching a violent attack on Shekhem’s city, killing its men and looting its property.
            Surprisingly, throughout the entire narrative of this story, the name of Shekhem’s city is not mentioned, and is referred to merely as “the city.”  It is commonly assumed, of course, that Shekhem’s city was the city that bore his name – Shekhem.  This assumption is based on the verses that precede this narrative, which tell that Yaakov “arrived whole in the city of Shekhem” (“Va-yavo Yaakov shaleim ir Shekhem” ) and encamped near the city (33:18) where he purchased a plot of land from Shekhem’s family (33:19).  It is thus commonly understood that when it says later that Dina was abducted by Shekhem and her brothers then retaliated against the entire city, this refers to the city of Shekhem.
            The Rashbam, however, offers a much different, and very surprising, interpretation.  He argues that the aforementioned phrase, “Va-yavo Yaakov shaleim ir Shekhem” cannot mean as it is commonly understood, “Yaakov arrived whole in the city of Shekhem.”  If the Torah here refers to the city of Shekhem, the Rashbam writes, then it would say, “ha-ir Shekhem” – “the city Shekhem.”  The phrase “ir Shekhem,” according to the Rashbam, must be read as, “Shekhem’s city” (as in the phrase “ir Sichon,” which means “Sichon’s city” – Bamidbar 21:26-27).  The Rashbam explains that Yaakov arrived at a city named “Shaleim” – the word in this verse that other commentators understand as an adjective, meaning “whole,” or “complete” – which was ruled by a person named Shekhem.  And thus the ensuing story, which tells of Dina’s abduction by Shekhem and Shimon and Levi’s retaliatory assault, takes place not in the city of Shekhem, but in the city of Shaleim.  Shaleim was the city which Shimon and Levi attacked, and it was led by a ruler named Shekhem.  This approach is also taken by Chizkuni, who adds that the city Shaleim mentioned here should not be confused with the city Shaleim mentioned earlier in Sefer Bereishit (14:18) in the context of Avraham’s war against the four empires.  There we read of Malkitzedek, the king of Shaleim, festively greeting Avraham upon his return from battle, and it is generally understood that the city Shaleim mentioned there refers to Jerusalem.  Chizkuni contends that the city Shaleim ruled by Shekhem was a different city, as there is no indication that Shekhem ruled over any area in the Jerusalem region.
            This theory is accepted also by Rav Wolf Heidenheim, in his Havanat Ha-mikra commentary, where he applies it to arrive at a fascinating reading of a verse later in this narrative.  After abducting Dina, Shekhem visited Yaakov with his father and asked for Dina’s hand in marriage.  Yaakov’s sons said that they would agree only if all the men in Shekhem’s city undergo circumcision – their plan being to attack the city as the men were reeling from the painful procedure.  Shekhem returned to his townspeople and convinced them to accept this condition, saying that Yaakov and his sons were “sheleimim…itanu” (34:21).  This is commonly interpreted to mean that Yaakov and his family were peaceful, an explanation predicated on the etymological relationship between the word “sheleimim” and “shalom” (“peace”).  However, Rav Heidenheim argues that this phraseology – “sheleimim…itanu’ – is never used to mean “peaceful.”  He therefore asserts that the word “sheleimim” means “Shaleimites” – people of the city of Shaleim.  Shekhem informed his townspeople that Yaakov and his family had already purchased land on the city’s outskirts, and were therefore poised to fully participate in city life, both economic and social, but they would do so only if the people of Shaleim agreed to undergo circumcision.  Eager to benefit from Yaakov and his family’s involvement in the city, the people agreed.  Rav Heidenheim thus utilizes the Rashbam and Chizkuni’s original interpretation of the phrase “Va-yavo Yaakov shaleim” to arrive at an original approach of his own to the phrase “sheleimim heim itanu.”