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Special Guest Post from Rav Yaakov Klein - Dina Bas Yaakov

In attempting to fully understand an individual, especially a biblical individual who is more persona than person, one must first explore her background. Who were her parents? What were the circumstances of her birth? What conceptual implications did the spiritual element of those circumstances have on her personality? Therefore, in endeavoring to study and portray the character of Dinah bas Yaakov, the Lubavitcher Rebbe zt"l begins by examining the foundation of her personality that was established by her parents and the circumstances surrounding her birth.

Our sages teach us that Yaakov Avinu and Leah knew, by means of ruach hakodesh, that there were to be twelve shevatim. When Leah saw that she had ceased bearing children after her third son, she gave her maidservant, Zilpah, to Yaakov for the purpose of increasing the amount of shevatim that would emerge from her portion[1]. After Zilpah gave birth to two more boys, bringing Leah’s count to five sons, Rachel granted Leah the privilege of being with Yaakov again in exchange for dudaim, mandrakes which were to be made into a fertility potion, that Reuven had found in the field and had intended to give to his mother, Leah. That evening, she went out (“vateitzei”) to the field to greet Yaakov and told him about her “purchase”[2]. Yaakov agreed to the deal and Leah became pregnant from that union, giving birth to a sixth son.

Leah’s portion, including Zilpah’s two children, had now been brought up to eight, while Rachel, through her maidservant Bilah, had produced only two shevatim. If Rachel would bear the final two shevatim, she would only have contributed as much as Bilah and Zilpah, respectively. But then, Leah became pregnant once more. She knew that if she were to have another son, Rachel would be left with the chance of contributing just one more sheivet, even less than the lowly maidservants’ contribution! Rashi[3] teaches that Leah did not want to humiliate Rachel in this way. Therefore, she prayed that she would give birth to a girl. That girl was Dina bas Yaakov.

The first thing we are told in the pesukim about Dinah is the following: “Dinah was the daughter of Leah. She went out (“vateitzei”) to observe the girls of the region.”[4] Rashi[5] comments that the pasuk stresses that Dinah was the daughter of Leah because they had both “gone out” (“vateitzei”) – Leah had gone out to meet Yaakov in the field, and Dina had gone out to observe the girls of her region.

What does Rashi mean to tell us? Surely the Torah did not go out of its way merely to teach us that both Leah and Dina had performed a similar action. Surely there must be a deeper message hidden in this comment of Rashi.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe answers this question in Likutei Sichos[6], teaching that in this comment, Chazal are referring to the foundational element of Dina’s personality and the moral inheritance she had received from her mother, Leah. In the process, he sheds brilliant light into the essence of Dina’s personality.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that when Rashi says Leah and Dina both shared the action of “going out”, he is teaching us that just as Leah’s going out was not, chas veshalom, to fulfill her own desires, but was rather to increase her portion of shevatim, so too Dina’s going out was for the sake of heaven. What, specifically, did these two “going outs” share in common?

The path that Leah’s children took in avodas Hashem differed radically from the approach taken by Rachel’s children. Whereas Rachel’s children were occupied with the avodah of the tzaddikim; staying in the tent of Torah and Tefilla like their father Yaakov, Leah’s children were involved with going out into the physical world and elevating the mundane to the realm of the consecrated. When the verse tells us that Leah went out to increase her portion in the shevatim, it is teaching us that her essence and the specific avodah of her children after her was “to go out”; out of the realms of tangible holiness for the purpose of elevating and consecrating all of physicality to the Master of the world and His exalted service. It emerges that when Rashi draws a connection between the "going out" of Leah and the "going out" of Dina, he is teaching us that Dina was Leah’s daughter not only in a biological sense, but in a moral sense as well.

Using this idea, says the Lubavitcher Rebbe, we can suggest that Dina’s going out “to observe the daughters of the region” was a kiruv endeavor. Following her brothers’ path to avodas Hashem which they had received from their mother Leah, Dina went out to the world in order to bring others back to the realm of holiness and the service of G-d. Chazal teach elsewhere that Dina had the natural charisma and sensitivity necessary for a mission of this nature. They teach that Yaakov avinu was punished for putting Dinah in a box when he went to meet Eisav, for had Eisav seen Dina and married her, he would have returned from his wicked ways and repented completely[7]. In addition, although Dina was ultimately seized and violated by the forces she sought to elevate, even this interaction had a positive effect. As a result of this episode, all the men of Shechem were circumcised[8], an element of conversion, and the women were seized[9], presumably to become maidservants in Yaakov’s household where they were no doubt positively influenced. This was the incredible extent of effect that Dina’s personality had on those around her; even where she did not have a direct effect on them, the mere interaction (impure as it was) ultimately led to a proliferation of holiness.

These sources paint a rich picture of Dina’s personality, virtues, and struggles. The persona of a Dina is a charismatic, extroverted, and talented woman. This kind of woman has an ability to work with those who are outside the realm of holiness with a sensitivity more natural to woman than men. Her way is not to reprimand or criticize, but to encourage, in a loving manner, those who have fallen to rise yet again and renew their spiritual journey toward a connection with G-d. Still, for all of her independence and character strengths, we find that she tends to be subordinate to the authority of others, allowing herself to be put in a box, in a figurative sense; her talents quashed, her great abilities shut away. Despite her great and many talents, she is susceptible to the impressions of others and their opinions of her work. Oftentimes, her delicate sensitivity can clip her wings and prevent her from actualizing her potential in the way Hashem desires for her to do.

As with many virtues, the path of Dina’s expressing her great strengths is fraught with grave danger. Attracted to the realm of the mundane for Heavenly purposes; to elevate and inspire, she runs a great risk of being seized by those forces or even seduced to join their ranks, as we find illustrated in the tragic episode involving Shechem ben Chamor. Dina must exercise tremendous caution; using her talents instead of quashing them, but doing so in a manner of tzniyus and strong-willed determination never to forget the purpose of her foray outside the borders of tangible kedusha.

As with all biblical personalities; Dina is not merely a historical figure, but an archetype; a paradigm of a specific kind of woman found throughout the ages. A Dina is an achiever, a woman of virtue whose talents and abilities can be utilized to help others along the path to holiness. Though susceptible to being "placed in a box" and prevented from carrying out her mission, the Dinah woman must never quash her drive. Rather, she must apply her G-d-given abilities in the proper way and fulfill her potential; remaining, all the while, ever wary of the spiritual dangers involved in these endeavors and ensuring that everything she does is carried out in a manner of utmost tzniyus and staunch loyalty to her divine mission.

[1] Ramban, Bereishis 30:9


[2] Bereishis 30:17


[3] Ibid 30:21


[4] Ibid 34:1


[5] To Bereishis 34:1


[6] Likutei Sichos 35, parshas Vayishlach, p. 151


[7] Bereishis Rabbah 75:9


[8] Bereishis 34:24


[9] Ibid 34:29

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