Sunday, November 10, 2013

Under The Ashera - the idolators tree!

There remains a conflict of opinions regarding the age of Jacob’s daughter Dinah at the time she was raped by the Prince of Shechem. Its important to resolve because it infers with it the emphasis and urgency with which Jacob desired to first return to Beit El, the place to which he became emotionally obligated during his original exile. On his return, was Beit El his intended destination or did Jacob first inhabit Shechem as the Torah’s simply expresses. Or, perhaps that took place many years later as the Torah can be chronologically construed. In an earlier article I promoted the view of Rabbi Menachem Leibtag who supports the latter.

The sages say (Sofrim 21:9) Dinah was 6 years old when she gave birth to Aesnath; progeny of that rape. We are told (Berakhot 9:3, 14a) the embryos of Dinah and Joseph were miraculously swapped, which would imply they were born in the same year. In a contradictory explanation we are told (Sechel Tov B:34:3) Dinah was 8.5 years and Jacob 99 which extends the standard chronology 2 years. Now, Joseph was born in 2199 and Jacob emigrated to Canaan six years later in 2205. Whilst living in Shechem Joseph, at 17 (2216) was sold to slave traders. To experience Jacobs destination mindset, we must reconcile these conflicts.

In a short paragraph (Vayishlach 33:17) between re-entering the land and the story of Dinah beginning with their arrival in Shechem, we are told of Jacob’s temporary travel and dwellings in Succoth (mentioned 3 times). Then, between the story of Dinah in Shechem and their planned return to Beit El, another short paragraph (35:4), we are told Jacob took all their idolatrous deities and hid them under a tree that was near Shechem (the Hebrew word asher is used 3 times). Jacob’s father Isaac was specifically commanded by his father Abraham not to be exiled. Therefore, just imagine how disconcerting Jacob’s pending exile would have been at the time he made his covenant at the place he named Beit El. Now we can begin to understand how important it was for him to first return to Beit El after stopping along the way to hide (but not destroy) the deities in Shechem. 

This chronological retelling emphasizes Beit El’s importance to Jacob and suggests Dinah was indeed older than 6 when they returned to Shechem after a few years living in their temporary dwellings. During that time I maintain they lived six months at Beit El constructing the protective walls around the matsevah (monument) and sacred spaces Jacob dedicated. Then after Deborah, who had previously been sent by Jacob’s mother to accompany their return, passed away Jacob continued his journey to his parents home in Hebron. Along the way Rachel died, outside of Bethlehem whilst giving birth to Jacob's last child Benjamin. The balance of time was spent in Hebron where Jacob grieved for Rachel and his mother Rebecca who had also passed away.

We are left to speculate the reasons that compelled Jacob to return to Shechem. His entourage and the people that journeyed with them and suffered through family tragedies, had once hidden their idolatrous deities near the tree in Shechem. Perhaps they longed to return to their deities, perhaps Rachel’s death in someway connected them to the deities, some of which she had stolen from her father. Perhaps Jacob, who unknowingly cursed Rachel to die for her act felt compelled to return to the place they had been hidden.

The tragedies were to follow them to Shechem. From there they drove Jacob’s growing family back into exile to Egypt where the tragedies lasted 210 years. Then, Moses forged a nation during their 40 year journey and Joshua brought them back to Shechem where they buried Joseph and erected the monumental stones on which the Torah was written in 70 languages. The Jewish nation that started with Jacob 380 years earlier stood on Shechems mountains Ebal and Gerizim to recognize their blessings and curses in the hope these tragic events they had brought through idolatry were behind them forever.

Today the matsevah on which Jacob made his covenant and to which he returned to assume his name Israel, can be found at the City of David and although many are still confused as to its authenticity, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind!

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