Rabbi Yehonasan Gefen – Chanukah – The Connection Between Schechem And Yavan

Iyov, 3:26: “I did not get serenity, I did not get quiet, I did not rest, and anger came.”

Bereishis Rabbah, 84:4: “I did not get serenity from Esav, I didn’t get quiet, from Lavan, I didn’t rest, from Dina,and anger came – the anger of Yosef came upon me.”

Shemos Rabbah, 26:1: “I did not get serenity, from Bavel, I did not get quiet from Madai, I did not get rest, from Yavan, and anger came with Edom.”

A verse in Iyov is interpreted by two Midrashim in different ways.  In Bereishis Rabbah, it refers to Yaakov’s various tzaros – the third example, expressed by ‘loh nachti’ – ‘I didn’t rest’ – alludes to the incident with Dina and Shechem.  In Shemos Rabbah, the Midrash interprets the verse as referring to Klal Yisrael as a whole and the various Exiles that we endured.  The third example here, also expressed by ‘loh nachti’, is that of the Greek Exile.  The commentaries[1]understands that these two Midrashim complement each other, and they come to allude to some kind of connection between the Maaseh Dina and Galus Yavan.

The Ohr Gedaliah suggests a number of connections.[2]  One is that of all the tzaros that are alluded to in the Midrashim primarilytook place in Chutz L’Aretz, whereas the episode of Dina and the Greek galus took place in Eretz Yisrael themselves.[3]  This explains why the term used in the Navi to refer to these troubles is ‘loh nachti’.  The Ohr Gedaliah explains that Eretz Yisrael and the Beis HaMikdash are described as Menuchah[4].  Thus, the Midrash is teaching that Yaakov had reached a potential state of Menuchah, but he could not enjoy it because of the tribulations of Dina, and the Jewish people had also reached a state of potential Menuchah in the land with the Beis HaMikdash but the Greek Exile prevented the Menuchah from being attained.

Another similarity between the two events was the nature of the danger posed by the enemy.  In both instances, the enemy’s primary threat was not physical destruction, rather it was to cause spiritual damage, particularly in the realm of Kedushah.  The Ohr Gedaliah writes that the intent of Shechem and his father, Chamur was to uproot the holiness of the nascent Jewish nation, and to impurify Dina.  Likewise, the Greeks decreed that every Jewish bride had to give herself to the Greek hegmon first.  The purpose of these actions was to defile the Jewish people spiritually.

Yet another comparison is with regard to Bris Mila.  The Greeks banned Bris mila in an attempt to eliminate the separation between the Jews and Greeks.  Indeed, the Hellenist Jews tried to bring back their Orlah in order to undo the separating effect of Bris mila.  The people of Shechem were willing to do Bris mila, but not as a way to elevate themselves to the level of the Jews, rather to nullify the differences between them.

Rav Yerucham Olshin adds that there is an uncanny connection between the reason that the Jewish people had to endure these two trials.  With regard to the Maaseh Shechem, he cites Rashi who explains that Yaakov was punished with what happened to Dina because he was not sufficiently zariz in fulfilling a vow he had made when he left Eretz Yisrael.  He had promised that he would make an Altar in Beis-El but he had still not done so upon his return.  As a punishment, Dina was abducted.[5]  Thus, the cause of this suffering was his weakening (hisrashlus) in his Avodas HaShem.  So too with regard to the Greek oppression, the Bach writes that it came as a punishment because, ‘hisrashlu b’Avodah’ – they weakened in their service of HaShem in the Beis HaMikdash.  Because they weakened in their Avodah, they were punished that the Greeks forbade their Avodah and defiled the Beis HaMikdash.

Happily, there are positive connections as well between the two events.  This is dramatically brought out by the Midrash Chanukah that recalls the details of the rebellion against the Greeks.  It began whenthe daughter of Mattisyahu married one of the Hashmonaen, Elazar.  She was soon to be taken by the Greek hegmon as per their evil decree.  She suddenly got up and aroused the Hashmonaen to fight backShe said: “You should learn from Shimon and Levi, the brothers of Dina, who were only two, and they were zealous for their sister and struck down the whole city of Shechem, and they risked their lives for the oneness of the Makom (HaShem), and HaShem helped them and did not let shame them…place your trust in the Makom and He will help you…”  This was the catalyst for the rebellion.  In both instances, the situation was redeemed by Mesiras nefesh.  Needless to say, that the Hashmonaen were direct descendants of Levi himself, and their emulation of his Mesiras nefesh merited the Siyata Dishmaya that Mattisyahu’s daughter predicted.[6]

One practical application of these ideas is that hiSrashlus in Avodas HaShem can open the way for external threats to weaken us spiritually, and the rectification of this threat is mesiras nefesh for Avodas HaShem.  In the two episodes discussed, the manifestation of the mesiras nefesh was to physically fight those who were threatening the spiritual integrity of the Jewish people.  In our situation, it may require a far less dangerous approach – making efforts in the spiritual realm, and to be willing to make sacrifices on our level.  Whether it be, to avoid certain pleasures that are not forbidden, but not necessarily ideal, or to get up earlier to get to shul on time.  Each person can make his own Cheshbon hanefesh to see where he is weakening in his efforts and where he can extend himself.  By doing this, in some small way, he can emulate the great Jews who merited the miracle of Chanukah.


[1] Ohr Gedaliah, Maamarim al Chanukah, written by Rav Gedaliah Shorr; Yerach Hamoadim, Chanukah, Maamar 21, written by Rav Yerucham Olshin.

[2] See there for an account of all the connections.  A number of them are cited in this essay.

[3] It is true that the clash with Esav was also in Eretz Yisrael but it was not a time when Yaakov was living in a state of Menucha in the land.

[4] Devarim, 12:9.

[5] Rashi, Bereishis, 35:1, Dh: Koom aleh.

[6] The commentaries note that the descendants of Shimon did not merit the same level of Mesiras nefesh, indeed, they were guilty for an act of immorality themselves, in Baal Peor.  This point is addressed in articles on Vayishlach and Pinchas.  Another question that arises is that Shimon and Levi were criticized by Yaakov Avinu for their actions.  One possible answer is that their zealousness to avenge the wrong done to the Jewish nation was praiseworthy, just that they should have consulted their father first.  Indeed, Rashi notes that the verse singles out Shimon and Levi ‘brothers of Dina’ as a praise because they risked their lives for her.

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