Silent Deliberations

We should learn to react with humanity.

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Jacob Breaks His Silence

Our patriarch Jacob responded to his son's horrible actions by crying out, "You have discomposed me, making me hated by the people here" (Genesis 34:30). You have messed everything up, he seems to say. You have messed up everything that we stand for, everything that we preach,everything that your ancestors have done before you. We followed God's directions and taught others the meanings of righteousness and compassion; you have rendered these lessons in effectual. The Holy words of our tradition, the intensity of our faith, our belief in a righteous and compassionate God, all are now vapid and vacuous because of your actions.

Jacob is no longer silent. In fact, his message to his sons was loud and clear--"ahartem oti!" You confound me! This is not my family; I do not recognize these actions. How did Shimon and Levi respond to their father's chastisement? They had no satisfying answer. When they should have apologized or at the very least remained silent in the face of their father's rebuke, they attempted to justify an unjustifiable act by asking simply, "should he treat our sister like a harlot?"

Contemplating Our Responses

This parashah can be seen as both support for and a challenge to Churchill's statement. The men of Shekhem who remained silent in the face of Dinah's abduction follow Churchill's words. Jacob, however, challenges Churchill's wisdom. Sometimes, a situation demands contemplative silence--a silence during which one may deliberate and decide on appropriate reaction. Jacob's sons, however, do not take their cues from their father's silence; they act with rash judgment, which permanently damages their lives. Perhaps Jacob,the wiser, elder statesman demonstrated a silence that Churchill might even have envied.

In a society where instant reaction and instant messaging is the norm, we could take a few cues from our patriarch, Jacob. Acting without our God-given gift of intelligent reasoning, we damage our present and our future. May we take the time to live in the silent moments and then react with humanity.

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Rabbi Marc Wolf

Rabbi Marc Wolf is assistant vice-chancellor of The Jewish Theological Seminary