“The sons of Yaakov came upon the corpses of the city that had defiled their sister.” – Bereishis 34:27
Shechem, the son of Chamor, set his sights on Dina. He carefully laid a trap to entice her out of her tent, and then kidnapped and defiled her. When Yaakov and his sons heard what had been done, “they were extremely distressed . . . [and said] ‘So shall not be done!’ ”
Shechem became infatuated with Dina, and came to ask for her hand in marriage. “Name your price and I will pay it,” he said to Yaakov. The brothers of Dina answered Shechem, “To marry into our family, a person must have a bris milah.” Shechem and Chamor agreed, and they convinced the people of their town to be circumcised as well. On the third day of their milah, Reuven and Shimon took up their swords and killed out every male in the city.
After they were finished, the pasuk says “the sons of Yaakov came upon the corpses of the city that had defiled their sister.” The Sforno is bothered by the expression “the city that defiled their sister.” After all, it was Shechem alone who committed the act, not the city.
The Sforno answers by explaining that in that society, forcibly taking a woman was not considered abhorrent. If it had not been socially acceptable, Shechem never would have done it. Therefore, it is considered as if they were all participants.
The problem is that the Sforno doesn’t seem to have answered his question. Granted, the entire town may have been responsible for creating the social atmosphere that accepted such conduct, but all they did was to give Shechem the opportunity to act as he wished. They didn’t join him in the act. They didn’t aid him. They didn’t tempt him to do it. The most we can blame them for is giving the opportunity to Shechem to do as he chose. If so, how can the pasuk say the city defiled Dina?
A Cog in the Wheel of a Killing Machine
On April 14, 1944, the deportation of Hungarian Jewry began. Within 56 days, almost 500,000 men, women and children were transported to Auschwitz.
Imagine you were a German train switch operator at a station near Auschwitz. You came of age at a time when Hitler had been long accepted as the Fuehrer. From your youth you were indoctrinated with the belief that the fatherland was the glory of all true Germans, and that Hitler alone was the savior of the new Germany.
It would be hard for you to deny your knowledge of where this human cargo was headed, as the air was heavy with the smell of burning flesh. But you never killed anyone. In fact, you may not even have completely bought into the racial theory thing. Your job was just to keep those trains rolling. So you aren’t guilty of murder. Are you?
At the Nuremberg Trials, the Nazis defended themselves with the mantra, “We were only following orders.” Each participant denied his guilt by claiming he was just a cog in the wheel: not a murderer himself, not a decision-maker – just a lackey. Yet, even the secular world didn’t accept this because being a cog in the wheel of a killing machine makes you a part of a machine that kills. As such, you are a killer.
The Sforno is teaching us that even if a person is not an active participant in an act, he can be considered responsible for its happening. In a normal society, basic human rights are a given. If the society has failed to keep safeguards in place, then that society has failed in its most basic responsibilities. Every member of that group is therefore held accountable for that failure.
In the case of Dina, the townspeople made it possible for Shechem to do what he did. Without their easing the standards, it never would have happened. Once they lowered the accepted behavior, they paved the way for him, so they are held responsible for what he did.
Accessories to Terror
This concept is especially relevant in our times when the murder of innocent people has become an accepted manner of protesting for one’s political rights. Inflicting terror on men, women, and children is almost part of the political process – because it advances my cause.
And who is to blame? Certainly in a society that fosters such beliefs, every member of the society is guilty. When a mass murderer has succeeded in his wanton killing, and his hometown comes out en masse to celebrate, that town is a participant in the murder. If a culture encourages the brutal torture of civilians by teaching it as an expression of religion, then every member of that group shares responsibility for the outcome. If Palestinian Authority TV programming regularly shows messages of hatred that promote murder and self-mutilation, then the anchors, the actors, the scriptwriters, the camera men, and all of the support staff are part of the crime.