In this week’s parsha we read of the incident involving Dina and Shechem, the son of Chamor and nasi of the city of Shechem. Upon learning that Dina was abducted by Shechem, Shimon and Levi devised a plan to kill all the male residents of the city, including Shechem and Chamor. There are various opinions in the Rishonim that explain the rational of Shimon and Levi in killing all the inhabitants of the city. They explain why the entire city was in fact deserving of death.
However, at the end of the episode, Yaakov Avinu chastises Shimon and Levi for their actions. He tells them that when the surrounding neighbors learn of what you did they could potentially avenge their deaths by attacking Yaakov’s entire family. In other words, you put all of our lives in danger by killing out the entire city.
The Torah concludes with Shimon and Levi’s response: “Should we allow them to make our sister into a harlot?”
How did Shimon and Levi answer their father’s concern. He just told them that they have put everyone’s life in danger. Their response doesn’t seem to answer the question.
I heard from my rebbe, Rav Shmuel Berenbaum, zt”l, that Yaakov Avinu rebuked Shimon and Levi because he felt that while the inhabitants of Shechem were in fact deserving death, executing that sentence is not something one should risk his life for. There are certain mitzvos that one must perform or aveiros that one must refrain from even if doing so forfeits his life.
For example, murder, avoda zara, and forbidden relationships. However, carrying out a death sentence on one who is deserving it does not fall under the category of mitzvos one is obligated to forfeit his life for. That was Yaakov Avinu’s rebuke to his sons.
Shimon and Levi answered that in this scenario it was worth forfeiting their lives. That is because they were not only intent on executing the death sentence of the residents of Shechem, they were teaching their children and all future generations a vital lesson. While the rest of the world may not have viewed what had happened to Dina as an atrocity, after all she was single, Shimon and Levi wanted to impart that for this to happen to a daughter of Yaakov is completely unacceptable. We must live on a higher plane and not tolerate such behavior.
Rav Shmuel explained that keeping the Torah and mitzvos would be so much easier if we would understand that we are an elevated nation.
In Europe, he said, there was a clear distinction between a Jew and a non-Jew. Today however, if one simply removes his yarmulke he can be mistaken for a non-Jew. Realizing that we are a chosen nation of priests is the key to persevering through this terribly long galus.
This was the lesson that Shimon and Levi responded to their father that is worth dying for, because if we lose our identity as an exalted nation, we will ultimately lose our spiritual lives completely as well.
Let us remember we are an exalted nation of priests, which demands a certain level of behavior on our part and of how we are to be treated as well. The nations of the world will not respect us for trying to become like them; rather they will respect us when we show them the lofty level we can be as a light onto the nations.