In this week’s Parsha, we read about the fateful meeting between Ya’akov Avinu and his estranged brother, Eisav. In the course of Ya’akov’s preparations, Pasuk 32:23 describes how he assisted his two wives, two maidservants and eleven children cross the Yabok River. Rashi is troubled, while Binyomin had not yet been born to round out the twelve Shevatim, we do know that Ya’akov Avinu had at least one daughter, Dina. Why didn’t she count as a twelfth child?
He answers that she was not visible; her father had hidden her inside a large box. He was concerned that the lustful Eisav would desire her for a wife, and either abduct her, or pressure Ya’akov into giving her to him. To preclude this disaster, she was hidden away for her protection. While based on Eisav’s reputation this may have been a very prudent decision, Rashi informs us that it was not without negative consequences. The continuation of the Parsha describes Dina’s ordeal in Shechem, where she was abducted and forced into marriage. Rashi informs us that the juxtaposition of these stories is not coincidental. She was seized by Shechem as a Divine punishment for her father’s error in withholding her from his brother.
Rashi elaborates that had Ya’akov allowed her to wed his brother, there is a chance she could have inspired him to improve his sinful ways.
My 11th grade Rebbe, Reb Yitzchok Perman shlita related a story he witnessed many years earlier, when he was a bochur in Yeshivas Ner Yisroel. One of his friends confronted the Mashgiach Rav Dovid Kornglass zatzal with his confusion over this Rashi. Eisav by this time was 91 years old. As a teenager he had already committed the most heinous sins habitually, and by now he was a hardened criminal. Eisav has come to represent the epitome of evil in our tradition, and certainly not without justification. He is also the ancestor of our arch-enemy Amalek, and ascribed as the forbearer of Rome, which personified wickedness in the Gemara.
In contrast, Dina was an innocent child of 6 or 7 years old. She was also the only recorded daughter of the Gadol HaDor and culmination of the Avos. The chances that she could have even the slightest impact on Eisav’s atrophied conscience was miniscule, and the risks enormous. At what cost do we embark on Kiruv? Was Ya’akov Avinu really expected to consent to this odd match? What was his great sin involved in hiding her that caused him to deserve such humiliating consequences?
A number of answers are proposed by the Mefarshim, one sticks in my mind. Ya’akov Avinu’s choice was correct; he should not have behaved otherwise. However, he should have given a little groan of regret that he was unable to assist his brother. Even when we are unable to render practical help, we must emphasize with the pain.
However, Rav Dovid made a different point, one that can help us understand how to relate to many of the occurrences we read about the Avos HaKedoshim and other personalities in Tanach. He replied, “First of all, Ya’akov Avinu did not transgress “great sins.” Furthermore, if you were capable of comprehending his error, do you think he would have committed it.”
While the Torah does relate the missteps of the Avos, and we are meant to learn from them, we must not make the mistake of lowering them to our level. True, Tanach is replete with the errors of Moshe Rabbeinu, Dovid HaMelech and others; they were all human just like we are. However, we are making a serious mistake if we think that our challenges resemble theirs. Each individual is held to a standard appropriate for his personal spiritual level, and what one person may take for granted might be a towering hurdle for the second.
The Avos etc. were on such a refined plane that their errors related to miniscule minutia. What was expected from them is inconceivable to us. While occasionally the Torah will describe an event in terms we can relate to, the truth is that the challenges they faced are beyond our comprehension.
I like the way of your analysis, but it’s difficult to understand why the midrash has to add “errors” (or sins) to the אבות האומה tha are not mentioned and have no hint in the torah.