Shechem, D.C.

Hakadosh Boruch Hu looked at the Torah and created the world (Bereishis Rabbah 1:2). The Torah is the blueprint of the world. Because there is a mitzvah of korbanos, Hashem created animals. Because there is a mitzvah of kibbud av va’eim, Hashem created a relationship between parents and children. And because there is a mitzvah of chesed, Hashem created a world with various situations where people are in need of help and others are in a position to come to their aid.

The Torah is also the map through which we should navigate our lives. Following this plan is the way to lead a most fruitful and meaningful life, both for this world and the World to Come. Conversely, those who don’t learn from the Torah and those who conduct their lives in a manner contrary to its values and middos are doomed to go down in ignominy and bring others down with them. In this week’s sedrah, we find a few points that illuminate this so clearly, especially with the state of affairs in which America currently finds itself.

After successfully building the family of the Shivtei Koh and enduring living with the wicked Lavan, Yaakov finally returned to Eretz Yisroel. He hoped that he would finally live a life of tranquility, but then a new crisis emerged. Dinah, his daughter from Leah, went out to look after the daughters of the land and she was kidnapped by Shechem, the son of Chamor, who defiled her. Chamor and Shechem then approached the holy family and asked for Dinah’s hand in marriage. During this conversation, the posuk tells us, “Then Shechem said to her father and brothers, ‘Let me gain favor in your eyes, and whatever you tell me I will give’” (Bereishis 34:11).

Shechem’s choice of words is puzzling, “Let me find favor in your eyes”?! He had just committed a most egregious crime, an outrage in Klal Yisroel, by violating a daughter of Yaakov, causing such pain to the girl and to her family, and he had the audacity, or perhaps the insanity, to speak to them in such a flattering tone, as if nothing had happened?! Didn’t he realize how ridiculous he looked saying this to the family?

We may use an illustration of Rav Shalom Schwadron, the Maggid of Yerushalayim, to explain this. In the old yishuv of Yerushalayim, before the advent of modern bathrooms, excrement would accumulate into a large pit, and from time to time it was cleaned out by Arab workers. One can imagine what a disgusting job this was. It came as a shock one day to passersby to see the workers taking a lunch break and eating sandwiches amidst the terrible stench, sitting in the pit that was only half clean. The people called out to them, “What are you doing? Why don’t you get out and eat your lunch in a more pleasant area?” They looked back at the onlookers, gesturing to them as if they were the crazy ones.

Rav Shalom said that we can learn from this a pertinent lesson regarding avodas Hashem. This incident shows that when someone lives amidst filth and stench, he becomes accustomed to the odoriferous air to the extent that he feels totally comfortable with it and cannot understand why others find it so repulsive. It is the same with someone who becomes accustomed to doing aveiros, r”l. His sense of discerning right from wrong gradually becomes dulled, until he totally loses any recognition that he has acted inappropriately. He will continue to look at himself as a fine and upright gentleman without any faults or blemishes to his reputation.

This is how to understand Shechem’s attempt to ingratiate himself with the family of Yaakov by speaking politely, despite the fact that he had committed a heinous act against them. He was so accustomed to sin, so addicted to fulfilling his desires, that he lost any sense of distinguishing between right and wrong and had no misgivings about kidnapping a young girl. Nor did he feel any fear or shame at all in approaching her father and brothers and graciously asking for her hand in marriage.

The Chovos Halevavos relates that a chochom was walking in the street together with a talmid. They passed the decomposing carcass of a dead animal and the student pressed his nostrils to avoid the stench, while the rebbi did not seem repulsed. Shortly after, they passed a random person and the wise man held his nose while the talmid did not smell anything unusual. When the student asked his rebbi about this, he answered, “The stench that emanated from this man is much worse than that of the dead animal, for he is a sinner and aveiros generate a most horrible smell” (Mishchas Shemen).

Here is another lesson to be learned from the story of Shechem. When he approached the brothers, they answered, “We cannot do this thing, to give our sister to a man who is uncircumcised, for that is a disgrace to us. Only on this condition will we acquiesce: If you become like us by letting every male among you become circumcised…” The Torah tells us, “Their proposal seemed good in the view of Chamor and in the view of Shechem, Chamor’s son. The youth did not delay doing the thing, for he wanted Yaakov’s daughter…”

So they went and convinced all of the citizens of the city to circumcise every male. To be sure, the Medrash tells us, they met strong resistance to this idea by Chidekem, the father of Chamor, and his brothers. They screamed that this was self-mutilation for no good reason, that there are plenty of other women Shechem could marry, and that when the rest of the Canaanites hear that the entire city did this so that Shechem could marry a Jewish girl, they will not look favorably upon this and will mock them. How will they be able to bear this shame? But the people listened to Chamor and Shechem.

What happened here defies logic. One person, because of his personal desire, succeeded in convincing his people to do something insane. Circumcision is a difficult thing, and for someone who does not have the mitzvah, it was considered strange. Yet, they all agreed to do this difficult and painful act. How is this possible?

The Torah itself answers this question. “The youth did not delay doing the thing, for he wanted Yaakov’s daughter” (Bereishis 34:19). His own personal desire was so strong and he was so overcome by it that he persisted, he cajoled, he used his influence, and he did everything in his power to persuade them. And he was successful in convincing them to do something so difficult and so illogical.

“There is nothing that stands in the way of desire” (Zohar). With a strong will, a person can move mountains. Hashem created this power in man to overcome obstacles to accomplish in serving Him. Unfortunately, man uses this potency for his own personal interests, which lead him in the wrong direction (Otzros Peninei HaTorah).

How wise are the words of Chazal. “Rebbi Elazar Hakappar says: ‘Jealousy, lust and glory remove a man from the world.’” Simply speaking, they ruin the quality of life on this world, for because of them, a person always feels unsatisfied and is always pursuing more than he has. According to the Rambam, he loses his belief in Torah and the ability to attain spiritual heights. But in light of what we said earlier, he becomes removed from the world of reality. Being self-absorbed in his own desires clouds his vision and the ability to discern between right and wrong and think rationally. And he will do things that defy logic.

Observing what is going on in Washington these last three years, one can clearly see a modern day Shechem. Because of a lust for power, people are willing to act in a most shameful manner, all along claiming that they are seeking the truth and what’s best for the country. From the moment President Trump took office, they looked for every opportunity to undermine his presidency in devious ways. From the contrived “collusion” with Russia to the Steele dossier, to quid pro quo, bribery, and a blend of other accusations, such as racism, and even anti-Semitism, the barrage of nonsense has been going on continuously.

This is all being done, of course, with the claim that it is in the best interests of the country. Nancy Pelosi even says with a face exuding true empathy that she prays for the president every day. This pursuit of truth and justice for some reason is ignoring the clear corruption of the Clintons in a ridiculous uranium deal with Russia that benefited their foundation much to the detriment of America.

The impeachment hearings featured selective evidence, not allowing witnesses or questions that would in any way give credence to the opposition. All in the name of the truth. This is all being done with the help of the news media, led by the New York Times and the Washington Post. Perhaps you’ll remember that after Trump’s victory, the New York Times, in an editorial, apologized for delivering inaccurate news and promised to change their ways. How’s that working out?

There is no shame or any concern for how these investigations are wasting valuable time, money, and manpower, and only encourages the average citizen to loath politicians and big government. When politicians and the news media are so absorbed with grabbing power and forcing their ideas onto others, they lose any connection with reality.

This can serve to strengthen our emunah that the Torah is not only a blueprint for meriting Olam Haba, but also for the quality of life down here. If the so-called best and brightest that America has to offer conduct themselves in such a manner, disregarding the ramifications for the nation and how petty they look in the eyes of the populace, then we must resolve more than ever to follow the dictum of “reishis chochmah yiras Hashem.” With fear of Hashem, you can’t go wrong.