The Irrational Lure Of Self-Destruction

Parashat Vayishlach (Genesis 32:3-36:43)

When Shechem first saw Dinah, he immediately desired her. He knew he needed to do whatever it took to get her. Our English translations make it appear that he simply found her alone and had his way with her. It says, “he seized her and lay with her and humiliated [or violated] her” (Genesis 34:2). The next verse, however, seems to indicate that Shechem had a genuine love for Dinah. It says, “And his soul was drawn to Dinah the daughter of Jacob. He loved the young woman and spoke tenderly to her” (Genesis 34:3). Even more confusing is the midrash’s account of how Dinah was rescued from Shechem. Commenting on the Torah’s account that they “took Dinah out of Shechem’s house,” Rabbi Judah says, “They dragged her out [against her will] and departed” (Midrash Rabbah 80:11 commenting on Genesis 34:26).

At first, this doesn’t seem reasonable. It seems clear from a plain reading of the text that Dinah was being held against her wishes. A quick examination of the Hebrew, however, helps shed light on this. In Hebrew, the phrase, “[he] spoke tenderly to her,” in verse three is more literally translated, “he spoke to the heart of the young woman” (vayidaber al lev hana’ara). It seems that Shechem was what we call a “smooth talker.” Whether their relationship began with this smooth talk or not, it seems clear that Dinah’s emotions were being played upon at some point along the way and kept her from leaving him. In today’s terminology, we would call situations like this codependency. In a codependent situation, a woman will continually return to her husband after being abused because she believes his love for her is sincere, despite his abusive behavior. This isn’t rational behavior.

But Dinah and other women in similar situations are not the only ones who fall prey to the devices of seduction. We all do. If we have ever sinned, then we realize this power, because in order to sin we first have to be deceived into believing we will derive benefit from our sinful actions. Although we may know the harmful effects of our bad choices, making rational decisions is extremely difficult when we are being seduced. We are no longer thinking and acting rationally. We say and do things that we would not do otherwise.

Often our desire for immediate gratification is what gets us to this point. This is often the case when it comes to establishing beneficial habits such as prayer, study, or even exercise. We have a desire to pray, study, or exercise, but rather than stick with our commitment, we fall prey to the allure of distractions that promise to deliver more immediate satisfaction than our original plan.

When and how does it end? It ends when we can keep our eye on the prize that awaits us. If we are constantly distracted from the goal of the Kingdom and the things we must do to pursue it, the enemy will easily seduce us into accomplishing his goal instead. We must be ever vigilant against the deceptions of the enemy and the tricks he implores to lead us down paths we would never travel in our right minds.