Likkutei Sichos-Parshas Vayigash: An investigation into the marriage of Shimon and Dina

Parshas Vayigash

An investigation into the marriage of Shimon and Dina

(Likkutei Sichos Vol. 5)

In this week’s Parsha, Parshas Vayigash, Yaakov and his children discover Joseph’s whereabouts and that he is the Viceroy of the country and journey to the country to remain by Joseph side. Yaakov and his entire family made the journey to Egypt and after his arrival, Scripture relates that there were a total of 70 individuals from the family of Yaakov living in Egypt. The Torah lists all of the family members who traveled with Yaakov to Egypt, listing the children, and at times grandchildren, of each one of the sons of Yaakov, known as the Shevatim. Amongst the descendants of Shimon is listed an individual by the name of “Shaul the son of the Canaanite.” This most interesting interjection, in which the verse feels that it is necessary to tell us about the mother of this son, and the fact that she was a Canaanite, is the focus of this Sicha. Rashi explains that this Canaanite woman referred to in Scripture is none other than Dina, the maternal and paternal sister of Shimon, and that she ended up marrying Shimon and together they had a child named Shaul. Not only does Rashi in this commentary not solve the questions of the reader, but furthermore he now aggravates them with the perplexing question of how on earth it was allowed or permitted for Shimon and Dina to have an incestuous relationship, and even if true why does Scripture feel a need to inform us of this? As the saying goes, “Who hangs their dirty laundry in the front yard?” It is this, and many other, questions on the commentary of Rashi, that are raised by the Rebbe in this talk. In the journey of discovery of the answer, the Rebbe analyzes another puzzling matter that we find that Yaakov married the two sisters Bilah and Zilpah, despite the fact that the Torah prohibits polygamy with two sisters. The answers that have been provided regarding why it was allowed for him to marry Rachel and Leah, are not applicable in this case, and hence a new and novel idea is raised by the Rebbe to answer this question, and consequently likewise answers the question regarding the incestuous marriage of Shimon and Dina. The lesson that the Rebbe derives from this answer reveals an interesting perspective in our relationship with God and how we have much to gain by being a servant or slave of God, versus being merrily His son.


Explorations of the Sicha:

1.      Why does Scripture need to mention who was the mother of Shaul when listing him as the son of Shimon?

2.      Who is the Canaanite referred to in Scripture and how was Shimon allowed to marry her?

3.      How was Yaakov allowed to marry the two sisters, Bilah and Zilpah?

4.      What advantage does the service of a slave to his master have over the service of a son to his father?


1. The mystery of Shaul the son of Shimon and a Canaanite woman:

Amongst the descendants of Shimon brought in this week’s Parsha is an individual by the name of “Shaul the son of the Canaanite.”[1] When listing the close to 70 descendants of Yaakov, nowhere do we find in Scripture that the mother of the individual is listed, with exception to our case here were the verse states that Shaul was the son of a Canaanite woman. Aside for the question of identity of this Canaanite woman, who she was, and why Shimon married her, we need to understand why the verse felt necessary to mention this in the listing of Shaul’s lineage.

2. The answer of Rashi-Shimon married his sister Dina and had a son named Shaul:

On the verse[2], “and the children of Shimon.. And Shaul the son of the Canaanite,” Rashi comments, “The son of Dina who had relations with a Canaanite, as when they killed Shechem, Dina did not wish to leave until Shimon took an oath that he would marry her.” Rashi here is coming to explain that the word Canaanite here in the verse is not to be taken literally that it refers to a Canaanite woman, but that really it refers to Dina the daughter of Yaakov who is nickname a Canaanite in the verse, being that she had relations with a Canaanite [i.e. Shechem]. [Now, although Shechem is referred to in Scripture as a Hivite and not as a Canaanite, nonetheless, the term Canaanite is a general term for all the Gentile inhabitants of Israel, which was then called the land of Canaan.[3]] Now, once Rashi explains to us that the Canaanite woman is really Dina, he needs to address the question of why she married her brother Shimon, to which Rashi explains that Shimon had taken an oath to do so in order so his sister Dina agree to leave Shechem.

3. The questions on Rashi:

There are several questions that need to be addressed that are raised on the commentary of Rashi:

  1. Why not explain Canaanite literally? For what reason does Rashi not accept the explanation that the word Canaanite is literal, that Shimon married a Canaanite woman, or a businesswoman [as the word Canaan can also refer to a merchant as per earlier in Scripture regarding the wife of Judah]. Why the need to swerve from the literal meaning of the word and give an explanation which is even more puzzling, and state that the marriage was incestuous?
  2. Why do we need to know this information? Why do we need to know this information? Rashi’s commentary has given us no further insight as to why Scripture needs to tell us this information. This especially applies in light of the fact that in general Scripture does not speak of negative matters unless necessary, and hence why is it so important when listing the lineage of Shaul to mention the embarrassing episode that happened with his mother and Shechem, and even nickname her by that occurrence, which we are all sure she wished to have forgotten and certainly not publicized and shamed for. This is a most wondrous question that is irked specifically due to Rashi’s comments, which he fails to address.
  3. How was it allowed for Shimon to marry his sister? This is not just forbidden according to Jewish law, which one can argue was not yet binding on the tribes prior to the giving of the Torah, but is forbidden due to being included in the seven Noahide laws. Amongst the seven Noahide laws there is a clause that prohibits sexual sins which includes incest. Now, while the number of relationships prohibited due to incest for a Gentile are less than that of a Jew, and hence a Gentile may marry his paternal sister, nonetheless, he may not marry his maternal sister.[4] Thus, how could Shimon marry Dina who was both his maternal and paternal sister, being born from the same parents Yaakov and Leah, and how come Rashi doesn’t even bother addressing this?

4. Shaul was the only child who had both a paternal and maternal parent from the children of Yaakov:

In answer to the first question of what forced Rashi to leave the literal meaning of the word Canaanite and bring a wild explanation referred to the marriage of Shimon and Dina, we can explain as follows: Rashi here was terribly bothered by the following question, and it is this question that he is coming to answer. The question that was bothering Rashi is why Scripture felt the need to mention the mother of Shaul, when it does not mention the mother of any of the other descendants that it lists. Because of this question, Rashi needed to explain the word Canaanite mentioned in the verse not literally. According to the literal meaning of the word Canaanite, that his mother was a Canaanite woman, or that his mother was a businesswoman, we are offered no further understanding as to why the verse needs to mention this. According to some opinions[5], all of the brothers married Canaanite women, so why the need to mention it here specifically regarding the mother of Shaul? Therefore, Rashi searched for a nonliteral explanation and explains it refers to Dina who is called a Canaanite being that she had relations with one. Now, how does this commentary clear up the above question? Because now that we’ve established that Shaul’s mother was the daughter of Yaakov, we can understand the uniqueness of his lineage which Scripture desired to highlight. Shaul was the only one who was born to both a father and mother who were both the children of Yaakov, while all the other ones were born to Canaanite mothers.[6]

5. The Torah refers to Dina as a Canaanite explain how is permitted for Shimon to marry her:

The above answer of Rashi does not fully suffice, as while it explains why Scripture felt the need to mention the mother of Shaul, it does not explain why it chose to mention her in such derogatory terms. Why couldn’t the verse simply had said “Shaul the daughter of Dina.” Why the need for name-calling and public shaming of Dina by calling her a Canaanite? It is this question that Rashi further comes to answer in his commentary when he mentions the story of what happened with Dina and Shechem, and the oath that Shimon took to marry her. Rashi here is explaining that the reason why Scripture uses the term Canaanite is not God forbid to shame Dina, but on the contrary to hint to the reader why it was permitted for her to marry her brother Shimon. How indeed is this question answered by using the term Canaanite, and how was it permitted for Shimon to marry Dina because she was considered a Canaanite, is what we will now explore.

6. A slave does not have any lineage:

An interesting law that we find regarding slaves is that they are not Halachically considered to have any relatives.[7] As stated above, even Gentiles are commanded in the seven Noahide laws against marrying certain relations, such as that a son is prohibited from marrying a mother, and maternal siblings may not marry each other, and the like. However, by a slave the law is that he may marry whomever he desires, even his mother or sister.[8] This applies even if the Gentile is a slave of a Jew known as a Eved Canani. What is the reason behind this very strange law? Aren’t the seven Noahide laws binding on all Gentiles, and certainly should it not be binding on a slave of a Jew which is even considered Jewish in some respects? The answer is that the essential existence as a slave causes one to lose his identity of lineage. When a person becomes a slave, he becomes the total property of his master. He no longer retains his own identity, and loses all his personal freedoms. His entire existence is to serve the master. For this reason, the Torah states that he also loses his sense of biological lineage. Since he has no intrinsic identity, he cannot be considered a relative of anyone, as he is merely an extension of his master. Having understood this principle will now clear the road for understanding the allowance for Shimon to marry his sister Dina, and how this was hinted to in Scripture by her being called a Canaanite.

7. When Dina was kidnapped by Shechem she lost her identity:

When Dina was kidnapped by Shechem and oppressed during her captivity, she in essence became like his slave, similar to a woman taken as spoil of war. While of course this state of captivity and oppression was not done with Dina’s consent, nonetheless, it was forced upon her, and on the contrary, specifically because she had no choice in the matter, she is therefore considered to have been forced to lose her identity. It wasn’t necessary for her to be actually enslaved and do backbreaking labor on behalf of Shechem to be considered his slave, with the consequential loss of identity. The mere fact that Shechem sexually oppressed her was more traumatizing, and erased more of her identity, then any acts of slavery could have accomplished. Due to this unfortunate occurrence which turned her into another person’s slave and destroyed her identity, Dina lost her biological connection to her brothers, and was therefore allowed to marry them. It is for this reason that the Torah refers to her as the Canaanite, not God forbid in order to shame her, but rather to explain the cause that permitted her to be married to Shimon. The most embarrassing and shameful occurrence of her being raped by a Canaanite severed her identity of self and allowed her to marry her brother.

8. Why Dina remained with a lack of identity even after Shechem was killed:

While the above may explain why it would have been permitted for Shimon to marry Dina while she was still under the rule of Shechem, it does not explain why this allowance continued even after Shechem was killed. Seemingly, once Shechem was killed and she was released from her bondage, her identity should have returned, and with it the prohibition to marry her brother. How then were they still allowed to get married? It is this last question that Rashi answers in the conclusion of his commentary, in which he tells us that when Shechem was killed Dina refused to return back to Yaakov’s family until Shimon made an oath to marry her. With this explanation, Rashi is explaining that in essence Dina never agreed to have her identity returned to her and that she preferred to remain a slave of Shechem, and hence even after Shechem was killed it remained permitted for her to marry Shimon.

9. The allowance for Yaakov to marry the two sisters Bilah and Zilpah:

Based on the above explanation, we can now also explain another anomaly that we don’t find addressed, and that is the fact that Yaakov married the two sisters[9], Bilah and Zilpah, which is something that is prohibited according to Torah law. While in regard to the marriage of Yaakov to Rachel and Leah we find many different answers for why it was permitted for him to marry them, many of these answers are not applicable regarding the marriage of Yaakov to Bilah and Zilpah. The answer to this question can be gleaned from the above commentary of Rashi. From the above commentary of Rashi we learn that a slave does not have a self-identity and thereby loses his relation-based marriage restrictions. Now, Bilah and Zilpah were both the daughters of Laban and his Pilegesh. While a Pilegesh is normally known as a concubine, in Scripture, we also find that it refers to a maid or slave. Thus, Bilah and Zilpah were the daughters of Lavan and his slave, which in turn makes them slaves. Accordingly, it ends up that Bilah and Zilpah were not really considered sisters as they themselves were considered slaves, and a slave is not considered to have any identity of lineage, thus allowing Yaakov to marry them despite them being sisters, and despite them being paternal sisters of Rachel and Leah.

10. The divine lesson:

The Jewish people are referred to both as the children of God, and as the servants of God as in the verse[10], “And to me are the Jewish people slaves.” Contrary to normal thinking, based on the above, we can argue that there is an advantage of being called a slave over being called a son. A son who serves his father does so out of desire and love, and therefore maintains his self-identity in a very strong manner. However, a slave serves his master out of complete nullification and subservience thus negating any self-identity from him. This form of service unites one with God in a much more powerful way than the service of a son to his father.

[1] This Shaul referred to in Scripture is none other than the infamous Zimri Ben Salu, who had forbidden relations with the Midianite woman as related in Parshas Balak, and he was called here by the name of Shaul the son of a Canaanite in order to hint to the fact that he performed abominable acts like a Canaanite. [Sanhedrin 82a; Yalkut Reuveini Pinchas; Pisron Torah, brought in Otzer Midrashim Balak 4]

[2] Vayigash 46:10

[3] Likkutei Sichos ibid footnote 2

[4] See Rambam Hilchos Melachim 9:5

[5] See Rashi Vayeishev 37:35

[6] This follows the opinion who holds that the sons of Jacob all married Canaanite women. However, according to the opinion who holds that they each married their twin, one needs to explain that since these daughters are not mentioned in Scripture, therefore the verse did not bother mentioning them, as opposed to Dina who is mentioned in Scripture many times. [See Likkutrei Sichos ibid footnote 10]

[7] Rambam Hilchos Issurei Biyah 14:17

[8] Rambam ibid

[9] See Rashi Vayeitzei 31:50

[10] Behar 25:42; 55

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