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Of sons and fathers

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Massacre of the Hivites by Simeon and Levi

Massacre of the Hivites by Simeon and Levi

Of sons and fathers

About Simon, Levi and their dying father Jacob, and also about War, Peace, Independence and Remembrance and what can possibly connect them all.

The last words of a dying father should never be spiteful. They are his pained last breaths, the cumulative knowledge of his life, the essence of his learnings, passed in so many words to his sons and by them to the future generations [and if he is lucky maybe also onto history].
Hard for us to imagine what could cause Jacob descendent of Abraham, wisest of our forefathers and most beloved of god’s children [according to our Jewish faith] to be so cruel in his last words to his sons Levi and Simon.

“Simon and Levi are brothers—
their swords[a] are weapons of violence.
6. Let me not enter their council,
let me not join their assembly,
for they have killed men in their anger
and hamstrung oxen as they pleased.
7. Cursed be their anger, so fierce,
and their fury, so cruel!
I will scatter them in Jacob
and disperse them in Israel”.

Genesis 49:5-7

What was their crime? What could they have done so wrong as to anger their father so? The answer is complex. Earlier in the book of Genesis [39] we learn that Simon and Levi aside from having 10 brothers also had one beloved sister called Dinah. You can imagine how well loved a single daughter is to a large band of brothers, but the bible rarely speaks of her. As a woman of that age in history, she had little privileges other than marrying and baring children. And so the story goes that one day Dinah, who was most likely outgoing and independent growing around so many brothers, had stepped out of her father’s tent to wander, and be friendly with her neighbors, but was instead taken and savagely raped by the king of shechem’s son – Hamor.


When her 12 brothers learnt of her rape they had wept and cursed, but had taken no direct action. Hamor, son of the king of shechem, had taken a liking to his victim, and had pleaded with his father to marry her. And so a poisoned proposition came from the king of Shechem to Jacob: ”declare your price and we will pay it, we will give any that you ask and our daughters will marry your sons and our sons will marry your daughters, and we shall be one”. – An offer of peace, after a crime of hate!


Jacob and the other brothers had agreed to this proposition, seeing the greater picture – the option of peace, the saving of Dinah’s honor [yes in those times it would be just that, as she would at least be married and have a home] and a way out of this entanglement, with no bloodshed.
But the brothers Levi and Simon who were merely 13 and 14 at the time, would not have this. Their morals were strong and their anger stronger. They had tricked the people of shechem into circumcising themselves as a part of the wedding deal, and on the third day after, when the circumcised men were in great pain, they took their swords and had slain every last man in Shechem, liberated their sister and returned to their father’s home. Jacob’s dismay was great, as the sons had killed innocent men [Granted Hamor himself was a rapist and might have deserved dying, but the others of the town of shechem were only guilty of not judging him, and did not deserve death]. They had tricked foreign people to circumcise and become Jews under false pretenses, and by that ruined Jacob’s honor as a man and as a Jew, and had cast a shadow over Judaism as a religion. But the two brothers reminded Jacob: “Would though have our sister, blood of our blood, be treated as a whore?”

Exodo-1-1

The dilemma in this story is a great moral one.
Granted Hamor was a criminal, and he had hurt with his crimes the life of a beloved sister. But the offer of peace by his father was sincere, as proven by the circumcision of all the men of his town.The killing done by Simon and Levi was indeed provoked, and in some ways well deserved, as in a war there are casualties which cause deterrence, and the morals of men have often led them to fight and kill or die.

The bible also says that after this killing the land had been quite for forty years, meaning the righteousness of the brother’s wrath had installed the state of mind, of abiding the law, into the hearts and minds of the dwellers of Israel-Cennan of those days. So it turns out that their bloody action had saved many others and prevented many future crimes, by showing there is a price to pay for breaking the law.


So which is right then?
The wise leader\father striving for peace despite its cost, or the young soldier\brothers who strove for justice and exacted a price for a crime at the peril of bloodshed?


The book of Genesis, “Bereshit” as we call it, ends on this high note, and the curse of Jacob to his two sons echoes on and on.
It is a bitter lesson of life, this tight balance. On the one hand the sagely father would have a costly peace in order to save his beloved sons.
On the other the bold sons must war, to defend laws, family and their revered father.
It is the way of the world that with age comes wisdom, but that without the youth protecting it, age would never survive to get there.


On this crossroad where we stand today: the commemoration of our 23,320 fallen soldiers and victims of terror, on our memorial day named the day of remembrance – “Yom hazicaron”, and at the cusp of the day they have bought for us with their blood: the day of our celebration of independence – “Yom Haatsmaut” which will start tonight. In these two joined days, the dilemma\paradox is ever present.

The price of peace must be paid in the blood of the living; while the preservation of the blood of the living is the only reason for peace.


So let us restore the equilibrium, and counter wise dying Jacob’s words of anger [notice how much of his anger is in his two sons, and yet he failed to see it] let us restore the equilibrium to his words which directed his sons to strive for peace no matter the cost, by acknowledging that the cost is heavy.It is paid in the lives of his bravest two sons, Simon and Levi, those willing to protect the innocent with their own blood, or in the words of poet Shaul Tchernichovsky :

“Simon and Levi are brothers—
their swords are weapons of violence.
Let me enter their council,
let me join their assembly,
for they have killed men in their anger
and hamstrung oxen as they pleased.
Blessed be their anger, so fierce,
and their fury, so righteous!
Let them grow many in Jacob,

Let their seed prosper in Israel”.

Ohad Kaynar
Deputy Chief of mission
Consulate General of Israel in Istanbul.

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