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Drash on Vayishlach 2023

Rabbi Kim Ettlinger

Temple David, Perth, WA

We wrestle!  We wrestle all the time.  We wrestle with ourselves, with our friends, with our family, with our community, with our enemies, with our ‘frenemies’.  We wrestle with the news and with social media.  You name it, we wrestle with it.

Wrestling is part of our religion, and part of our culture.  And, so is arguing.  But, let us focus on wrestling.  And, of course it is found in this week’s parashah, Vayishlach.

Ya’akov, in Bereishit (32:4-33), prepares to meet with his brother Esav, but on the way, he wrestles with a ‘man’, and after the wrestling, his name is changed to “Yisrael”.  Which, as we learn, means ‘One who struggles with God’.  What a profound and albeit scary change to happen.  Was it a man? Was it a ‘Mal’ach Adonai’, a messenger of God?   Unexpectedly, Yaakov and Esav’s meeting is peaceful and they go their separate ways.  But the parashah then takes a sharp and painful turn.   Dinah is raped by Shechem.  Yakov’s sons Shimon and Levi take revenge by murdering the males of Shechem and the city is plundered.  So much pain, so much suffering.  So much wrestling too.

How much did Dina wrestle with what was happening to her?  Was she in love with Shechem as some of the midrashim suggest?  Was she in pain or in love?

And Dina’s brothers, were they humiliated when they couldn’t protect her, seeking revenge, or angry, or just seeking revenge for perceived injustice, or blood thirsty animals?  I know we will never truly know the answer to these questions, but it’s worth asking.  It’s worth wrestling with the questions.

The rape of Dinah for me is poignant as I have been horrified by the latest hashtag #metoounlessyoureajew –  the lack of compassion, outrage, understanding, speaking up and out against the atrocities perpetrated against women and underage girls in Israel on October 7 is unfathomable.  Human rights organisations, women’s groups and organisations who were established to protect women against rape and violence have been silent.  Rape is not a weapon of a resistance fighter.  Rape is barbaric.  And, some of the cruelty and savagery and mutilation of Israeli women and children was just unspeakable.  But it is just truly repugnant that no one was and is speaking up because the cruelty was and is against Jews.  This is anti-semitism at its cruellest.  There is nothing to wrestle about here.   This is a fight for our survival as Jews.

There are brilliant ads on TV in Israel and on social media emerging, showing the inequality that if you are a Jew and / or Israeli then noone will care if you are a hostage or a victim of rape.  It hits home, and one cannot help but be impacted by the visual of a woman who is clearly in pain being rejected because she is a Jew, because she is Israeli.

Unfotunately, many of the victims of sexual crimes on October 7 who were killed were treated as victims of war and not as victims of rape – and so evidence was treated differently.  While there is still much evidence that was gathered, the special commission has to do things differently in creating a case to charge the terrorists they have taken captive with these crimes.  A body was formed 8 days after October 7, when the UN did nothing.  Dr. Cochav Elkayam-Levy from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who specialises in international law, gender, and the protection of human rights, established the “Civil Commission on the October 7th Crimes by Hamas against Women and Children”.  This  body started receiving testimonies, videos, and pieces of information that paint a chilling and harsh picture of the harm to women and children.  Elkayam-Levy explains:  “It’s important to note that we are not only dealing with sexual crimes. There has been severe and cruel violence against women that was beyond a sexual nature.”  Having read some of the information, the degradation of women was clearly their goal, and the demoralisation of the Jewish nation too was part of their mission.

How much more pain and suffering must the Jewish people endure and how much more pain and suffering must the Israeli population endure?   We are united as a people, as a nation, as a culture.  We are one, whether we are in Israel or in the Diaspora.   And, we will survive, like our ancestors in the Torah.  Our parashah does end with both the deaths of Rachel and Isaac, but it also ends with the progeny of Ya’akov and Esav, the future of the Jewish people, the children of Ya’akov.  Am Yisrael Chai – the people of Israel Live and Endure.



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