After Shechem raped Yaakov’s daughter, Dina, something very strange happened. He spoke to the heart of the girl (Bereishit 34:3). Rashi informs us that he persuaded her by saying: See how your father spent an enormous sum of money for a small plot of land. I will marry you, and you will own the whole city and all of its fields!
Despite Dina’s high spiritual level, Shechem succeeded in persuading her to stay. Of course, Shechem’s home was definitely no place for the daughter of Yaakov. How, then, could Dina have agreed that this is where she belonged?!
Rav Yerucham Levovitz zt”l notes that we can see from this episode just how strong the power of persuasion can be. Even someone of Dina’s high caliber was able to be persuaded to do something not at all in keeping with her stature. Indeed, it is shocking to us when we witness the greatest of men fall – through persuasion – into the clutches of sin. For some strange reason, however, we are not taken aback at ourselves following a sin not befitting our stature that we were somehow persuaded to commit. We find silly justification for things we did wrong and foolish things we said. If we only would stop and think, we might be amazed at how we slipped.
We have to be on guard against two different types of harmful persuasion: external and internal. We are more aware, perhaps, of the first type, such as people who try to get us to do or buy all sorts of things we really have no interest in. But there is also “persuasion from within,” where our feelings overpower our good sense. Persuasion usually speaks to the heart or emotion, not to the intelligence. Thus, Shechem persuaded Dina to stay by talking to her heart. Now, if power, money and wealth could seduce even a Dina, they can certainly seduce people of our much lower caliber. When the heart is influenced, even a spiritual or intellectual giant is handicapped. Even Adam, whose wisdom was on a tremendously high level before eating from the Tree of Knowledge, was not immune to persuasion.
Let me ask you: Were you ever persuaded to buy something that you did not really need? If so, perhaps you bought it because it was on sale. For many people, to pass up a sale is to feel that they are losing money. Even though they do not necessarily need the item, the fear of missing the opportunity can easily get the better of them. This is really a combination of the fear of losing money together with the materialistic drive of having more. Of course, these feelings are nonsensical since the person did not need the item to begin with.
Through associations with successful people, the advertising industry tries to persuade us that we need a specific item to be successful. Indeed, marketing professionals have persuaded the world to spend oceans of money, time, and effort for the latest cell phone app. After purchasing the phone we thought we needed, we find that we rarely, if ever, use the application for which we purchased it. The marketing professionals look for what the heart desires, and how people will feel that they can connect to something – and before you know it, they have made a customer of us.
These are just a few examples of external forces of persuasion. Persuasion from within, of course, can come in a variety of different forms. For example, a man might be persuaded to believe that if he made more money, his wife would respect him more. A father might be persuaded to think that if he would take on an additional job, he would have the extra money he “needs” to be a better parent. Ironically, though, since this often comes at the expense of family time, the children may end up feeling that they barely have a father at all. But the busy father fails to see this, so convinced is he that this is the only way to be a good father. These conclusions are usually not true, of course, but the great human desire for wealth, fame, and materialistic pleasure can easily cloud our vision.
The best solution to avoid being persuaded to act against our own best interests is to stay away from the people or things that get us to act in ways we will later regret. Each person knows from personal experience whom and what to avoid. By keeping these experiences in mind and noticing our weak spots, we will be better equipped to face the challenges of “problematic persuasion” in the future.
THE ESSENCE OF EVIL
Many people have a simplistic view of evil. They assume that evil is bad. Period! But the Torah asks us to look deeper and realize that that evil is not what it seems to be. Indeed, not even death is intrinsically bad. It is a fact, a reality. But what can be considered intrinsically evil are human decisions, perspectives, and behavior. If we consider how our Patriarchs dealt with apparent evil when confronted with it, I think you will see what I mean.
Avraham, for example, was born into a family of idolaters and a society of evil-doers. Indeed, his father’s business was manufacturing idols. How did he handle this when he became aware of G-d’s existence and realized that the people all around him were living a lie – and had been for ten generations? He did not sink into depression or cave in to social pressure! Avraham was able to see them as negative examples – examples of what not to be – and to convert their power of evil into the power of good. He used the technique of transforming bad into good by seeing the bad as a “wake-up” call. Indeed, the Hebrew word for evil –רע – has the same letters as the word awake or conscious –ער . Hence the Mishnah in Pirkei Avot teaches us that Avraham acquired all the merits the previous ten generations should have amassed had they acted righteously. He found purpose in their evil.
G-d is pure good, and thus His creations are never evil. Even the Satan is not “bad” in an absolute sense. We find that every creature G-d creates sings his shirah (praise) to its Maker upon finishing its mission in this world. That is why when Yaakov overpowered the Guardian Angel of Esav – also known as the Satan – the angel made the following request: Let me leave, for dawn is breaking… (Bereishit 32:27). The Talmud provides the reason given by the angel for the request: From the day I was created, never once did my time come to sing my shirah (Chulin 91b). Rav Dessler explains that the angel had never sung shirah because he had never fulfilled his mission, had never assumed his intended role, until that moment. When Yaakov bested the Satan, the latter finally assumed the role for which G-d created him: to be overpowered by the tzaddik.
With that in mind, let us zero in on the end of the exchange that Yaakov had with the satanic angel after he overpowered him. Yaakov asked: Tell me what your name is. The angel answered: Why do you ask my name?
The Mussar masters call our attention to the angel’s refusal to answer Yaakov’s question and reveal his name. They contrast it with the willingness of the angel who announced the conception and birth of Shimshon (Samson) to provide his name. This is how they explain the stonewalling:
In Hebrew, the name of something or someone reflects its essence. The answer given by the satanic angel was actually his name. Satan’s most useful technique is presenting the glamour of nothingness, and making it look real and enticing. This is all that evil really is. Although it is nothing, the Satan markets it as everything. In contrast, real evil is created by the decisions of humanity to fall prey to the lust for pleasure, honor, power, and the like. The worldly means to attain them are not evil in and of themselves. But they give rise to evil when they are misused or misdirected. If we pose Yaakov’s question to our own yetzer ha’ra (evil inclination) – What is your name, what is your essence? – we will get the same non-answer: Why do you ask? There is no answer, just a switch from defense to offense.
If we shine the flashlight of our intellect on the allurements of the yetzer ha’ra and the glamorous world it spreads before us, we will see that there is really almost nothing to it. This is what the angel was communicating to Yaakov: Why do you ask my name? I do not have a name. I do not have an essence. I am here to serve you if you learn from evil what to reject and what to fight – like your Grandfather Avraham – and create good in the world.
Shabbat Shalom, Yosef Farhi
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IN LOVING MEMORY OF REUVEN BEN SARA AND CHANA BET HENYA