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Parshah Halacha – Parshat VaYishlach

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The Torah portion of VaYishlach tells the tragic story of the abduction, rape, and subsequent rescue of Dinah, daughter of Yaakov and Leah, and sister of the 12 tribes (Gen. 34). This article will discuss the background to her birth as well as a Chanukah prayer as it relates to this discussion.

Changed in Utero

According to the Talmud (Brachot 60a) when Leah conceived for the seventh time, her baby was a boy. Being a prophetess, Leah was aware that Yaakov would have 12 sons who would be the 12 tribes. Since she already had six boys and Bilha and Zilpa already had two each, Leah realized that if she would give birth to another boy, then Rachel would only be able to mother one of the tribes. This would be even fewer than the handmaidens Bilha and Zilpa. In order to prevent this, she prayed that the fetus be changed to a female. G-d accepted her prayers, and the baby changed in utero. According to another opinion (Targum Yonatan on Gen. 30:21), G-d switched Dinah, who was originally in the womb of Rachel, with Joseph who was originally in the womb of Leah.
The verse alludes to this as it says, ”וְאַחַר יָלְדָה בַּת וַתִּקְרא אֶת שְׁמָהּ דִּינָה – And afterwards she bore a daughter, and she named her Dinah.” The verse doesn’t say that “Leah conceived and gave birth to Dinah” as it does concerning the other tribes since she wasn’t conceived as Dinah (a girl) but rather as a boy. The word וְאַחַר which means “and after” alludes to the fact that this took place after Leah’s abovementioned thought-process and prayer. In addition, the name Dinah, which means “judgment,” alludes to the fact that Leah judged her situation versus that of her sister and proceeded to pray that the child be a girl.
The Talmud questions this account since the Mishnah (Brachot 54a) says that one who prays that a baby in utero be a boy (or a girl) is praying in vain as its gender has already been established. One should not pray for the gender to change as one should not pray for supernatural miracles (Shnot Eliyahu) because it is a wasted prayer.

The Talmud offers two explanations:

  • Tzadikim Can Pray for Miracles
An average person should not pray for a miracle as it is unlikely that he has enough merit to deserve an outright miracle. But a righteous person like Leah, who possesses much merit, may do so. Similarly, the Talmud (Ta’anit 25a) says that Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa asked G-d to change vinegar to oil, and Hashem did so. This is proper for Tzaddkim who are the foundation of the world but not for regular people.
  • During the First 40 Days
Alternatively, the Talmud says that during the first 40 days after conception the baby’s gender isn’t yet established and that during those days, prayer can be effective. Although the Mishna (quoted above) stated that one who prays for a boy when his wife is pregnant is praying in vain, that is only referring to the time after the first 40 days (Chefetz Hashem by Rabbi Chayim ben Attar on Brachot 60a). It is noteworthy that according to the Talmud Yerushalmy (Brachot 9:3) one may pray for a gender change of the baby up until the time that the expectant mother is ready to give birth. The Elya Rabbah (230:5) points out that even during the first 40 days prayer can only be effective in certain cases.

Prayers after 40 Days

The Talmud goes on to say that after 40 days from conception until the end of the sixth month one may pray that his wife not miscarry the baby. After this time one should pray that the baby be born healthy and well and achieve greatness in Torah and good deeds (Mishnah Berurah 230:1). Certainly, after the baby is born, one should continue praying that he go in the path of Torah and have good character-traits. The three most appropriate times to pray for this are during the recitation of the morning blessing on the Torah (while saying the words “and may we and our offspring… be knowing of Your Name”), the blessing before the morning Shema (while saying the words “Our Father, the merciful Father, the merciful One – have mercy upon us, and put into our hearts to understand and to comprehend and to listen and to study and to teach and to keep and to do and to preserve all of the words of the study of Your Torah with love”), and during Uva LeTziyon (while saying the words “so that we not toil in vain nor produce that which will cause dismay”). See Mishnah Berurah 47:10.

And Dinah Was his Daughter

In next week’s Torah portion, when enumerating the children of Yaakov, the Torah refers to Dinah, the daughter of Yaakov (Gen. 46:15) rather than the daughter of Leah. Based on this, the Talmud (Niddah 31a) says that the conception of a girl is dependent on the father while that of a boy is dependent on the mother. This is because when the father gives seed first, the child will be a female whereas if the mother gives seed first, the child will be a male. The commentaries question this teaching since, as mentioned above, Dinah was originally conceived as a male child and was changed due to Leah’s prayers. So apparently her being a female isn’t related to her mother’s role in her conception.
According to the opinion of the Targum Yonatan (mentioned above) this can be explained easily. Since Dinah was originally conceived as a female, her prayers simply caused that she be switched from Rachel’s womb to that of Leah.

Getting a Portion in All Mitzvot

The Ketav Sofer (quoted in the Yalkut Biurim of the Metivta Shas on Brachot ibid) explains why G-d established that the conception of a male fetus is dependent on the mother while a female is dependent on the father. He points out that while most of the mitzvot can be fulfilled by both men and women, there are certain mitzvot that can only be fulfilled by one or the other. However, one should ideally fulfill every single mitzvah.  As such, G-d established that the father play a special role in the conception of his daughters. A result of this is that he has a special connection with them and therefore gets a share in their mitzvot. Conversely, the mother has a special role in the conception of her sons, and that connection earns her a share in their masculine mitzvot.

Was Dinah a Twin?

According to one opinion (Ibn Ezra on Gen 30:21), Dinah was the twin sister of Zevulun. This is why there is no mention of conception in the verse about her birth. That verse should be translated as follows וְאַחַר יָלְדָה בַּת – and after the birth of Zevulun (mentioned in the previous verse), a (twin) daughter was born. This is a different opinion than that of the Talmud quoted above.

No Twin

According to the Midrash (Pirkei DeRabi Eliezer 36), all of the tribes were born with twin sisters whom they eventually married. The exceptions were Dinah and Yosef who were not born with twins.  As such, it was assumed that Dinah would marry Yosef. Although this didn’t happen, their expectation wasn’t completely wrong as Yosef eventually married Dinah’s daughter.

Osnat, Daughter of Dinah

The Midrash (ibid 39) says that Dinah conceived a baby after being abducted by Shechem. When the baby (girl) was born, the tribes wanted to kill the infant as she would be a constant reminder of this shameful incident. Yaakov would not allow them to do this, and instead he wrote out a special name of G-d and hung it as a protective amulet around her neck. The archangel Michoel took her to Egypt where she was adopted by the wife of Potiphar who was unable to have children. They gave her the name Osnat. She is the woman whom Yosef married many years later when he became the prime minister of Egypt. Thus, the tragic abduction of Dinah had a positive result as it produced the wife of Yosef who was also the mother of Menashe and Efrayim.


I am not sure how this planned infanticide can be justified halachically. Perhaps the sons of Yakov considered themselves to be non Jews (halachically). As such, the infant would be considered a “citizen” of the city of Shechem and could perhaps be included in the death sentence they meted out on that entire city. See Likutei Sichot vol. 5, pg. 228 and on.

A Chanukah Segue

The commentaries discuss a particular Chanukah law as it relates to the abovementioned teaching that one should not pray for a miracle.
May the Merciful One Do Miracles for Us
The Rama writes (O.C. 682:1) that one who forgot to recite the Ve’al HaNissim prayer during the second blessing of the Grace after Meals should insert it later in the “bentching” as a Harachaman prayer since one is allowed to add to the Harachamanprayers. One should say, ”הרחמן יעשה לנו נסים ונפלאות כשם שעשית לאבותינו בימים ההם בזמן הזה  – May the Merciful One perform miracles for us just like You did for our forefathers in those days at this time” and then continue with the paragraph of ”בימי מתתיהו – In the days of Matityahu etc.”
The commentaries question the wording of this prayer. How can we pray that G-d perform miracles for us as He did for our forefathers if it is not proper to pray for miracles as explained above?
Several explanations are offered (quoted in the Yalkut Biurim on the Metivta Shas on Brachot 60a):
  • Praying for a Miracle for the Community
It is not proper for an individual to pray for a miracle (unless he is a tzaddik) as one cannot presume that one has sufficient merit to deserve this. However, one may pray for a miracle on behalf of the community (like the miracle of Chanukah) as the community has sufficient merit to deserve miracles (Bechor Shor on Shabbat 21b).
  • Natural Miracles
One may not pray for supernatural miracles such as the changing of a baby’s gender in utero. But one may pray for a natural miracle such as the victory of the few and weak Maccabees against the many and strong Greeks (ibid).
  • Miracles for G-d’s Sake
One may not pray for a miracle which will not be publicized but one may pray for a public miracle which will sanctify the name of G-d. The reason for this is, that it if it is a hidden miracle (like a gender change in utero), it will not sanctify G-d’s name. As such one must have great merit to deserve this. A public miracle (such as that of Chanukah), on the other hand, demonstrates G-d’s omnipotence in this world and thus sanctifies His name. As such, even if one does not have great merit, G-d may choose to perform the miracle for the sake of His holy name (Yeshu’ot Yaakov on O.C. 682).
  • Predicted Miracles
Although one may not generally pray for miracles, an exception is made regarding miracles predicted in the Torah. These miracles are already embedded into the very nature of the world. As it says regarding the splitting of the sea, G-d made a condition with the sea at the moment it was created that at the appointed time it would split for the Jewish people.
When we say, “May the Merciful One perform miracles for us just like You did for our forefathers in those days at this time,” we mean that G-d should send us the righteous redeemer Moshiach who will lead us to the Holy Land and rebuild the third Bait HaMikdash. The miracles he will perform have already been foretold by the prophets, and so there is no question that they will occur. We are simply praying that they be fulfilled speedily, without any delay (Einayim LaMishpat).
May G-d Answer our Prayers and Redeem Us Speedily!
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom UMevorach!

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