Sunday, January 6, 2013

Dina’s Absence from Jacob’s Deathbed Blessings – Public Figure Parenting

Photo by David Watts Creative Commons License

As I write this, I am thinking about taking my sons out for a swim on a very hot Sydney day. More on that later.

I received a message on Facebook:
I really enjoyed reading your blog.
I have a question that you might be able to answer.
Where was Dina when the blessings were given by Jacob? He loved her, she was his daughter… so why is there no mention of her receiving a blessing from Jacob?

The simplest explanation would be that the man, Jacob, lived in a male dominated world, in which excluding his daughter from an important family moment was considered normal. Perhaps, this is true, although the first parental blessing to a child mentioned in the Torah was given to a daughter, Rebecca, by her mother and brother[i], rather than from a father to a son.

Looking at the blessings in context it seems plausible to me that for Jacob this blessing was not personal and his parental love for his children as much as it is about Jacob in his role as a public figure, as the patriarch of the people of Israel.

The blessings are introduced with “Jacob called for his sons and said, "Gather and I will tell you what will happen to you at the end of days[ii]”. Some of the content is clearly as one commentator explains it about ‘their might that would be shown in war and their portions of Canaan that they would settle[iii]’. The conclusion of the blessings refers to the recipients of the blessings not as Jacob’s children but as the “tribes of Israel[iv]” who their father blessed according to their (otherwise determined) blessings.

Some of the blessings are clearly about events centuries later that relate to the tribes descended from Jabob’s twelve sons rather than the men themselves. Judah is told that his brothers will bow to him[v] which is clearly a reference to the reign of King David some six hundred years later. The blessing continues to talk about enduring rulership by “Judah” in the centuries following David. “Zebulun will dwell on the coast of the seas; and he will be at the harbor of the ships[vi]”, a reference to the portion in the land of Israel that the tribe, not the man, will inhabit.

The word length of the blessings to Judah is 55 words reflecting the role of his tribe in the future of the Jewish people. Tribes with much smaller roles in the future of the Jewish people are given much shorter blessings the shortest is the blessing to Gad which is only 6 words.

Jacob’s intention to do his duty for the future of his people is thwarted, by some personal matters that need to bubble to the surface. His disappointment with Reuben, Simon and Levi are at least as much about his personal past, as it might be about their public future. His longest blessing clocks in at 61 words to Joseph in which Jacobs love for his favourite son and his feelings about his terrible treatment by his brothers’ bubbles out.

“A charming son is Joseph, a son charming to the eye; the daughters (of Egypt) strode along to see him… They heaped bitterness upon him and fought; archers hated him[vii]

If Jacob lived today, he might have been better at juggling his public and private roles, and would have blessed Dina and her brothers as a loving father, then would go ahead and separately attend to carrying out his public duties. Personally, I am still challenged as a father with public obligations to get the balance right. Perhaps Jacob shows us that our task is not to get it right, but to do our best as the imperfect beings we are, and that is good enough.  Ok, better get the boys to the pool.

[i] Genesis 24:60
[ii] Genesis 49:1
[iii] Rashbam
[iv] Genesis 49:28
[v] Genesis 49:8
[vi] Genesis 49:13
[vii] Genesis 49:22-23 see Rashi, translation mostly from

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