Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Simeon the Son of Jacob

Leah named her second son Simeon (ben Jacob), saying “Because God has heard that I am unloved, He has given me this one also.”

Simeon, a “hot-blooded youth,” often reacted quickly and physically, especially when paired with his brother Levi. When their sister Dinah was kidnaped by the prince of Shechem, Simeon and Levi slaughtered the men of the city, ignoring the fact that Dina’s other brothers had already convinced the residents of Shechem to circumcise themselves and live in peace with Jacob’s family (Genesis 34).

Jacob scolded their reckless behavior, saying, “You have brought trouble upon me, making me odious among the land’s inhabitants...I am few in number and should they band together and attack me, I will be annihilated - I and my household!” Simeon and Levi, however, challenged their father, demanding: “Should he treat our sister like a harlot?!” (The Midrash notes that, thenceforth, Dinah dwelt in the tents of Simeon, her brother-protector.)

This “righteous temper” remained with Simeon. The Midrash identifies Simeon as the one who calls out “That dreamer is coming!” when the brothers see Joseph approaching (Genesis 37:19) and also as the one who threw Joseph into the pit. Many years later, when the brothers went down to Egypt, Joseph demanded that Simeon be imprisoned while the others returned home to get Benjamin (Genesis 42:18-24).

“Simeon and Levi are brothers; instruments of cruelty are their swords. In their secret counsel let my soul not come and my honor not be included in their congregation, for in their anger they killed a man, and deliberately crippled an ox. Cursed is their anger, for it is powerful, and their rage, for it is callous. I shall separate them within Jacob and disperse them among Israel” (Genesis 49:5 -7). On his deathbed, Jacob rebuked the brothers so that their descendants would learn that outright cruelty is a behavior foreign to our people.

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