In Parashat Vayechi, Jacob blesses his sons as he lies on his deathbed. We note the absence of any blessing for — or mention of — his daughter Dinah.
After she is raped by Shechem (Gen. 34), Dinah disappears from the Torah, and we never learn what happens to her. Since blessings—both received and given — provide opportunities for healing, we wonder what might have happened if Dinah had been included in her father’s last thoughts and communications.
In this midrashic dialogue, we restore to our ancestors the opportunity to heal their relationship as we imagine Dinah and Jacob’s interaction in his final moments:
Dinah: Abba, Judah told me you wanted to see me. He said that you don’t have much time left and that I needed to come quickly.
Jacob: Yes, Dinah. Judah is right. My end is near. Why didn’t you come when I called your brothers to me?
Dinah: I didn’t realize that you meant for me to come with them. Honestly, I didn’t think that you would want to see me. We haven’t been close for such a long time.
Jacob: What do you mean? You have always been a part of my camp. I see you every day.
Dinah: You may notice me, but you have not seen me in years. In the story of our relationship, Shechem is a flash point that changed everything. Since then, I watched as your eyes slid past mine, never catching, never holding. You have not even spoken my name for years. Your silence is deafening. I heard your message as if you were shouting it.
Jacob: What? I speak of you often! Just last week I was telling your mother how much I revere your strength! Didn’t she tell you what I said?
Dinah: She told me, but I didn’t believe her. Abba, everything you do tells me that your love for me is broken. Why would I trust my mother’s words over my own experience? Why couldn’t you speak to me directly? It feels like you let what happened with Shechem push us apart.
Jacob: Dinah, I was heartbroken. I am heartbroken. I thought that I was giving you the space you needed for your heart to heal. I thought that others would be able to comfort you better than I ever could. Don’t you see that my love for you is constant?
Dinah: But Abba, I haven’t seen love. I’ve seen only distance! I’ve heard only silence! How was I supposed to know?
Jacob: Dinah, my sweet one, I’m so sorry. I didn’t know what to say; so I said nothing rather than risk hurting you more.
Dinah: Oh, Abba. You didn’t need to say the right thing. You only needed to say something. I just needed to know that you loved me, that my life continued to matter to you, and that my place in this family was not broken by what happened to me.
Jacob: I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry. When I was a boy, I used words to trick and hurt. When I became a man, I told myself that words were dangerous and should be carefully weighed. I thought that silence was safer. Now I see that instead of being comforting, my silence brought you more pain. I should have understood. I should have asked you what you needed. I should have listened. I should have done better, been better. I wanted to protect you, but I allowed my guilt to wall off my heart from you. I’m sorry, my Dinah, my strong one.
Dinah: Shhh, Abba. Lie back. Rest. I survived. I made a good life for myself. I will always wish that you had stood beside me as I did the work of living and moving forward, but I am so glad to hear you say that your absence was not a sign of your lack of love.
Jacob: Dinah, I do not deserve the honor, but as your father, I ask of you: May I offer you a blessing?
Dinah: Your blessing is a gift that I would always cherish.
Dinah, daughter of Jacob and Leah,
You are my heart and the strength of my spirit.
You are the piece of me that wrestled with angels
And that survived when assailed by challenges.
You, who have been denied what you are due by your father for so long,
Have offered a broken man kindness and mercy.
You are strength and love.
You are the best of your parents and so much more than we could ever be.
Our people will learn from your endurance.
I bless you and ask God, who has accompanied me, to walk with you all the days of your life.
Dinah: Thank you, Abba. Thank you.
Jacob: Dinah, you see me clearly. You know the man I have been and the one I wished I would have been. I have never received a blessing from someone who knew the heart of me, someone who I did not deceive (Gen. 27:19-30). Will you bless me, my daughter, you who know the truth of my struggles?
Dinah: But Abba, is it really my place? You never taught me the words or the formulas of blessing.
Jacob: Dinah, your blessing is a gift that I would always cherish. Please.
Jacob, son of Rebekah and Isaac,
You are my father and the guide of our people.
You have not lived a perfect life, but you have always tried to walk with God.
At times, you have tripped over your own limitations and have failed your family.
But when I tell my children stories of their grandfather’s life,
these failings will not define you.
I will tell them of a man who lived a very human life who fell down, but struggled back to his feet again and again.
I will tell them of my father who called me to his side, asked for my forgiveness, and offered me a blessing filled with love.
Jacob, son of Rebekah and Isaac, father of our people, you will be remembered.
When Jacob died (Gen. 49:33), his wives, his sons, and his daughter gathered in his tent, offering prayers for his soul’s journey. In that crowded space, our patriarch was surrounded by our people’s future even as he was gathered to our people’s past.
In Vayechi, Joseph learns that his father Jacob is sick before Jacob has the chance to call his 12 sons to his bedside (and, in Torah’s account, shockingly misses the opportunity to reconnect with his daughter Dinah). Without invitation or preamble, Joseph shows up to visit his dad with his sons Ephraim and Manasseh in tow.
When Joseph rises to the moment and arrives at his father’s side without being summoned, he is acting in the spirit of his grandmother Rebekah, who didn’t wait to be greeted by her future husband Isaac, but jumped off her camel when she saw him in the distance. He is like Miriam, who led her people in song and dance without being invited to step up or like the prophet Habakkuk, who called himself to prophecy, demanding change from God.
It takes a strong person to show up without invitation. It takes a strong person to seize a moment that presents itself, demanding action. It takes a strong person to know when another person needs him or her, and an even stronger one to respond to the call.
Immediately after their father dies, Joseph’s brothers become nervous about their relationship with him. Will Joseph continue to bestow kindness upon them and grant them sanctuary in Egypt without their father’s presence to remind him of his familial duty? So, they hatch up a story and tell Joseph that their father told them to give him this message: “Forgive, I urge you, the offense and guilt of your brothers who treated you so harshly” (Gen. 50:17). Joseph responds by crying and telling them not to fear, that he doesn’t hold a grudge.
Who is this Joseph? Who is this Joseph, who begins his life a show-off, strutting around in his special coat, tattling on his brothers, and playing his father’s favorite? Who is this Joseph, who sits locked in prison and rises in and out of favor before saving a land from famine? Who is this Joseph, who forgives his brothers for their unspeakable cruelty? Who is this Joseph, who hears the thinly veiled untruth of his brothers and responds with tears and words of comfort?
This Joseph, I think, is the best of us. He is the part of us that grows beyond our basest capacities. The part of us that encounters life and learns from its whims. The part of us that chooses a path of kindness and compassion and forgiveness. The part of us that assumes others’ good intentions and treats them accordingly.
I wish Jacob could have walked the path of Joseph—a path of transformation and grace. Instead, Jacob dies flawed, just as he lived. On his deathbed, all of this comes into sharp focus. He swaps his hands over grandsons’ heads before blessing them, thereby blessing the younger with his favored right hand, just as he tricked his father into giving him his older brother’s blessing so many years ago. Jacob fails to reconcile with his daughter, just as he failed to protect her when she was vulnerable. Jacob fails to show leadership in helping his older sons feel secure in their relationship with Joseph, just as he failed to mend their strained bonds when they were younger.
Who is this Jacob? He is also us. He is the part of us that misses our opportunities for growth and for learning. He is the part of us that remains stuck in who we’ve been, failing to imagine who we might become.
This week, our challenge in living is to accept the reality that each of us has the capacity to be Joseph or Jacob at any given moment. And sometimes both. Jacob never quite learned from his son. Perhaps we might.
Vayechi, Genesis 47:28–50:26
The Torah: A Modern Commentary, pp. 302–316; Revised Edition, pp. 304–322
The Torah: A Women’s Commentary, pp. 281–304
Haftarah, I Kings 2:1–12
The Torah: A Modern Commentary, pp. 359–360; Revised Edition, pp. 323–324